How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Lake of the Woods Muskies

Lake of the Woods is by far the top muskie lake in North America. There are more 50-inch plus muskies taken and the reason for this are obvious. First of all, big water means big fish. There should be plenty of deep water and plenty of habitat for muskies. Secondly, there should be a large forage base. Anybody who has run a graph or depthfinder across any portion of Lake of Woods knows that the baitfish will stagger the imagination. The third and probably the most important for me is that the lake receives limited fishing pressure. Oh sure, Lake of the Woods has walleye fisherman, and bass fisherman, and occasionally one will be caught by these anglers. But the vastness of the lake and the shallow humps with saddles next to deep water and weed cover makes some muskies grow old without ever seeing a lure. The last reason is why I come to Lake of the Woods each year and stay at Witch Bay Camp. It is secluded, quiet, and not many people are on vacation in the month of September.

The key to finding big, trophy muskies on the large, deep, clear lake is locating the big suspended schools of baitfish, especially cisco. The muskies won't be far away! Watch your graph carefully. Working the area between two schools of baitfish is super!

Cisco will move in to spawn on gravel and rock shorelines around the full moon in September or the full moon in October. The water temperature will be around 42 degrees. Lake trout also move in and spawn in the fall. Watch the moon, watch the graph, and watch the water temperature. This is big fish time!

In Canadian waters, there are many presentations that muskie have not seen. Like all waters, even the most well know Canadian waters have a few techniques that many anglers are using and they always produce. Likewise there are probably many more techniques equally effective that have not been tried.

Different conditions will dictate what they can use and how they use it. Everyone has a go to bait because they catch fish with it and it's also a confidence thing. Color and size or shape will vary according to water clarity and forage. My success over the years has been on tandem spinnerbaits. I can fish the heavy weed cover where most people can't because the single hooks point up and ride over the weeds where a treble hook will foul with weeds. It's a matter of keeping an open mind while faced with different conditions. That’s why I carry 10 rods and 300 baits with me when I go fishing.

Technique comes from knowledge and time on the water, it's as simple as that. Two different techniques I use with a tandem spinnerbait that have been highly successful; (1) bounce a spinnerbait down a point and when it's directly under the boat rip it off the bottom and crank it up. It's a heart attack waiting to happen. That sudden change of direction will trigger a following fish to eat but you better be ready because when it happens she will come flying out of the water. I have heard of rods being lost because they didn't expect it. (2) Instead of retrieving over the weed bed like everyone else try dropping your rod tip under water and bringing the spinnerbait out down low. If a fish is lying on the outside edge waiting for an easy meal and something comes out it's a natural reaction for her to strike.

A muskie that’s in a positive mood often hits away from the boat, but those that follow show aggression by nipping at the lure or periodically rushing the lure with gills flaring. If you spot this type of follow before your lure reaches boatside, increase your retrieve speed slightly and that alone will often trigger a strike.

A muskie that follows a lure usually seems to be in a trance. Its eyes are fixed on the moving lure as it swims behind it at about the same speed as the lure.

As soon as you spot a follow, lower your rod tip to the surface of the water. Maintain a smooth and steady retrieve speed as you reel the lure to within a foot of the rod tip. Now make a right angle directional change right or left as you smoothly push the rod tip down into the water and begin a figure eight.

If I am fishing in the fall, I like the big baits. These baits, because of their size, usually run deeper, but that is fine. The cabbage weeds will die off more quickly in the fall on the dark water lakes. This will either move the muskies to deeper water or to structure such as logs, brush, rocks or piers and boathouses.

Time of day can also play a role. If you are not having action early in the day, stick with it, because they might become active in the afternoon or evening. I usually fish from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the late fall. If it's very cold, I may shorten the day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is the most productive time period at this of the year. Also a change in the weather can turn the muskies on. There are many baits and techniques and success comes with hard work. Some days we are humble but there will come a time when you will shake with a feeling that you cannot describe and stories will be told. That will be one technique you will not forget.

For more information on Witch Bay Camp, call Gail at (807) 468-5262 winter (807) 543-4024 summer, or visit the web sit at


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