How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Friday, April 13, 2007

In Pursuit of Opening Day skies

By Justin Hoffman

Without a doubt, the musky holds the coveted title of freshwaters most fierce, and cunning, predator. A muskies appetite is voracious, its strikes can be bone jarring and it can attain massive weights. The old fable of muskies being the fish of “ten thousand casts,” however, holds no water, as early season may provide you with your best shot at connecting with quantities of fish, and the distinct possibility of a trophy of a lifetime. By learning where muskies can be found after they spawn, what lures and baits are most productive and the equipment and techniques to go with them, you can start the season off with a bang and match wits with this mythical creature.
Where to Begin Your Search
Musky begin to spawn in late winter as the ice begins to melt, usually in late April or early May, with the peak period occurring when the water temperature reaches 55 degrees F. Muskies will generally spawn in a number of specific areas in a lake, namely heavily vegetated back bays, tributary streams and marshes and bays. They will seek out water that ranges from two to three feet deep, in which the female drops her eggs in a haphazardly manner, with neither fish making any effort to build a nest. Although these spawning areas will generally be devoid of muskies once the season commences, knowledge of where these areas are on your given lake will hold clues to where the fish can be found.
Begin your search by pinpointing two or three of the largest, weediest back bays that the lake contains. The bigger these areas are, the better your chances will become, as larger areas will undoubtedly hold larger numbers of fish. A hydrographic chart is a wonderful tool for this “detective work”, but if one is not available, many hours on the water scouting will be your only other option. Once these prime areas have been located, it is now time for the second part of your search, which will be locating these post-spawn fish.
Locating Musky
Once the muskies have completed their spawning ritual, their time in the shallows will be short-lived. Soon they will retreat to deeper water in order to take advantage of better feeding opportunities. This water will generally be between six and 12-feet-deep, although, depending on the particular lake, this depth may vary slightly. Once these deeper water areas have been found, locating the solid structure that they contain will be the key to locating these post-spawn muskies.
There are several structure areas that consistently hold musky. Rocky points have become one of my most productive areas to fish, although they must contain a good mixture of cover to hold numbers of fish. As long as they are in close proximity to shallow spawning areas, and are found in that “magic depth,” muskies will surely be present.
Other areas to concentrate your efforts on are islands and saddles. Musky will seek out these structures due to the prey that they contain and the shelter they offer. Look for stones the size of pebbles up to the size of cars, or a number of different species of plant life, thrown in with some sunken wood. What this inconsistent cover provides is a greater variety of hiding spots for different sized prey, which, will in turn, attract the larger predators.
Stump fields, gravel shoals and expansive weed flats should never be overlooked, as each of these areas are also productive spots to search. When out on the water, try to fish all of these different areas of a lake, at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. By picking apart each one of these structures you will get a better idea of which ones are attracting the muskies the best, and which areas they prefer most.
Weather also plays a part in the feeding habits of musky. Overcast, rainy and windy days seem to provide more action, and the fish will become more aggressive under these optimal conditions. When the wind blows and howls I head to rocky points and islands every time. Wind and wave action stirs up the baitfish, which, in turn, causes the larger predators to begin to feed more actively. Wind-blown points and islands channel this activity into a more confined area, which creates the perfect ingredients to connect with a musky. Some of my biggest fish have been caught from these two productive areas during heavy winds, and although they may not be the most comfortable conditions to fish in, connecting with a heavy ‘lunge will make it all worthwhile.
Tackling Tools
Once you have identified the most productive areas on your lake to begin your search, it’s now time to decide what to throw at them. One thing to keep in mind is prey size. Baitfish during this time of the year will still be generally small, so it only makes sense to scale down your baits.
Also keep in mind that early season musky are in the process of moving from shallow to deeper water, eventually locating to their summer haunts. This means that you will want a fairly-fast moving presentation that allows you to cover a lot of water, in order to search out these fish. Considering these two points, your lure choices should be smaller baits that can be cast easily, and worked quickly, through reasonably shallow water. The three lures that I find most productive and easiest to use, during this time of year, would be bucktails, shallow running crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Bucktails are my number one choice at the start of the season. They are easy to cast and work all day, with a minimal amount of fatigue. They have astounding hooking capabilities and also work well in figure-eight situations. Most bucktails I use during the early part of the year fall between four and six-inches long. White, brown and black are my standards for clear water, whereas yellow, red and lime have worked best in stained water. The key is to experiment with colours and sizes and let the fish dictate what it prefers.
Shallow-running crankbaits, or minnowbaits, are another dynamite lure early in the season. There are a number of different ways to work these lures, yet the most productive seems to be the “twitch and tease.” Slow, methodical twitches with a minnowbait through productive areas really agitates, and elicits, tremendous strikes from fish that might not otherwise chase down a fast-moving bucktail. Look for lures in the five to six-inch length, sticking to colours that mimic the present prey, such as sucker, perch and baby bass finishes.
Finally, spinnerbaits are the lure that rounds out my musky arsenal. This is an in-between lure that can be worked fast or slow, and has the capabilities to flutter, or helicopter down, into cover or beside weedlines. Look for spinnebaits in the size you would normally use for bass fishing, while experimenting with different sized blades, and skirt, combinations. These are your best choice if you want to work water that is a little deeper than what a bucktail is normally used in, and they can also be pulled through thicker cover more easily.
The type of tackle set-ups to use with these smaller baits can also be downsized. Any heavy action bass rod will suffice, as will a medium heavy musky rod. By using a lighter rod, you will be able to cast, and work, the lures more efficiently. Stick to rods between six and seven-feet-long, partnered with a quality bait casting reel. Spool up with at least 20-pound-test line if you are using monofilament, and the relative test strength if your choice is Dacron or one of the new “superlines.”
Early Season Techniques
The most important message that I can convey is to cover water thoroughly and quickly, to search out the active fish. Once you’ve located some fish, or had some follows, now is the time to slow down and tease them into hitting. This is what twitchbaits excel at.
Always perform a figure-eight at boatside to up your odds of connecting with a following fish. This technique only takes five to ten seconds of your time, and it could result in a bonus fish, or one that you didn’t even know was there. Look for differences in cover, or structure, which may draw muskies in. Try variations on retrieves, such as speed or direction, to tempt a strike from a waiting fish.
Lastly, perseverance is the key. Muskies are like no other species, as you are now dealing with a top predator of the food chain. Keep working different areas using different tools and techniques, and you will eventually find the keys that unlock the musky mystery.
Musky fishing during the early season is a time when fish can be found in predictable spots, while utilizing fairly easy-to-use baits and techniques. By following the techniques and tactics that were describes earlier, you’ll be on your way to a great season, and I can’t think of any better way to shake a case of “cabin fever,” than by battling nature’s most fierce, and revered, freshwater fish.


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