Trolling Treats; (top to bottom) Believer & SwimWhiz, Storm's Giant jointed Thunderstick (with rattles) and Pete Maina's Jake.
October 01, 2012Native Americans designate four colors for the four seasons and the four directions. Black is for autumn and the direction of west because of the storms and the corresponding dark skies. White is the color of winter and the direction of north for obvious reasons. We'll discuss the rest of this story at a later date, but for muskie fishermen, red is the color of October because the muskie fishing is red hot, especially for a big mama or grandma muskie. That's right – all you macho muskie hunters out there! The biggest, badd-est muskies of the year will be shown in several magazines come January or so and it is the pregnant females that present the biggest and heaviest trophies of the year. Has to do with nourishing all those eggs they are carrying for a tough winter and a spring ritual (spawning) where Mother Earth comes alive again.
Yep, mama or grandma, depending on the age of the fish, put the feedbag on in the fall. But as all good fishermen know – sometimes they just like to cruise in and out of view for fun or curiosity – take your pick. They will follow your lure within inches and then sink down like a submarine.
Okay, what can we do to be better anglers and turn follows into strikes, changing a muskie's mood from neutral to aggressive? What tricks can we throw at them and what treats can we feed them to catch the trophy of a lifetime? Let's get aggressive and enjoy the Colorama of fall and the adventure of fall fishing in the rain and sleet and snow and wind. I can't wait.
Up here in da U.P. you can even enjoy a little "blast and cast," go deer hunting in the morning and go muskie fishing in the afternoon.
Trolling Muskie Treats/Water Temperature
It is always a good idea to spend some time before you go out in the boat. Get organized before you go by choosing what baits you will use for what purpose. Fall is the time to pull out the bigger and more natural-looking lures.
Let's start with trolling to get a good feel as to how the muskies are responding and where they are located. And, as always, check the water temperature on a couple of lakes to see which lakes are hot. In other words, are you marking fish and are they aggressive? For me, when the water temperature is between 64 and 45 degrees throughout the end of September into November, with the first good bite coming when the temperature drops out of the 70s and the fish start showing up shallow again. The second good bite occurs when water gets below 50-degrees. In my opinion, on certain lakes, the fishing gets red hot.
There are a few tricks you can perform to get a muskie to strike. There is a lake in my neighborhood that seems to reach maximum productivity when the water temp reaches a magical 47 degrees. We put two in-line plainer boards out and one man drives the boat and the other holds a rod. The trick is to bang structure like rocks and logs or the shallow structure on points and shallow, underwater reefs. Use strong-billed crankbaits like Believers or DepthRaiders to do this maneuver.
Zig-zag your boat in and out of 20-feet back into 12-feet, for example. Another simple trick is to change the speed of the boat. But, best of all, is another trick I do in low light conditions (cloudy days are best) is to put my Believer lure on the shallow eyelet (the one closest to the end of the bill). Swimwhizzes also have this option. I have seen muskies come out of 25 to 30 feet to attack a crankbait cruising at 10-feet, for example.
Casting Tricks & Treats
Would you believe me if I told you that there is a brand of lures called " muskie Candy!"
Well, it's true and these inline-spinners perform well.
After years of casting for bass and walleyes and pike and yes, muskies, I have noticed two important concepts. One of them is: "No freshwater fish reacts to changes of direction and speed like a muskie!"
The other concept: "If you want to have a successful day chasing muskies, you must be willing to work hard at it and concentrate, as if a muskie is following your lure every time." Some days this is very difficult.
A cast is not a cast. I like watching In-Fisherman TV. One of my favorite shows highlights Doug Stange throwing a marabou-skirted bucktail. Nothing special going on there, you say. But, as I concentrated on the retrieve, Doug reeled slowly at first, then paused for a split second, then – reeled the bucktail to the side as fast as he could. BAM! A violent strike at the boat and a successful catch. Doug explains, "The pause flared the marabou hair out for a split second – then the change of direction and speed sealed the deal!"
Oh, it was a trick all right, a little sleight of hand, but really Mr. Stange was performing for the muskie, performing by using the lure's capabilities to combine flash and vibration with one blade or twin blades and then, performing the closing act of "flairing out or puffing" the marabou hair to get a muskie to commit – and she did. A perfect act of attract and trigger.
OK! What else? One of the first things a guy can do to teach a kid how to cast for any fish, really, is to coordinate a simultaneous retrieve exactly when a lure hits the water. Do it with timing and the lure is already swimming. This little trick is a muskie trigger and it starts with the mechanical break on your baitcasting reel. For maximum casting distance and minimum tendency to over run your line or create the dreaded "backlash," it is necessary to adjust the mechanical brake on the reel to the weight of the lure. With the rod, reel, line, and lure ready to go, depress the clicker or thumb bar like you were ready to cast, then set the mechanical brake so that the lure slowly descends approximately 10-inches when the rod tip is flexed gently. If the lure does not move the mechanical brake is too tight. If it falls to the ground, it is too light. Just adjust using the "+ or – "signs. You can now cast like a professional muskie guide.
John Vengen of Ludington caught this 47-inch, red October muskie while fishing with the author.
Many muskie guides and avid muskie anglers us the other bladed tool to catch big muskies and that is the "L" type – spinnerbait. The bait with the short arm on top, holding the blades, does amazing things. Tricks of the trade include "bulging them on the top of the water," essentially keeping the blades above water and creating bubbles and noise. Also, "helicoptering" the bait into weed pockets or down on the bottom and moving it slowly and banging it off cover. Then you can "rip" the lure up and let it flutter down on a tight line, repeating the procedure. Some call it "slow rolling" but by any name, it is deadly. It is "in your face" muskie fishing.
Divers And Sliders
These baits are made to do Halloween tricks but are real treats too. Come October when the water gets colder and the muskies are looking for a good meal without exerting too much energy, a walleye – colored 7-inch and 10-inch Suick get extra duty in my boat. There is a favorite lake that is favorable to a north wind because there is an island with relatively deep water around it. When the north wind blows it is like nature's email. Small fish and plankton end up there and so do the baitfish. I pull up to the front and begin casting to specific spots that contain big rocks and logs. With my new I-Pilot trolling motor, a senior anglers dream, I can virtually anchor my boat and stay on a spot. I cast out and immediately give the lure "twitches" by side-arming the bait. It rolls and then I give it continuous, diving twitches, then pause – let it rise and Bam – the fight is on. My 9-inch walleye–flavored Suick is indeed–muskie candy. Bobbie Baits and Sledges are in this group also.
The side-to-side, walk-the-dog baits like ReefHogs, Rapala "Glidin' Raps", and Hellhounds seem to perform their best when fall arrives. Pause them and hold on.
Finally, the fall bite should include the use of 8 and 9 foot rods so you can execute an 'L' move away from the boat and then a figure-8 at the boat. Tricks like slowing down on the turn and speeding up on the straight-away just might get you your treat this fall; a 50-inch treat.