Presenting The Triple-Threat...
October 01, 2011"The good old days of muskie fishing are right now." And you can take that to the bank. With the advent of catch and release - muskie fishing has improved both numbers-wise and size-wise.
Anglers are becoming very good at releasing fish, carrying big long pliers, hook cutters, jaw-spreaders, and wearing big, tough gloves to handle them. Combine these things with a net that I darn near can cuddle up in and you have a pretty-stress-free fish back in the water in seconds.
Yes, nowadays you take a photo with a camera - What! And then you take that photo and some measurements to one of the many talented taxidermists in Michigan and you can get a perfect replica of your dream fish. Of course, you can also email the photo. Amazing!
With the Internet and Facebook and Twitter the fact remains that communication between anglers these days is phenomenal. Baits are made in bright, flashy colors and they wobble and shake with intense vibration to the point that muskies are called into lunch with megaphone-type precision. Some baits these days are more real than the real thing. Who said that? All this good stuff doesn't mean you can't pull out all the tricks of the trade when autumns leaves begin to fall. So let's have at it and discuss the best way to handle big Mamma muskies when the weather says "Stay home." Let's shake, rattle, and roll as we troll, cast, and use live bait to catch the still allusive, challenging Esox muskilonge.
If you haven't been to Lake St. Clair, you owe yourself a treat. Trolling there is an art form and there are many very good captains to choose from (check out the charter directory on page 130). In the process of writing an article titled, The Incredible Lake St. Clair, I hitched a ride with Captain Mike Pittiglia
(www.muskiemaniacharters.com). I met him one cloudy morning in St. Clair Shores Harbor and embarked on a muskie adventure aboard his boat. I am not going to get into all the details but on a slow and windy day for Captain Mike, muskies of 48 and 49-inches were caught with about 10 other fish.
The point is that trolling in the fall is very productive and, as Bill Dance likes to say, "You can do this."
I bought two planer boards and I have two pole holders on my boat. Strain the water, they say. Earlier in the fall, we troll shallow with shallow baits. Over twenty feet of water, you do not need to fish in 17 feet of water. I put one 8-inch Swim Whizz and one 10-inch Believer, of which one is a jointed bait and the other is straight bait. These baits wobble and make noise and muskies like the way they swim. I put them on the shallow ring of the bait so they swim about 8-feet deep. The other two baits are of the wide-sided, flashy, variety. We are talking about Grandmas, Jakes, and new productive ones like the Giant Thundersticks by Storm.
We zigzag in and out of drop-off areas until the fish tell us what they like. What Mike Pittiglia likes to say about Lake St. Clair holds true on other Michigan lakes, "You can't fish too shallow here. They will come up to take a lure."
In late fall, banging lures off the rocks calls for longer, 4-feet, fluorocarbon leaders or even single-stranded ones with 100-pound tensile strength. Here Depth Raiders, Drifter Triple D's, or the Rapala "Magnum" 22 Countdowns make lots of noise as they bang and dart off cover.
The author caught this beautiful fall muskie while trolling with planer boards. A black believer fooled this one on Stanley Lake in the U.P. Ted Kagy photo
The winds of change cause water temperatures to drop, first, into the lower sixties. Here is a great time to cast for muskies that move back shallower after spending time out in deeper water, perhaps suspending near schools of baitfish. Weed muskies are alive and well again. And, the bigger females need to feed the thousands of eggs they are nurturing. As the water cools, so should your retrieves. Slow down and use your Suicks and most of all, your side-to-side glider-type baits which just seem to be more productive than any other time of the year. There are Mantra, Reef Hogs, Hell-Hounds and the new Glidin' Raps from Rapala.
Spinnerbaits which you used to speed reel now can be slowed down and also banged on the rocks and slid across the tops of weeds. Use single-hook and single-bladed spinnerbaits in weeds. Be aware that even though some weeds are dying, do not pass up some brown weed patches, especially if they are closer to deep water.
One of the things that can frustrate a muskie angler in the fall is that the fishing is slower and patience is required. I have seen guys go through a bucket of baits in two hours and then go home. Not a good idea if you want to catch or at least see a couple of muskies in the fall. It is trophy time; it really is. Be prepared to figure-eight on every cast.
Once again, let the fish tell you what they want. As the temperature of the water cools into the high fifties and down into the forties, say, 47-degrees, try this:
1) Bucktails and spinnerbaits
2) Fast topwaters and then slow
3) Minnow or twitch baits
(flat-sided, flashy baits)
4) Shallow crankbaits - rip them,
pause them, twitch them. then use deep crankbaits - bang bottom and all cover
5) Glider baits like reef hogs and
hell hounds. - also giant jackpots - work them fast and work them slow
6) Diver jerkbaits like Suicks and
7) Jigs with plastic tails,
swimbaits on bottom, or jigs with smaller minnows
8) Back to bucktails - biggers
one like cowgirls
This is where patience really pays off. Remember where you saw a nice fish. Then bring the fish in close to the boat with a slow-moving bait and lead her to the sucker. A word about suckers: this big debate about using 20-inch suckers is over. Big suckers, on average, usually do not properly hook muskies. A 10- or 12-inch sucker will attract big muskies and your chances of catching them will increase.
The other debate is whether to use a single-hook like a circle hook and wait for the fish to swallow the sucker down into its stomach. This is not advised. The swallow-method kills muskies. That being said, the quick-set rig method is the way to go. With this method, when the muskie strikes the sucker, you immediately set the hooks into the muskie's mouth. Can you try to get directly over the muskie before you set the hooks? Yes, if you can. You may have to chase the muskie with your trolling motor but this where the challenge comes in.
Let's discuss 2 types of quick-set rigs. In the first method, take a sturdy, safety pin type spinnerbait with just one blade and cut off all the hair or plastic skirt. Place a stinger hook on the shaft of the single hook. You can make one with 60-pound stranded wire and a 1/0-treble hook.
Insert the single hook in the upper jaw of the 4 to 6-inch sucker and the treble hook on the side of the sucker in front of the dorsal fin. Cast it out and reel in slowly or drift with it.
In the second method, called the Simple Hook Straightening Rig (see diagram), you use pliers to straighten one tine of the treble hook and then bend it so it sticks into the sucker the opposite way of the other two tines. Stick it just under the skin. You can put one of each side of the sucker just before the dorsal fin.
As you can see, you can modify these methods and tinker with them. Some of my friends put a treble hook on a safety pin and place them on the sides of suckers. They then use a safety pin and stick it through the nose of the sucker. You set the hook, the safety pin opens and you slam the rig into the sucker's mouth.
Finally, I use a Big Fish Slip Bobber System (see diagram) to drift and move the sucker rigs around. It prevents snags.
You are not always successful with these live bait rigs but you will definitely contact more muskies and have a barrel of fun. And don't forget to cast while you are floating a sucker. Then troll and enjoy the fall scenery with the Triple-Threat Presentations.