The arrival of autumn sees with it a definite impending switch in musky location and behavior. As leaves first hint at changing color here in the Northwoods and the nights find a nip in the air, water temperatures dip below 70 degrees and the pre-turnover period begins. This time of year offers the musky angler the potential for dynamic outings as large numbers of fish frequent the shallows up until turnover, and are often feeding aggressively. Whether weeds, wood or rock, shallow cover, in as often as only a few feet of water, should garner the bulk of the esox hunter’s focus.
Pre-turnover is an excellent time for surface lures, one of my favorite and most productive offerings during early fall. Baits such as Lake X Lures Fat Bastard, Cannonball Jr., and Cannonball are sure bets and should be worked just a tad slower than during the steamy summer months. As a general rule the more surface disturbance due to wind, boat traffic, etc., the larger the lure I choose. Whereas I typically work baits relatively fast during summer, I prefer to retrieve surface lures in autumn just fast enough to get the lure to make a distinct popping sound; this of course varies from bait to bait so experimentation is key to finding the preferred speed for the muskies on a given day. In addition to Lake X Lures, I have also had excellent success on the Sennett Tackle Pacemaker and Rough Runner.
Not to be outdone by their overly buoyant counterparts, bucktails are also effective presentations during the pre-turnover period. Large double-bladed models offer not only greater lift at slower speeds, but produce a distinct big fish calling thump throughout the entire retrieve. I again experiment with size and let the fish show me what they prefer. There are many great choices on the market, with the Mepps Double Blade Musky Marabou (#7 blades), Musky Mahem Jr. Cowgirl (#8 blades), Toothy’s Tackle Tickler (#9 blades) and the Mepps H210 (#10 blades) being amongst my personal favorites. Regardless of which model I am throwing, I always incorporate the use of a plastic trailer to add additional flash and vibration thus ultimately elicit strikes from potentially non-committal ‘skies.
Although often overlooked in early fall for shallow holding fish, jerkbaits and crankbaits are also productive options. Musky Innovations Shallow Invaders and Mag Shallow Invaders will produce fish on a straight retrieve or when worked as a jerkbait as well as the Drifter Tackle Vexer, a lure specifically designed to excel as a twitchbait. A key triggering mechanism, especially with crankbaits, is to make occasional contact with whichever structural element you’re fishing.
Anyone who has been around musky fishing knows the potency of jerkbaits in autumn, and this includes the pre-turnover period. Shallow Mag and Pounder versions of the Musky Innovations Bulldawg produce giant fish each year during this window. Esox Research’s Hell Hound and Squirrely Hell Hound are glide baits that when worked in an erratic manner can produce strikes from fish that might otherwise only follow. The new Dyin’ Dawg has been a terrific producer for my boat all summer and I expect it to continue to do so this fall as well.
The pre-turnover period doesn’t last forever, so grab a few Plano boxes of the aforementioned lures and head out to your local honey hole to explore the shallow bite – there’s a great chance you’ll start your autumn off with a BIG bang! I’ll see you on the water… Joel DeBoer - Wisconsin Angling Adventures