Early Season Outlook for Northwoods Muskies
A cool down at the early part of this week here in the Northwoods may slow fish activity down a bit. However, in a Spring that has been in overdrive with early summer like temps and abundant sunshine up until recently, it will only be a bump in the road long term. Actively spawning Muskies have been very visible for as long as two weeks or more in some systems and incidental catch rates have been high this past week on offerings intended for walleyes and bass. While some of the larger lakes will likely still have some spawning activity during the opener this upcoming weekend, plenty of hungry fish should be available. This is especially true in systems where fish concluded spawning well before the Opener.
If you are fortunate enough to have spent some time on the water up here this season, take note of the lakes you visited where you observed bass and crappies actively bedding. These lakes are prime candidates for the timing aspect of the major key to success this weekend; lake choice. Additional factors to examine are weed growth and water temperature. The optimal lake/flowage/river choice for early season should be as far away from the spawn as possible, have advanced weed growth (cabbage in particular) and have some of the highest sustained water temperatures in the area.
This loosely translates to shallow lakes(max depth of less than 25-30 feet), large systems with large expanses of shallow weed beds or attached lakes, stained or semi stained water, flowages, and rivers.
Optimal choices for lure selections will be downsized in most cases. If the weather greatly improves and water temperatures make it to the low 60 degree range, large and magnum offerings can be very effective early on. Based on the current forecast, it looks like the time to up size will come in the middle of next week. Small spinners like Rizzo whizs and Mepps are a classic choice for opener. Single bladed 700 and 500 series Bucktail and blades up to double 8s are a great choice also. Chatterbaits intended for bass are always musky magnets before the season opens. Baits like the Angry Dragon can produce tremendous results the first few weeks of the season. Small jerk baits in the 5-"7" size like Big Game jerkbaits, shallow raiders, custom X and Grandma's will produce strikes from less aggressive fish. 9" and 10" Suicks are on of my favorite "large baits" in an early season scenario. Small rubber like mini and mid Medusas, Kermits and regular bull dawg should always be kept handy for both tight to cover and open water applications. Glide baits like Phantoms and hellhounds in the 4"-6" size will likely be a hot producer, especially if water temps remain in the low to mid 50 degree range. Last but not least, the topwater bite is often overlooked and a good option to explore, especially in lakes that have areas of very advanced weed growth. In those systems, fish will hold in very dense weeds in only 2-3 feet of water and a slow moving top water can be the best weapon to dig them out. On the second day of the season last year we had a phenomenal topwater pattern going. Lake X Dr. Evil, Creepers, and scaled-down wobblers are all excellent choices.
The conditions this season should be similar to last year's opener in many respects, so revisiting areas that yielded success last year on opener is an excellent strategy. Best of luck this opening weekend! Looking forward to another great season of musky fishing here in the Northwoods!
Capt Jeff Van Remortel
WDH Guide Service, LLC
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