This past May 15 U.P. reports were coming in of numerous catches of muskies by walleye fishermen. Then, on a one week muskie hunt, notable muskie hunters Mark Mylchreest and Pete Micol boated twenty muskies up here in da U.P. Not so incredible for them but you can bet they used smaller swim baits and retrieved them slooowly.
Well, I knew that water temperature played a role. It’s a known fact that a muskie’s metabolism gets boiling as the water temperature rises to the 65 to 70-degree-range in the spring and early summer.
The presentation story right now, as you read this, in July, is changing from a slow, spring retrieve to a faster one, from smaller baits like Mepps 4s and Husky Jerks to Mepp’s Musky Killers and Harassers and big Suicks. After the water temperature reaches into the 70s, faster retrieves are the norm and July becomes “burn time” or reeling as fast as you can, depending on the tool you are using.
What tools you use to catch muskies in July and August will determine what kind of response you receive from Esox masquinongy. Will she strike or follow? Will the follow be “nose up” to the bait or a lazy follow?
Yours truly traveled to Lake Of The Woods (LOTW), Morson, Ontario – Red Wing Lodge, every July for four years, 2006 to 2009. It is a Mecca for muskies and a great place to test your skills, not because they are easy to catch (you still have to put your time in) but because there are good populations of muskies and a better-than-average chance for a trophy of 50-inches.
Because I am observant about things piscatorial, I will share with you Phase I, the presentation process many successful muskie anglers use to discover the muskie’s mood, her daily inclinations, and basically, how to lure or entice “big mama” to eat your offering.
Oh man, what bait to choose! Later on, we will discuss Phase II –structure and patterns. Then Phase III – tricks of the trade.
The Presentation Process
Spinnerbaits And Bucktails: Start searching with baits that cover water quickly. With the bow-mount trolling motor on high, cast to proven structure – rocky points, weeds, rocks with weeds, deep weeds with deep water nearby. These are go-to search baits.
Topwater Baits: Some cover structure quickly. In the evening, nothing beats the TopRaider or Super TopRaider. Slow, finesse topwaters include the Hi-Fin Creeper.
Minnowbaits: These flat-sided baits exude “wounded fish.” Flash, vibration, and wide side-to side- wobble just plain attract muskies. Also called twitch baits, retrieve by ripping, pull pole up, pause, rip it sideways etc. Drifter-Mania Jakes now have hot colors and Grandma Baits top the list. This method is overlooked, folks.
Crankbaits: Depth Raiders and Swim Whizzes just plain produce and a favorite, the white-bellied Crane Bait, can be twitched or cranked. Jointed models also shine.
Gliders Or Sliders: Side to side or walk the dog styles – favorites are weighted Reef Hogs, Giant Jackpots, and the easy-to-use Drifter Hellhound. Move them fast – pause – twitch – slow it up.
Diver Jerkbaits: The remarkable Suicks, from 7-inch models to 10-inches and larger. Musky Mayhem “Big Daddy” is weighted, dives deep, and rises slowly.
Plastics Or Jigs: I’ll put the Bull Dawg here. Tubes and Creatures work on jigs.
Back To Spinners: In-line Bucktails and safety-pin Spinnerbaits.
Choose From Various Structural Elements To Form A Pattern
Mark Mylchreest, fisheries technician for the Michigan DNR in Crystal Falls and, to me, the best angler I have ever had the privilege to fish with, defines searching for patterns as “addressing the mood of the fish.”
“It is a process of elimination,” say Mark. “I like to start with a spinnerbait and search shallow water for aggressive fish, moving and casting quickly. Later, when I see, for example, that the water temperature has risen to 76-degrees, I know that the fish will not longer be shallow. They will most likely be on or near drop-offs in 12- to 15-feet deep. I will adjust accordingly, especially if no strikes occurred.”
Mark adjusted perfectly one day on LOTW. He recalls, “All of sudden the bigger fish started showing up on the sides of rocky points, with boulders as a welcome sign, not on the very ends, but on the ledge just in from the tip of the point, where the wind blew the baitfish in. Walla! What a pattern it turned out to be!”
Mark caught a 54-inch beauty on a deep-running spinnerbait. He makes his own; he bends the blades, adjusts the arms, and he tinkers with them to make the right flash. He listens to the vibrations to test their “muskiespeak.” Honest, he does.
In Michigan waters like Lake St. Clair, where weeds are prevalent, the well-established pattern is to work the tops of this weedy structure by trolling. Maximum water with a couple of muskies per acre is covered, using baits that tickle weeds but remain weedless. I had the privilege of watching Mike Pittiglio of Musky Mania Charters work his magic.
The successful muskie fisherman recognizes patterns, picks a tool to get after them, and goes to work. The best anglers are the ones that work the hardest on the water. It is here that tricks of the trade develop. Here are a few tips I learned from fishing with good muskie anglers.
Tactics And Tips To Put More Muskies In Your Boat
Not quite believing my eyes, Mark Mylchreest tied on a big, 10-inch, straight Believer and proceeded to toss it right into the middle of a huge weedbed, in July, with the weeds about as thick as they could get. I thought – this guy is nuts. With three sets of trebles, he will surely reel in a glob of weeds.
Well, I was flabbergasted. Reeling slowly, Mark moved the bait along and hit some weeds. (Here are his exact words.) “Move the rod downward in a fast, hard snap.” The weeds came off, he paused, moved the Believer along, and Bam! He hooked that fish and several minutes later, I netted a 45-inch muskie. So look for paths in the weeds and remove the end treble hook and replace it with a small spinner blade.
The same weed crawl can be done with a Suick, a Burt, or a Bobbie Bait (this baits actually backs up).
Two areas that are overlooked by muskie anglers as they are searching for good places to fish are saddles and sandy beaches. Saddles are shallow areas between deeper water areas, like between a small island and a large island. Currant and wind make these hot spots.
Sandy beaches usually have weeds growing in front of them and are baitfish magnets. Many muskies live in here with very little disturbance by anglers.
Chasing muskies for 25 years has led me to believe I am crazy. However, if you still think I am a credible student of the esox game, let me give you my top six, best producing lures.
1) The Spinnerbait. Jack Burns, a great guy, world-class muskie angler, former editor of Esox Angler Magazine, and recently deceased, called this bait the most versatile and productive bait made. He will be missed by all who knew him (I did four articles with him). The Rad Dog, The Grinder by Dick Pearson, and the Funky Chicken all perform well.
2) The Swim Whizz. Looks like a Believer but my Chartreuse and black-dotted, jointed model simply brings in fish. The wobble and the noise it makes are magical.
3) The Suick. Hey, when all else fails, the weighted, sucker-colored model dupes more muskies on the pause and rise than any other jerkbait.
4) The Crane Bait. What an enticing wobble. Super easy lure to run over the tops of weeds.
5) The Reef Hog & Drifter Hellhound. I can not make up my mind. I love working a walk-the-dog bait. The weighted (I do this myself) eight-inch, orange top, chartreuse bottomed “Reefy” model catches fish when no other fish are reported being caught. The Drifter Hellhound is just plain easy to use and strikes are violent.
6) The Super Topraider – Surface bait that moves fast with enticing bubbles and noise. Almost always get a strike in the evening. Drawback – hooking percentage is low.
In conclusion, W.C. Fields, when asked what he was doing with the Bible in hand, remarked, “Just lookin’ for loopholes.”
While on the water one day, a dead calm, slow day, I ran into Mark M. on a muskie lake, just sitting and drinking coffee. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied, “Just waitin’ for windows – windows of opportunity.”
Just then the wind picked up and he smiled, “The winds of change have just arrived, Dock. Gonna be a fine day from now on!”
Get the net!