Knowledge Of Spawning Areas Key To Success…
Spawning muskies are a sight to see. Because I lived on Stanley Lake near Iron River in the U.P., I had the distinct pleasure of actually seeing a large female muskie and a smaller male play “rub-a-dub-dub and shake, rattle, and roll” with each other to mix milt and egg. How’s that for scientific terminology?
Seriously, though, knowledge of spawning areas is key to locating and catching spring muskies. Also important to success is some knowledge of proven presentations for old Esox masquinongy.
The Spring Spawning Period
Just as in real estate, the important fact to remember is location – location – and location. It’s important in the exciting sport of muskie fishing too, but nothing gets started in the spring until water temperature is just right for spawning. Spring will be late this year in da U.P. As I write this on April 20th, there are still 16-inches of soft ice on most lakes. But shortly after the ice has melted and after the northern pike have spawned the next miracle of nature takes place when the water temperature reaches 49 to 59 degrees F. Want a prime temperature to look for? It’s 55 degrees F.
Watching the miracles of spring births and renewals throughout Michigan sustain me. It was a privilege to catch glances of the following: a large female is usually accompanied by a small male (sometimes 2 males). The pair swims in water as shallow as 15 to 20-inches over heavily vegetated areas, flooded areas, or shallow bays with muck bottoms covered with dead vegetation.
Swimming side by side over these areas for several hundred yards, the fish roll at various intervals so that the anus of the male and the female are close together. A small number of eggs and sperm (milt) are shed simultaneously during rapid shaking of their bodies. Mother Nature intends that the lashing of the tails of the two fish spread the fertilized eggs and the pair swim on. These rapid gyrations of the male and female are enacted many times at various intervals over several days.
No nest is built; the apparently non-adhesive eggs are randomly scattered and fall into the vegetation.
The entire spawning process normally lasts no more than a week’s time, with the females laying between 22, 000 and 180,000 eggs.
Although adult muskies do not provide any parental care, muskies do come back to the same areas to spawn each year. It is my contention that muskies will be in the same general area after spawning and that muskies are a fish that stays close to its home range, roaming only when food is hard to find.
They prefer larger lakes with both shallow and deep water and large beds of aquatic vegetation like cabbage weeds and coontail.
It also prefers medium to large rivers with deep pools and slow moving water.
Muskies As Predator
Kids are curious and when they ask me what muskies eat, I usually answer: anything they want, which isn’t far from the truth. Then I add a more specific answer. Muskies in the fry stage and larger will eat a variety of fishes. A publication by the Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Fisheries reports: “As soon as a fish (any species will do, from gamefish to minnows to other muskellunge, with suckers and perch particular favorites) swim into view, the muskellunge strikes, impaling the fish sideways on its large canines, then rotating the fish and swallowing it head first.” Bass, rock bass, sunfish like bluegills and crappies, and bullheads, to name a few, are all fair game. Attacking any large spiny-rayed fish sideways helps to collapse those spiny rays before engulfing the food.
Finally, there appears to be a direct correlation between the size of a muskie and the size of food that they select. It seems that adequate size of prey rather than vast numbers of smaller prey may be more important to the growth and survival of larger muskies. Now there’s some food for thought.
Lately there has been an influx of larger lures like as the double #10-bladed Cowgirls or the big rubber Bull Dawgs that require special long and strong 8 and 9-foot muskie rods (St. Croix Rods makes them). However, I prefer to use smaller lures during the spring and early summer. Then go with the big stuff in the fall.
The Search And Discover Process
First, ask yourself: Is your favorite lake self-sustaining, that is, does natural reproduction occur? If you know where the muskie spawning grounds are, the muskies could be in close proximity. Remember we said that muskies return to the same areas each year to spawn. Check with the locals on your favorite lake or ask your DNR fish biologist for information. Some lakes can have years when spawning was excellent, making for strong year classes. You might want to inquire when this occurred. Then ask low long it takes to reach adult size. It’s about five years.
Secondly, most avid muskie fishermen I know will fish smaller lakes first. Why? Because they simply warm faster. These usually shallow, weedy lakes will warm faster after spawning and will consequently perk up a muskie’s metabolism. Work baits slowly and then continue to speed them up as the water heats up.
Thirdly, as the southerly cycle of the sun warms the north end of the lake sooner, early spring fishermen would do well to fish it hard. Work extremely shallow areas during this time. I know a lake that has a river inlet; rivers invariably warm faster than lakes.
Lastly, let’s keep the shouting to a minimum, maybe a muffled – Yahoo! – that’s it. For you have just discovered the Spring Bonanza: Shhh! The warm north end of a lake that has a coffee-stained river flowing into it is the perfect fish magnet. Coffee-stained water warms faster than clearer water. And, if the bottom of that bay near the inlet is black in color this too is an advantage as black bottoms hold heat better.
Everything Is Connected to Everything Else
As my book, The Fable Of Freddy And The Frockett, confirms, spring connections are fascinating to anglers young and old. The miraculous sun creates the process of photosynthesis and melts the ice and warms the water that brings in micro-organisms that bring in the minnows that bring in the perch and the sunfish that attract the bass, the pike, the walleyes and the muskies – that connect to us.
Spring Muskie Presentations
Spring brings muskies out of the winter doldrums. Their metabolism will be slow. As the water warms, they remember what life is all about – eating – breathing – and making little muskies. Therefore, it makes sense to retrieve baits at a slower pace than normal.
Downsizing in the work place: Not always good for the workers! Downsizing for spring muskies: Good for the angler! It is of paramount importance. Lose the ego! Smaller baits simply work better. Experience and time on the water proves it. But, going slow with your search is not what I mean. Search for Mr. Muskellunge with the best spring search bait – the bucktail.
Cover areas quickly by running your trolling motor at a speed that allows you to cover weed beds efficiently but effectively. Use a small Mepps # 3 or 4 with a little natural hair. Toss a Blue Fox bucktail as far as you can heave it and have at it, but reel slowly over newly emerging cabbage and coontail.
Another favorite of mine are bass-type, chartreuse/white spinnerbaits that attract attention by helicoptering them up and down in spaces in the weeds. .
Confidence keeps you casting. The big confidence maker is the fact that bucktail-type baits are flexible and collapse down to nothing but wire and hooks, giving them the best hooking percentage of any other muskie bait.
Twitching And Suspending Baits
Talk about fun – this is it! Besides surface baits, flat-sided twitch baits like the small-size Jakes, Cranes, and Grandmas are perfect for the big mama muskies that don’t care to move too far. Let the bait land with a tight line – pause – twitch in place with short downward jerks – pause – then snap the bait towards you. BAM! GET THE NET!
Finally, let’s discuss: Suspend in Place – In Your Face! Remember the narrow, small minnow baits? Could be walleye baits too. But now Rapala has the new and exciting Glidin’ Rap, a 4 ¼ inch to 6 inch, side-to-side bait. Also, the new 3 1/8 inch and 4 inch Flat Rap sounds like a must for spring muskies too.
Don’t forget to try the Husky Jerks again this year. A new Down Deep Husky Jerk will trigger strikes for sure. I have also caught spring muskies and big pike on a gold Walleye Diver by Cotton Cordell. Also, lipless crankbaits and a Reef Runner Cicada really vibrate to really trigger muskies.
We have waded for muskies with a fly rod; we have used quick-set rigs on suckers in the spring but most of all, let’s get out and see how “Everything is Connected” to All who Enjoy the Great Outdoors.
Please practice catch-and-release. Replica mounts are terrific! Hang a memory on the wall!
U.P. outdoor writer, Robert Dock Stupp publishes his first book of fiction, “The Fable Of Freddy And The Frockett.” The story concerns a young boy, Freddy Free, who lives with his mother, Frenchy, on Ina Minne Lake. He discovers a magical Frockett (golden clam shell) with this inscription inside it: everything is connected to everything else. Going on an exciting, educational, and sometimes humorous U.P. adventure with his girl friend, Frankee, and her little brother, Freddy slowly learns the value of nature’s fascinating connections. Juvenile fiction (9 to 12) also entertaining adult read 194 pages. Available on amazon.com