Towards the end of August and into September there is an interconnection of shorter days and cooler nights. Yes, the water is cooling and the shallows are becoming more esox Masquinongy friendly again as tasty baitfish treats move in
In what seems like a chlorophyll funeral of sorts, aquatic vegetation is dying and trees are changing to a kaleidoscope of vivid hues. Change is on the wind, my friends!
Fisherman’s attitudes are changing too. Let’s face it, the inland lake fishing, as I saw it, was not up to par this summer. But let’s stay confident and catch a few transition muskies this year. Keeping our energy levels up might take some long, peanut butter and jelly days – maybe a couple of PB & J sandwiches.
A patient attitude also helps. Search for muskies in your favorite haunts and try a few other places — spots that we haven’t tried for a few years. Yep, try the weeds and weed edges which drop to deeper water but let’s look at rocks, sandy beaches, reeds, and off-shore reefs.
Along with the search let’s try different lures like the TopRaider that I only seem to pull out of the box on windless summer nights. I’ll try topwater baits during semi-windy days over weeds and in shallower water.
Ok! What other things should we be aware of before we search for other patterns.
Water Temperature – First Phase
As I write this article the water temperature on several lakes, large and small, is 77 to 78-degrees. We have had a heat wave in the U.P. of Michigan but cooler weather is coming. During this upcoming August and September period though, I will take the advice of Mark Mylchreest, DNR Fisheries Superintendent for the Crystal Falls station and a super muskie angler.
Mark says, “The optimum temperature for fishing muskies during this transitional period is between 64 to 58-degrees. Look for baitfish like white suckers, for example, that will be feeding in the mud and Cara weed flats on Chicagon Lake during this time.”
Noting that the one thing about muskies that you can predict is that muskies are unpredictable – well, in this case scenario, I am quite sure of two things: 1) A muskies metabolism is geared toward feeding in the fall, especially the big females who are pregnant with thousands of eggs that must be maintained and nourished before winter arrives. Cooling water temperatures are a definite trigger during this pre-fall, transition time. 2) Quite simply – the forage takes muskies shallow and easier to find.
Water Temperature – Second Phase
It is my belief that there definitely is a second, triggering water temperature phase that occurs later, as in October or November. I will discuss water “turnover” at some later date. The main point I want to relate is that, in my opinion, this later cool down period occurs in the 40-degree range. This is another great time to hunt aggressive muskies. For example, there is a hot bite on a local lake, Stanley that occurs when this lake hits 47-degrees. I wait for it and visit there until one day, magic time occurs and multiple catches occur while trolling or casting to specific areas. What a great time of year, for all species, really. An example: Little Bay de Noc’s big walleyes are very active at the prime time of 45-degrees. What are your magic times on your favorite lakes?
OK! Let’s take a peanut butter & jelly brake and consider what this muskie hunt entails. Let’s eat that protein and burn some calories.
Weeds & Reeds
Weeds that grow out to 15-feet of water and drop sharply are places to fish hard. The greener they are the better. Sometimes it is more productive to stay on the outer edge with your trolling motor and parallel cast or troll.
The other choice is to start in about 8-feet of water and drift or control drift with the trolling motor into deeper water. Spinnerbaits with single hooks do the job here and side-to-side deep gliders like the “walk the dog” (with a belly flash maneuver) Phantoms and ReefHogs.
Stands of Reeds or bulrushes/vertical vegetation and the shallow areas near them hold big muskies. Now I thought this occurred only in the spring in some of my crappie spawning grounds. I could hear the thrashing and splashing going on. Then I saw a legal muskie leap. It was exciting but turned the crappie fishing off.
Later, a friend of mine told me of a pattern which can occur any time of year but peaks just after the first hard frost of the year. Could be September or earlier. Nevertheless, reeds close to deep water are muskie magnets but do not ignore the smaller patches. Also, if some sub-surface vegetation is present, that’s a plus.
How do you attack these rain forest-looking areas? First, stay patient and look for pockets in the reeds. Again, use your sunglasses and stand on the deck of your boat and look for that telephone pole-type, dark shapes lying there in the shallows, especially on clear, calm first-light mornings. Get up early and work these reeds, especially when the water temperature falls into the 66 to 60-degree ranges.
Ahhh! Now for the tools of the trade. Look for trenches or troughs in front of these dense stands of reeds and cast parallel to them. Reeds can be tough and to extricate your lures from them so you need a good powerful reel. I use an Abu Garcia Revo with a heavy, 8-foot St. Croix rod. I have several spinnerbaits with a single hook and a trailer that I use to snake through the reeds. A Kalin’s Mogambo, 6-inch tail helps keep goop off the hooks too.
Simple bass buzzbaits can get in the goop too. Joe Bucher’s SlopMaster fills this slot also. Small bucktails like a Muskie Mania Lily Tail that has a neatly placed single hook can maneuver through the weeds nicely too. But I’ll bet you could change trebles on some of your smaller bucktails and save a buck. Get ‘er done!
Sandy Beaches & Late-Summer Muskies
I had the privilege to fish Lake Of The Woods a few years back. In what I considered to be a morning lull, my boat partner started towards a sandy beach. I figured it was PB & J time but he yelled back to me, “Put on a weedless spinner.”
Gotta tell this story! I put on a single hook/trailer spinnerbait and added a 3-inch purple tube. We had just come around the corner of a deep water, prominent point. There was a cabbage-weed bay stuck in there with reeds and a sandy beach. I was salivating and just threw the lure in as far as I could. As soon as it hit, a huge muskie boil churned up behind my bait and inhaled my spinnerbait. I mean, later as I recollected, we did not see the hairpin or the spinners of that bait in the monsters huge mouth. I fought the fish and got her to come around the boat toward open water. My boat partner had the net ready while the monster was charging the net; but – it took a nose dive and shredded that 65-pound Stealth Braid on the rim of the net like it was sewing thread – and zappo! – that was the end of my biggest muskie – ever. What power and strength that fish showed. Lesson: I now use 80 to 100-pound test for that very reason. Muskie anglers live for these moments in time and I sincerely hope that fish lived.
Heck of a location and if you can find places like this, be ready. Now I don’t know for sure that muskies like to soak up the sun on the beige-colored sand to re-energize themselves or to help in digestion. The point is to search for these locations at prime times, especially during the August/September transition period and then mark them on your locator. No luck on the first attempt – come back at the prime times, and use Joe Bucher’s moonrise and moonset tables.
Wind & Rocks
All over Michigan there are lakes with a noticeable lack of weedy areas. Therefore, fish the windblown rocks and reefs, especially during the transition period. The stronger the wind, the better the bite. Lob some rubber Bulldogs or Storm Thunder Beasts, let ’em sink, and rip ’em! Simple is as simple gets!
Good Tip — Rivers
When east winds blow and cold fronts put fish down, fish rivers. To me, they seem to stabilize negative weather situations. Again, looks for clean weeds and reeds and sandy beach areas. Fish hard but take breaks. Nothing like a refreshing, homemade U.P. blackberry jelly and peanut butter sandwich to keep you firing those long casts!