The Greatest Location and Concentration of Muskies Anywhere on Planet Earth is LAKE ST. CLAIR!
Thoughts of warm breezes whisper in my ear as I gaze at the haze of blowing snow out the window of my little den on April 4. I am in a daze. Hope it’s just a phase!
My thoughts are on a slow drift across an Upper Michigan lake, near a maze of new, green cabbage weeds, casting a Suick for a waiting muskie. Out of nowhere comes a rise – ahaa – the ways of the muskellunge come back to me. In one of the spawning bays, the Suick is airborne – “t-boned” in the muskie’s maw, where it stays.
Now I can write this story.
Esoterically, I caught that fish by paying close attention to details, realizing that spring success for any piscatorial species depends mostly on 2 factors: location and presentation.
Location & The Spring Spawning Period
The muskellunge spawn shortly after the ice has melted but later than the northern pike,
usually in mid-April to late May, but more importantly, when the water temperature is 49- to 59- degrees F. The optimum or prime temperature is 55 degrees F. (More about temperature later).
A large female is usually accompanied by a smaller male (sometimes two males). The pair swim in water as shallow as 15 to 20 inches over heavily vegetated areas, flooded areas, or shallow bays with muck bottoms covered by 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 the bodies. The lashing of the tails of the two fish spreads the fertilized eggs and the pair swims on. These rapid gyrations (The Muskie Mambo) of the male and female are enacted many times at various intervals over several days.
No nest is built; the semidemersal, apparently nonadhesive eggs are randomly scattered and fall into the vegetation.
This entire spawning process normally lasts no more than a week’s time, with the females laying between 22,000 and 180,000 eggs. The number of eggs is usually determined by the size of the female: larger females produce the greatest numbers of eggs. When the spawning process is over, the adults leave the area, providing no parental care. Remember: Muskellunge come back to the same areas each year to spawn.
Location, Hatching And The Prey Factor
Hatching occurs in 8 to fourteen days at water temperatures between 53 degrees to 63 degrees F. The muskellunge is a fish that stays close to its home range, roaming only when food is hard to find. It prefers larger lakes with both deep and shallow water and large beds of aquatic plants such as cabbage weed, arrowleaf, cattail, coontail, and water lilies. It also prefers medium to large rivers
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 prey 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 these 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 (mostly fish) 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.
So now you know that spring water temperature is important, the fact that muskies reuse their spawning grounds year after year, and adequate size of prey has a bearing on the diet of large muskies. Let’s go muskie fishin’!
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 muskellunge return to the same shallow areas each year to spawn. Check with the locals on your favorite lake or ask your DNR biologist. Some lakes can have years when spawning was excellent, making for strong year classes and excellent fishing later. You might want to inquire when this occurred. Then ask yourself: how long does it take a muskie to reach adult size? Well, in 5 years they will reach 30-inches and are ready to join the dating game.
By the end of May in Michigan, for example, the muskies should have completed the actual spawning cycle and moved to the post-spawn cycle. The cycles, however, are controlled by water temperature and day length. So where should you begin your muskie search?
First, timing is the key. So is common sense. Check the water temperature. See if it is warmer than 50 to 60 degrees, the temperature that muskies prefer to spawn in. Then search surrounding areas.
Secondly, most avid muskie fishermen I know will fish smaller lakes first. Why? Because they warm faster. More importantly, these lakes will pass through the spawning cycle first and will give you better action sooner.
Third, because the southerly cycle of the sun warms the north end of a lake sooner, opening-day fishermen would do well to fish it, especially the shallow areas. I know a lake that includes a river inlet on the north end. Now, to use an overused term, you have a hotspot. Why? Because rivers invariably warm faster than lakes. And check the river itself.
How about a very hot spot—on fire! It’s esoteric info. You observe that the water in a lake is tannic-stained (coffee-stained) and you know that dark or coffee-stained water warms faster than clear water. Eureka! You have a coffee-stained river running into the north end of a coffee-stained lake. Now you know how Lewis and Clark felt. You can now have a cup of coffee-stained coffee and gloat.
Fourth, be aware of wind direction. Baitfish swim in on these winds and most successful muskie fishermen I know follow the warm shallow water/baitfish pattern.
“In the U.P. and, I suspect, all of Michigan will be having a late spring in 2014 so it becomes even more imperative that muskie fishermen fish smaller lakes that warm faster or fish larger shallow lakes where the weeds in the water help warm these lakes faster. And fish the rivers. “Higher water temperatures activate the muskie’s metabolism and they begin feeding ASAP – after the rigorous spawning cycle,” says notable muskie fisherman, Mark Mylchreest, of the Michigan DNR in Crystal Fall, Michigan.
Smaller Lures Produce Consistent Strikes
Save the macho baits for late summer and fall muskies are caught on small walleye baits every year, so this pretty much tells the story, eh!
What baits would I pack for a June or early July muskie trip? Here’s my Top Ten.
1) Small Mepps Muskie Bucktails — perch and shad colors – retrieve slowly and cover water.
2) Small Grandma Baits – wide, flashy sides are perfect for twitching in place, then swim them.
3) Small Crane Bait – (a sleeper) just retrieve slowly over weeds – use natural perch color.
4) Small 8-inch – Jointed Swim whiz – Chartreuse with black dots – medium retrieve – jerk – pause
5) Surface Baits – Top Raider – Parrot color – produces lots of surface noise.
6) 7-inch Suick – Walleye or Suckers color – Jerk and suspend – twitch – right in their face.
7) 8-inch Reefhog – orange top – chartreuse bottom – works side to side – then pause.
8) Small, Bass-style Spinnerbaits – white – one blade/single hook with trailer and twister tail.
9) Jig with a 5-inch Plastic, scented Power Bait – Paddle Tail Shad. They are Dyn-0-mite!
10) The Bull Dawg in an orange/green – baby or big dog – do whatever suits your fancy.
Anticipation and anxiety fire me up to prepare for the spring season. But I remind
myself to work my baits slooowly, using pauses and twitches near shoreline cover like weeds, rocks, and timber. Knock on the door as you
glance off rocks and trees. The muskies are there and aware. Give them their prey – with tender
Finally, unless you are a lure collector, keep it simple with basic lures as the weather warms into July. Remember and practice your basic casting and figure-eighting skills.
And remember, the greatest location and concentration of muskies anywhere on Planet Earth is Lake St. Clair!
Information on the spawning habits are specific to “Wisconsin Strain” muskies and may vary from the “Leech Lake Strain.”