Here’s a Sneak Peek to the Pre-Peak! So Don’t Miss It…
Michigan’s summer muskies can be puzzling, but dazzling too. The warmer June and July weather feels great and brings increased weed growth. But, at the same time, summer cottages and resorts get busy which is good for the local economy. However, the boat traffic can get very hectic at times, either pushing muskies deeper into heavy cover or forcing them into deeper water. Then there is increased fishing pressure. Kind of a good news—bad news thing! What to do?
Everything Is Connected
To Everything Else
As the water warms in
Michigan’s lakes and streams a
chain of events takes place that
again proves that everything is
connected to everything else.
Sunshine and chloroform connect
to begin the process of photosynthesis which forms new weed growth
which produces oxygen as a by-
product. All fish need oxygen to
survive—from the newborn micro-
organisms to the minnows to the
panfish to the predators. Yes, a
veritable summer playground
arrives as a celebration of life; the fisherman’s metabolism soars sky high and so does the top predator in many of Michigan’s lakes—esox Masquinongy.
Speed Is A Trigger
Smart and savvy muskie hunters know when to change tactics from a slow retrieve in spring to a faster retrieve in the summer. Speed is a trigger. Snap on your battle-tested, favorite bucktail and “burn” your lure through or over the tops of the weed or along the deeper, outer edges. You are searching for fish in hopes of catching one or seeing a follow or two to put in your memory bank and come back to this spot an hour later or save it until dusk.
Use a bucktail (aka marabou tail or the new tinsel tails) and tinker with it to make it more weedless. As a veteran muskie fisherman I only use one set of trebles and choose a bucktail that has a rounded blade like a Colorado blade. I place a single “stinger hook” on one of the tines of a treble hook and attach a large twister tail made specifically for muskie fishing.
Somewhat overlooked lures are the dynamite, almost completely weedless spinnerbaits on the market, the ones with the large single hooks, lots of marabou or tinsel or both, and a short arm with, for example, a single willowleaf blade. Maneuver them in and around weeds, maybe banging cabbage weeds and ripping them off—and bam—fish on!
Dog Days Of August
There is a time to change tactics as the sloppy, “gunky” weeds of simmering August turn many muskies to swim towards open, deeper, and cooler water. Some of them may suspend out there and that’s where some open water trolling comes in handy.
The Pre-Peak Period
(Or The Early Fall Water Temp Cooling). However, as the nights get cooler, there is another water temperature change when the water temps start to fall from the summer temps of the high 70s into the 60s and lower. Former large muskies that were swimming and suspending in open water begin to follow baitfish into the cooler shallow water.
To keep this temp thing straight, let’s review:
1) First we have the cool water temperatures of spring and the spawning ritual.
2) Then we have the warming, summer higher temps into the 70s. A muskies metabolic rate sours and the angler has super chances to catch muskies that are aggressive and feeding.
3) But, sooner or later, the shallows get sloppy and messy, and the big boys flee to open, cooler water or—bury themselves into the slop. I remember a time when I was just beginning to muskie fish when, entering a shallow bay, the weeds were moving in big ugly “globs.” We were not sure what was going on but it sure was weird. Since then I learned what was what and brought along the baits to go after these fish.
4) As the nights cool and the days get shorter, a cooling occurs and we have the Pre-Peak Period. The reason it is called a Pre-Peak Period is because it is before the Final Fall Period, the most discussed and most popular time for lunkers.
And, for good reason. October into November is super lunker, monster muskie time. This occurs, to me, when water temps drop to 50-degrees and lower (will discuss next month).
Pete Maina is a famous muskie angler, guide, and lure manufacturer who pays close attention to the “newer or fresh” fish visiting the shallows. It is the beginning of increased sightings and catching of foraging muskies getting ready to beef up for winter. Note—this muskie migration is not a move to main lake areas.
Changing tactics are necessary to take advantage of this Pre-Peak Period, work at exploring inside weedlines; starting the morning by fishing close to shore and casting from the inside weedline out—into the slop or heavy weed cover.
Fish in the early mornings and before dark. Fish the coolest times of day—early and late. Also, fish baits that cover water like bucktails and topwater baits. Nix-nay to the slow-moving baits. Fish sandy areas where sand is close to shore but, in many cases, have deeper cabbage-type weeds in front of the sandy areas. Not only that but larger fish are seen more consistently around docks and cribs that were previously enjoyed by tourists.
Rocks come into play more, especially when you have a few windy days where the direction of the wind blows right into the front of these rocky areas.
Finally, when you discover weeds mixed in with the rocks and rubble, mark this spot with your GPS. But, where to start the day is always a problem for me?
Choose From Various
Structural Elements to
Form A Pattern
Sometimes I need a muskie fishing coach, someone to help me with a game plan like, Mark Mylchreest, Fisheries Superintendent for the Michigan DNR in Crystal Fall. He defined the process of searching for muskie patterns (and all fish, really) as “addressing the mood of the fish!”
“It is a process of elimination,” says Mark. “I like to start with a spinnerbait and search shallow water for aggressive fish, moving and casting quickly (sometimes with the trolling motor up to #5-speed). He goes on to say, “when I see that the water temperature has risen to 76-degrees, for example, I know that the fish will no longer be shallow.”
He says, “They will most likely be on or near drop-offs in 12-to 15-feet deep. I will then adjust accordingly, especially if no strikes occurred.”
One July day I was muskie fishing with Mark. I recall, “All of a sudden larger muskies started showing up on the sides of rocky points, with boulders as a common denominator. However, these rocks and boulders were not on the very ends of the points, but on the ledge just in from the tip of the point, where the wind blew the baitfish in.”
Walla! What a pattern this turned out to be. It lasted for just over two days. Then the wind changed.
My 6 Best Lures
For Pre-Peak Muskies
1) Spinnerbaits – the most versatile and productive muskie bait made. Examples include the Rad Dog, the Grinder, and the Funky Chicken.
2) The Swim Whizz – Looks like a Believer (also very good) but my black-dotted, chartreuse, jointed, 8-inch model simply calls in muskies. The wobble and its noise are magical.
3) The Suick – the weighted, sucker-painted model dupes more muskies on the pause and rise than any other jerkbait.
4) The Crane Bait – what a sleeper. The perch model with the white belly also has an enticing wobble. Great over weeds.
5) The ReefHog & Hellhound – My pal “Reefy” catches walleyes, pike, and muskies. 8-inch is best. Other side-to-side gliders like the Phantoms and Hellhound drives fish nuts!
6) The Super Topraider – A surface bait that sputters with repetitive bubbles—an enticing noise. Work it fast at last light. Strikes are explosive.
These lures are pretty much top of the water column baits. For deeper water there are many fine working crankbaits—such as Depth Raiders, Drifter Believers, Grandma Baits, Cisco Kids, and Storm Lures.
Finally, get ready for Michigan’s late summer/early fall fishing bonanza. Migrations of baitfish are followed by migrations of muskies and other fish. Pay attention to the first frost, the first cold front, the first frosted windshield.
Yikes! So much to do! So, just seek the Pre-Peak!