I am often asked while guiding what my favorite time of year is to fish muskies. My reply is simple, whenever and however. A lot of musky fishermen have a built in response to this question. Fall. They figure that this is the only time to get a chance a real big fish. Sure, muskies will weigh more at this time of year, but they aren’t always the easiest to figure out and catch. Fall can be a feast or famine type of fishery. Patterns can change daily, weather swings, and dealing with the turnover game can make it a “head scratching” time of year. Muskies are usually deeper this time of year, or are they really? Maybe they were yesterday, but today they aren’t. The last couple seasons have given us weird weather swings and warming trends in the fall that have caused normal cut and dried fall patterns to change drastically for most fishermen. Sure Indian Summer days are beautiful to fish in, but why does it seem that most standard fall patterns don’t work so well on these day? Why is it when these type of unseasonable warm days present themselves, the typical muskie encountered is much smaller on average than normal? I will hopefully answer these questions, and make sense out of these warming trends. First, I’ll discuss normal post turnover fall patterns, and then talk about dealing with warming trends.
TYPICAL FALL HAUNTS
After turnover occurs (which is typically the first week of October) in my home area of Vilas County, I am typically looking deep for my muskies. I am strictly concentrating on big fish waters this time of year. These lakes contain the right forage(suckers and ciscoes), some are deep, and some are relatively shallow. Bottom line is that they historically produce large muskies. I really like steep breaking shorelines, deep mid-lake bars, and deep hard bottom flats on the larger deeper lakes. On the shallower bodies of water, I like the deepest weeds available and any shoreline wood on the steepest and deepest breaking edge. Sometimes on these shallower lakes, the best approach is straining the lake’s basin, fishing right down the middle of the lake. All these patterns will work for the most part if the weather is consistent, and water temperatures are falling slowly.
FIND THE FOOD FIRST
Baitfish location is definitely the key to finding muskies during the late fall period. Muskies are putting on the feed bag this time of year, and they won’t be far from their favorite food. Locating staging areas on lakes that contain ciscoes, and you’ll find muskies close by. Suckers group up around transition areas of mud and hard bottom. Perch and other panfish gather around the deepest weed edges. Keep these things in mind when picking late fall locations. Locating baitfish for me is simple. I rely on my electronics to tell me what going on. A high definition sonar such as a Lowrance LCX-112 will easily show pods of ciscoes or perch, and pick out tightly holding suckers or walleyes near bottom on these transition areas of hard/soft bottom. Wind direction will also help locations too. The obvious windward shorelines, points, or midlake structures will typically have the baitfish congregated on the upwind side.
I am limited to casting in Vilas County (or row trolling), so motor trolling isn’t an option for me. Although effective, I’m not going to touch on this method. I like to work a combination of live bait and casting artificial during this time. Deep divers, large plastics, heavy spinnerbaits, and quick-striked rigged suckers are my go-to weapons, typically. In Wisconsin, we are allowed three lines per person. I will run 2 suckers while casting during this period. I will have one sucker down about 6 to 8 feet below the boat. This one usually will get the attention of any follower that doesn’t fall victim to a good figure 8. The other sucker does its own thing. I do a little different thing here. Instead of using the standard 1 to 2 oz rubber-core sinker to hold the sucker down, I used at most a 1/2 oz rubber core or nothing at all and long line the second sucker way behind the boat. I typically will let out 60 to 90 feet of line depending upon depth of structure and/or shoreline breaks. This is my search and destroy sucker. This sucker can swim freely anywhere it wants. Yes, more frequent snags occur while doing this, but I feel that allowing a sucker to swim on a free leash ups my odds a lot of days. By paying close attention to the line and direction of which this sucker swims, hits can quickly be determined or almost predicted. Typically, any sucker will get “nervous” when a muskie is chasing it. A quick burst shallower or deeper(noted by watching the line moving), usually indicates a muskie is after the sucker. Watching constantly what the suckers are doing will also help determined what the muskies are doing. I will start working the structures on the upwind side, working through baitfish, and covering all angles with the lures. Typically, I have 2 clients in the boat, so several casting angles are covered effectively when working any of the structures described earlier.
This is a simple and traditional approach to fall muskies in a nutshell. Water and air temperatures are falling, cool nights, crisp mornings, etc….what happens when water temperatures rise and mother nature throws a curve ball?
GO WHERE THE WATER IS WARM
A recent warm up brought some pleasurable fishing conditions to myself and clients, however it quickly slowed the standard fall patterns for myself on an area lake in Vilas County. I was chasing a couple “good ones” that had shown themselves in recent days, but our results kind of looked like a fish story. The “good ones” has somehow been replaced with smaller muskies, and they were much lazier than previous days. I was on a big fish lake, however my clients begged to differ. As the air temperature rose, and the subtle breeze died, the lake got calmer and calmer. Beautiful day to be on a lake, however maybe not for muskies….or is it? We decided to try something else. Maybe the muskies went deeper. I decided since the muskies that were showing themselves were small, that the obvious choice was to go deeper and deeper. A few more hours of pounding showed absolutely nothing for our efforts. Maybe it’s time to change lakes, maybe it’s just a off day, or like I always say, “The muskies are biting somewhere!” After pulling in the suckers to make another move, an explosion in the shallows 75 yards in front of us quickly told us that something was feeding up there. My client said that it was definitely a muskie, since he witnessed the whole thing. Dead calm water, 5 to 6 feet of weeds, and it was the only place we didn’t look. We made an approach and casted the flat and quickly raised a couple fish. Minutes later, a real nice 44 incher was put into the net. The other fish that followed, we in the same class, including a real brute. As I stated before, the water isn’t suppose to warm up in the fall, instead steadily decreasing water temperatures are the normal practice here.
WHY THIS HAPPENS
Muskies(and other fish) can increase their body temperatures by about 4 to 5 degrees higher then their surround water temperatures. This statement is backed up by fish biologist during discussions that I’ve had. Another example is this. Leave your vehicle in the sun on a cool, clear spring or fall day. Sure, the air temperature might only be 50 degrees, but after several hours in the sun the temperature gauge may read 70 to 75 degrees. The darker the colors, the more heat absorption takes place. Muskies have their darkest colors on their back, therefore by just suspending under the surface of the water(in the shallows), they can easily raise their body temperatures to above the uniform lake temperature and take advantage of the free radiant energy given off by the sun. With the shallows obviously gaining some warmth, forage takes free advantage of this scenario too. There will be feeding going on during these warm ups in the fall in this skinny water, and the aggression of the muskies are usually pretty high. Aggressive follows, figure-8 strikes, and immediate bone-crushing hits are pretty common during these short windows in the fall.
WHAT KIND OF LAKES
There are some lakes that this will happen on, and of course there are plenty of lakes that nothing of the sort takes place during the warm ups. Having some type of shoreline cover is important. Having large weed flats close to deep lake basin is great. A large flat on the inside edge of the weeds is very beneficial too. Having weeds is the most important characteristic here. It lends cover to the smaller forage and the darker bottoms of these inside edges get the solar effect described earlier. Obviously large sterile bowl shaped lakes are out of the question here. My favorite location would be the deepest weed edge of the lake closest to deep water with a large expansive flat in 5 to 8 feet of water with a dark bottom on the inside edge. Other observation tells me that the clearer the water the better for this shallow bite to happen. Also, during these warming trends, the bite intensifies during the latter hours of the afternoon. This is simply because the solar power of the sun has given the water the most time to warm up and forage has collected on this inside edge and a hopeful movement of muskies is right behind.
Casting lures is pretty much the only logical attack here. Although the water is cool enough to utilize the live bait that we typically use during this fall period, it is very impracticable here and just slows things done with constant snagging in weeds. Shallow running lures that imitate perch or similar panfish types and medium size lures seem to work best for me. I’ve done good with top waters, spinnerbaits, shallow jerkbaits, twitchbaits, etc. Some of my favorite lures are Shallow Raiders, Super Stalkers, the new Rabid Squirrel Spinnerbaits, and either top waters such as a Pacemaker. I like to work the flat first, covering the 5 to 8 foot depths of weeds and then positioning my boat on the inside edge of the weeds and cast back over them. Based on the time of year, daylight only lends itself to around 5 pm. As stated before the best bite usually occurs around 2 to 3 pm. I will start probing the shallows around noon and then proceed to work the same spots in a rotation again and again a couple more times during the “heat of the day.” Pay attention to any pockets or turns in the inside edge and work any openings in the weed flat themselves. An opening usually dictates a hard bottom area, and these are spot on the spot solar collectors too. This is a great little pattern that has worked for me on those warming trends during the fall. Next time the air temperatures climb during the late fall, give this a try on your favorite weedy lake. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Rob offers many types of fishing adventures for all season’s targeting Walleyes, Muskies and Bass in Vilas, Iron and Oneida Counties in Northern Wisconsin. During the summer Rob is a guest instructor at Andy Myer’s Lodge in Ontario, Canada and appears on John Gillespie’s Waters and Woods 4-6 times per year. Rob and his staff are all accredited, professional, fully licensed and insured fishing guides with the latest fish finding, navigation and safety equipment on board. Have fun and catch fish is what we are all about….We have the tools and knowledge to show you a great time on the water. Catering to all skill levels.