What once were passageways for horse drawn machinery and motorized vehicles have now become an underwater super highway, a seasonal travel route for most all species of fish. Whether asphalt, gravel or dirt these underwater roads seem to be one of the most overlooked types of structure for most muskie anglers. These roadbeds are one of the few spots a muskie hunter will find fish at most anytime of the year. The single most important reason for this is simple “baitfish”, these fish magnets exist in most all bodies of water and is clearly marked on any good map, yet it fails to be on the routine routes of most muskie hunters. Locations of old logging and work roads probably won’t make the map, so pay attention to the shoreline, talk to other anglers and do some investigation. Roadbeds alone are some awesome holding areas for muskies year-round, but with their combinations of various depths and cover types you can almost locate a muskie during any condition in all seasons. Standing trees, laydowns and weeds generally can be found in abundance near this structure. Only very few times will you fail to locate baitfish near these old roads. Let’s take a look at some proven techniques in targeting those roadbed muskies.
Starting in spring, muskies that frequent these roadbeds tend to move on small flats in somewhat shallow water yet staying close to this manmade cover. Finding the obvious flats will be easy but you’ll find the most productive spots are the ones that you will have to put some effort into the search. Flats with depths of four to six feet seem to hold the bigger fish, although any flat you find will likely hold fish. Twitch a 6″ Jake or Shad Rap for early spring action, as temperatures rise toward sixty degrees try a fast moving rattling presentation, a 1-ounce Rat-L-Trap or Rattlin’Shad is my choice. Casting these rattling baits close to shore with an ultra fast retrieve consistently produces fish year after year during this 8 to10-degree temperature span when these roadbed flats are found. After locating a fish while twitching I have great success following the twitch bait with a darting and rising jerkbait like a Squirrelly Burt or Sledge, their side to side up and down motion seem to fool even a finicky fish. Another outstanding technique is casting close to cover with a Squirrelly Burt, keeping the bait on the surface, with very slight twitches allowing the baits rubber tail to churn up water as it works out of the timber or rocks. Muskies seem to be unable to resist this splashing action and attack the lure instantly as it starts moving across the surface during this spring period.
As the water warms the muskies seem to follow the baitfish more intensely, these roadbeds are great places to find schooling fish of all flavors, muskies are found holding on the deep edge of the roadbed awaiting a feeding opportunity. Crankbaits and bucktails work best during this situation, I try to select a heavy bucktail like the Grim Reaper 1100 it will get deeper near the schooling baitfish, I like to move my rod tip up and down as I retrieve my bait. This rod tip movement will allow the bait to cover more depths and the fluttering vibration of the blades as they fall will draw more attention as it passes near these schools. Longer rods like the Lamiglas 8′ GC 80 XH with a more limber action tip will let the bucktail breathe and flare up using this method. My crankbait choice is a Lil’Ernie because of its closeness in size to our shad; and Musky Mania Tackle’s new holo-form pattern gives these baits such a lifelike look. I like to use a stop and go presentation when casting near large baitfish schools. While retrieving, try ripping your bait very quickly on its final approach to your figure eight; this will pull the muskies attention away from your boat and onto your lure. My rod of choice while cranking is the Lamiglas GC 767 it’s a little stiffer and allows twitching the bait to be much easier. If you find trouble working though any timber try rubber banding the front hook of the Lil’Ernie to its body, this will not lessen its hook setting ability and will let it pass clearly across cover. Bill Norman’s DR6, Wiley’s, and Shallow Invaders can also be an excellent choice in this situation, its quick rise when paused lets it skip off timber and still keep good depth as you pick back up your retrieve. Another good choice is a 3/4 oz or 1 oz spinnerbait, let it flutter down a couple of feet and bring it back to the boat. Colorado blades will help keep your bait deeper and the rubber body varieties seem to breathe more as they move though the water.
Hot summer water temps drive the fish to the deepest areas associated with these roadbeds, crankbaits can again be productive but jigging is your best bet. Keeping your lure in the muskies face and moving it very slowly is key during this sluggish period, also the jig will move more easily through the timber that line most roadbeds. Vertical jigging will take the most fish; it allows your lure to be presented at all depths. Jigs also will let you thoroughly work the bottom contour of the roadbeds, keeping your lure on or near the bottom will up your percentages for success. When fish seem to be a little more active or your jig fails to produce, go to a crankbait presentation covering more water. Diving baits allow you to get close to those suspended muskies that are following large summer baitfish schools; a sporadic presentation of your crankbait can appear to be easy prey for a hungry muskie. Again I like to use a Lil’Ernie, but Hellbenders also work well around timber. When more depth is needed to stay near the baitfish I go to the Wiley, Jake or Invader, these larger profile baits give off tremendous flash and will stay deeper when hesitation is added to your retrieve. On early mornings and late evenings muskies can be found feeding in shallow water around roadbeds, so be sure to add these spots to your daily milk run. This low light, hot water shallow feeding intensifies the day after cooling summer rains pass through.
Fall might be the best overall time to target roadbeds; good numbers of muskies can be found in shallow laydowns and of course weedbeds. If you can locate fallen timber or rocks that cross the roadbeds you’ve found pay dirt, don’t make a couple of casts and move on. Work this cover intensely and put different angles on your casts with a variety of lures. A single laydown here can hold multiple fish, be sure to search for these submerged gold mines. When working weeds aligning roadbeds remember that the deepest edge of the weedbeds will be your most productive, spinnerbaits and jerk baits along with topwaters take the most fish. Pockets and holes in the weeds can be safe havens for muskies as most lake’s water levels are falling toward winter pool at this time. Slow moving glide or jerkbaits like the Reef Hawg, Jerko or Cobb will bring out these somewhat spooked fish. Deep drops near weedbeds are truly fall hot spots; slow rolling a Grim Reaper 950 has been our one of our most consistent trophy producer, again allowing your lure to flutter though the water column will attract more fish. Muskies will also tend to suspend down two or three feet in seven or eight feet of water, with constant baitfish movements in these areas locating fish can seem almost easy putting them in the boat takes persistence and some frequent tactical changes.
As we move toward winter, and colder temperatures arrive the slow presentation of a jerkbait in water from one to ten feet will take big muskies off roadbeds that are near deep drops. At this time try a Jerko, Cobbs or weighted Burts and Suicks; these baits will stay deeper when worked slow yet still give a slow moving side-to-side presentation. Remember slow bait movements are a must under these cold-water situations, watch closely at boat side as most of the action happens near the end of your retrieve after the muskies follow from the deeper edges of the roadbeds. Dragging a sucker during this time can attract those non-aggressive followers, free lining your live bait about three feet down near your boat will help avoid hang ups in any standing timber. Also after a pass working the roadbed’s inner and outer edges, position your boat over the road and cast out toward deep water for suspended fish that are awaiting passing baitfish. This tactic can be very successful during this cold-water period and also produces well during pre-spring and summer, when muskies prefer to suspend over deep water.
Roadbeds like most types of structure have periods where they are more productive than others, however you will find that muskies and their forage continuously inhabit these underwater interstates in all seasons. Set out to find these man-made structures, search out the spots that hold the most baitfish. Study their contour with your electronics and visualize the roads path, this will enable you to give an effective presentation needed in targeting fish holding tight to this cover. If your lake has winter drawdown take a good look while water levels are low, finding a spot on a spot will be a little easier then and could make the difference in boating muskies consistently off their roadside habitat. Next time you’re on muskie waters put some of these tactics to work, and you’ll find another road to muskie success to add to your arsenal of techniques used in your pursuit of freshwaters greatest gamefish.
Tony Grant has been chasing muskies for nearly 20 years. As his career started on Kentucky’s Cave Run Lake he has now expanded his guiding to the waters of Wisconsin and Minnesota during the southern muskies dangerously hot summer water temps. In 2005 Tony teamed up with Gregg Thomas to form Musky Road Rules, a series of “Cabin Fever Clinics” and Schools with “On the Water Workshops” across the
www.tonygrantoutdoors.com and www.muskyroadrules.com