Feb 27, 2020
After casting for what seemed like hours I take a little break and begin to daydream. The brisk fall air combined with an early morning wake-up to go duck hunting is catching up to me. Colorful leaves dot the waters surface. A silent Loon, now in her “winter colors,” slowly floats by. I’m just about to doze off when I hear “click,” “click,” “click.” The “clicks” become more frequent and I snap back to reality to see my “sucker rod” bending slightly in the holder. Carefully, I pick up the rod and reel the line so the rod tip is almost touching the water and I rear back and set the hook! The rod doubles over and the battle is on. The musky comes to the surface and thrashes its head causing the sucker to go flying but the hooks stay true. After a short battle I coax the fish into the net and immediately I experience an adrenaline dump. My hands are shaking and I’m trying to catch my breath. This is what fall musky fishing in the Northwoods of Wisconsin is all about. Musky fishing “addicts” love pursuing their quarry anytime they can but there is something special about fall time. While I do not consider myself a musky expert, I have found success with certain techniques and equipment that I will share with you.
When it comes to being a successful fisherman, rule number one is: fish where the fish are! It sounds simple but it’s very important. A lot of lakes in northern Wisconsin contain muskies. But you want to do some research to determine which lakes have a “fishable” population. There is a lot of information on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website. You will find stocking data as well as survey data. Survey data is the most important in my opinion. This includes numbers of fish as well as size structure of fish in a given lake. There are couple pieces of this puzzle to consider though. Identify a lake that seems to have a good population of decent sized muskies. Then examine the survey numbers for what types of fish the muskies might be eating. Are there Shad, Cisco, suckers or other types of fish that that muskies will be gorging themselves on in the fall? This will help you determine a couple things. What types of lures to use and where to look for actively feeding muskies once you arrive at the lake. I will discuss both later in the article. Another way to find good lakes is word of mouth. There are perpetual musky powerhouse lakes in the Northwoods of Wisconsin that are not a secret. Stop in a local tackle shop and ask questions. Most will be more than happy to point you in the right direction. You may even get information from an annoyed crappie fisherman who is complaining about muskies grabbing the crappies on the end of his line. A final consideration is to avoid the most “popular” musky lakes. Those fish are most likely pressured heavily and may not be willing to cooperate. Use all of these resources and clues to narrow down your search for a good lake.
Location, location, location! Once you’ve picked a lake to fish, it is time to narrow down where to begin fishing. One of the enjoyable things about fall fishing is the fact that you are not likely to have to deal with recreational boaters or jet skis. This is a huge advantage because every part of the lake is fishable and you do not have to get out there so early in the morning just to avoid the traffic. However, pay attention to the moon phases. “Moon over head” or “moon under foot” are key times and are worth paying attention to. When breaking down locations on a lake I begin by looking for points. No matter the species of fish, I examine lake maps closely and begin by looking at points coming off the shore or islands. Often, there will be a drop off or a gradual slope with a sand or rock bar. These structures will hold fish on all three sides. Fish the windblown sides of these structures first. But make sure to work all three sides. The next areas I look for are submergent weed beds. I like to fish the edges of these weed beds especially if the edges are adjacent to deeper water. Work these edges thoroughly because muskies will either lay in wait to ambush prey or cruise theses edges actively looking for prey. I also look for are mid-lake humps. Depending on time of day, wind direction and speed, active muskies will either be on top of these humps or along the sides. Another key location are what I call “pinch points.” They are places on a lake where the navigable water narrows because of either shoreline contour or a combination of islands and shorelines. This creates a natural funnel or “fish highway.” You will find these most often on flowages or chains of lakes. At the same time look for creeks or rivers that are connected to the lake. Especially the ones that feed into the lake. I mention both pinch points and feeder creeks together because these are great places to check out if the lake you’re fishing has cisco or whitefish. In the fall, cisco and whitefish will congregate in these areas in order to spawn. You will find muskies hanging out nearby.
By Andy Mack
A musky fisherman can never have too much tackle. However, having the “right” rods, reels, lures and terminal tackle will help make your day of fishing more successful and enjoyable. In the fall, I am firm believer that no lure is too large. Big Bulldogs, Suicks, Depth Raiders, Rapala Super Shads and various large bucktails are all good fall lures. However, slinging these big lures for hours on end can be exhausting. Having a good rod and reel can make it easier. For those larger lures I like a longer rod. An 8’6” or 9’ medium heavy casting rod works well for me. Using the rods length to cast those large lures is a huge advantage. Reels are just as important. Just like rods, there are a lot options when it comes to reels. Pay close attention to the gear ratio and feet of line retieved per turn when considering a reel. Also consider the drag. A powerful drag will have a max of about 25 pounds. More than enough to battle a hefty musky. Reels will also come with multiple style handles. Find one that is most comfortable for you. I personally like an 8.1:1 gear ratio with 43” of line retrieved per turn. I also prefer a reel that has a clicker so I can use it for sucker fishing or trolling. Make sure that the reel will hold a sufficient amount of line. This depends on what type of line you use. Monofilament or braid are both good choices. I prefer braid because I am able to use a heavier pound test due to its lower diameter size compared to monofilament. I’ve found that braid is more durable as well. The next important piece of equipment is your leader or swivel. When using monofilament, I always use some sort of leader. Whether steel or similar material, I believe that they are necessary to combat the sharp teeth of a feisty musky. Use a high-quality swivel or leader. This is no place to go cheap. I previously mentioned several brands and types of lures I use. There are many more out there that I didn’t mention. Large profile lures are popular for muskies, especially in fall. Use a lure that you are confident with. While casting I am usually dragging a sucker or two. I usually just suspend them straight off the side of the boat without a float. In Wisconsin, the law states that if you are using a minnow 8” or greater in length, you must use a quick-set style rig or a non-offset circle hook. The law also states that when using a quick-set rig you must attempt to set the hook immediately upon detecting a strike. These rules are intended to prevent fatal injuries to the fish while using live bait.
Fall time in the Northwoods of Wisconsin is arguably the best time of year. There are so many opportunities for the outdoorsman. Beautiful weather and scenery abound. No matter what your quarry is, make time to get out and enjoy the Northwoods of Wisconsin!