Nov 10, 2014

Deepwater Fall Muskies

By: Rob Manthei

The arrival of fall is always something very special to me.  A fast cool down during the fall months makes it so the lakes in Vilas County can quickly move through the unsavory process of turnover.  I love to use live bait to cast for fall muskies.  The weather is cooling quickly now, and all factors point to a very awesome fall bite.

The deep water bite isn't anything new; however, I stumbled on to one very early a couple years ago and this is how it went.

It all started with a guide date no-show (too bad, they missed out).  I was quick to make a decision to bowhunt, but my wife and sister-in-law thought differently...they wanted me to take them fishing instead.  We headed off to the lake, stumbling into my pattern that had held strong for 27 straight days.  I set up where I typically would work a breakline at 22 feet of water.  One of the down suckers got tangled with himself, so I slowly raised him up to untangle the rig.  There was a strong wind that day, and the boat quickly was pushed out to 36 feet of water.  I repositioned the sucker, and slowly worked back into the shallower water.  No more that 10 seconds went by when that same sucker got smacked.  I looked at the Lowrance HDS and noticed that we still were in 35 feet of water.  Minutes later, my sister-in-law, Connie, landed her first musky, a nicely built 44 incher.  Betting that this wasn’t a fluke, I worked the area over, and over the next couple of hours we boated two more and lost two using live bait and vertically jigging Fuzzy Duzzits. 

Key Locations

The ideal fall scenario is consistent weather and a nice steady cool down all the way into ice up.  I think that the quick initial cool down will send a lot of muskies to deep water faster than normal.  Yes, there are muskies on weedlines, shallower breaks, and steep shorelines, but a lot of times muskies will stack up on hard bottom areas adjacent to the deepest water in said lake.  I will usually experiment on several similar lakes, and if the same results are, a pattern!

I really like large points coming off of southern shorelines.  These points face north, which is our obvious prevailing wind during October and November.  Humps that have the similar type of spines jetting west and north are very good too, as long as they point towards the deepest water.  Sometimes I have marked baitfish such as ciscoes using the windward side of these structures, but it doesn’t really seem to matter.  Muskies are using these structures, knowing that food was there and/or would arrive soon.

Another factor that is nice to deal with during fall, was that after a good strong blow from the north and west, the winds can lay down to nothing.  This is ideal in my mind for working super slow and remaining vertical with my presentations.  In Vilas County we can’t motor troll, however we can position fish, a perfect method for these dead calm conditions.

I set up my deep water attack like a marathon runner.  I fish three or four structures in a day, and connect the dots from one to the next.  Ideally, even when you were moving slowly from one to the next, we are still fishing, because the presentations are always in the water.  If there is a little wind to deal with, I will slip with the wind, and then use my bow mount as a break and slow my drift to almost a standstill.  Sometimes I back up, hover, and then let the wind push me ahead a little.  I might only work a 25 to 50 foot section of structure at a time, moving back and forth.  I really like to work something meticulous when the water is cold.  Ultimately, I am giving muskies the most time to find the live bait, and also look over the vertical jigging presentations. 


My most consistent depth that I found active muskies at is the 30 to 36 foot range.  I have caught some fish as deep as 42 feet.  Obviously, the lakes are turned by this time and uniform oxygen should be found that deep. However, I think that any deeper could cause the “bends” for a musky, and it is not worth risking injury to the fish.  Also, it hasn’t mattered to experiment, since success has been found in the mid 30 feet range.  I am sure that I have picked up an occasional shallower fish, because of how I run one of my suckers (I talk about this in a minute), but when I have tried running a structure a little shallower, the overall success wasn’t as great.

Go Deep and Vertical

The most effective way to reach these fish is using a combo approach of quick set suckers and vertical jigging.  In Wisconsin, we are allowed three lines per person, therefore, I run three live baits while my customers would jig one line a piece.  I weight two of my suckers with up to 3 oz. of weight in order to keep them deep and vertical.  It also allows me to see them at all times on the graph screen and I can easily tell when a musky is sneaking up on them for the attack.  I use a rubber band rig with 2 stinger trebles (see photo) that I believe is the safest and most effective way to run live bait. My third sucker is my “seek and destroy” sucker.  This live bait doesn’t have any weight attached and I free line it sometimes up to 150 to 200 feet behind the boat.  This sucker can swim freely in any direction it wants.  The key to this presentation is to move very slowly, any speed forward and you will be pulling it like a dog on a leash.  Any extra pressure and this sucker will rise to the surface, taking it out of the strike zone.  You can expect to get hung up with this sucker many times, but if it isn’t getting hung up from time to time, then you know that it isn’t near the bottom.  I like to use a line counter reel for the “seek and destroy” sucker.  When a hit occurs, I can back the boat to the fish, maintaining distance by watching the distance on the line counter.  This is a team effort; the other two down suckers must be cleared while backing the boat to avoid a tangled disaster.  When the distance is closed to within 20 feet of line from the current depth of water the boat is in, it’s time to bury the hookset.  For example, if the boat is in 35 feet, I would stop the boat when the line counter is at 55 feet and set the hook.

We had a tough time finding larger suckers at the end of season last year, but there was a healthy supply of 10 to 11 inchers.  I needed a way to give the illusion of a larger silhouette.  I started using 2 oz. Bait Rigs Esox Cobra Jigheads with one rubber skirt that I would firmly hook the sucker through the upper lip.  I would then add the same type of stinger hook from the jig eye to the back of the sucker. With the jighead and skirt in combination with the smaller sucker, the presentation now appears to be 14 or so inches; much more appealing to me and a hopeful musky.  One rod is jigging with this using a soft jigging motion bumping bottom on every drop.  The other rod has a large Fuzzy Duzzit blade bait attached to it and it is aggressively rip jigged two to four feet off bottom.  This is a great lure for attracting muskies to the down suckers and well as catching them.  It also works the forearms and keeps the body warm on cold days. 


I exclusively use heavy fiberglass rods for the live bait during these cold months.  I like the Shakespeare Powerods found in their saltwater line.  They have a tremendous backbone and will not shatter like a high end graphite rod.  I use the ABU Garcia Syncro Line Counter in the 7000 size for my reels.  I prefer to spool them with 50 lb. Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon line.  In the clear water lakes of Vilas County, I feel that the invisible properties of Vanish help get me more strikes.  For my vertical jigging rods, I like to use a 7'6'’ rod with 80 lb. superline such as Fireline braid.