Sep 10, 2014

The Autumn Wind Brings A Chance At Big Fish

By: Ken Jackson

The idea of fall and the quest for a big fish gets the blood up on nearly any angler. When the boat traffic and the bustle of summer boat traffic go away, it is easy to embrace the challenge of the cooler weather and the opportunities at a big fish before the cover of ice ends the season.

A musky angler in northern Wisconsin can consider anything after Labor Day as fall, but my definition of fall is when the leaves show some color and the water temperatures drop below 64 degrees. When this happens, less nocturnal feeding takes place and a noticeable change of fish location starts to emerge. Coontail weeds shows signs of dying and steep breaks with less weeds begin to offer more musky opportunities. I’ll begin to include 12 to 14 inch suckers as part of the presentation and my focus as a guide becomes more on boat control and precise approaches to fishing spots.

The fall feeding time……
One of the things I’ve found over many seasons is that the best musky bites early in the morning. It seems as though “brunch” is more important than breakfast. The period of 10 am to 1 pm is far more productive than the period prior to 9 am, especially as the calendar turns to October. Late afternoon can be excellent as well, as some musky movement can be tied in with an increase in structure related walleye activity as light intensity drops. Some very good flurries of activity can occur at this time. There are some exceptions, but overall the midday bite is often the most important, with emphasis on the coldest days in late fall. An awful lot of fish have been caught in Vilas County on snowy late fall days when some anglers took a break for a cheeseburger with their boat tied to a dock. It’s best to have a huge breakfast and stay on the water all day and then enjoy a big steak at dinner. You’ll often savor it while telling the story of the musky you caught that day.

Locations can vary, but many old spots are still good…..
Weeds and their locations are often directly tied to musky success. In the fall, however, weeds can change and even die off, sometimes making other types of cover and structure more appealing. Chemical treatments of weeds have altered the attractiveness of some fishing spots that had been consistent for a couple of generations. Often, the same remedies for Eurasian Milfoil will kill one of the best musky weeds, the green, long stem cabbage.

When this takes place, know that rock bars and sunken timber rarely lose their attractiveness from season to season. It is often astonishing to me when I look at the capture of a musky on a GPS track and see the close proximity to a previous capture site from years before. I will often mark a waypoint on my Lowrance upon a capture and it is always interesting to see how a good spot stays good over the period of many seasons.

“If” a musky is here becomes “When” a musky is here…..
Once you have mastered a particular lake, you’ll become more intuitive about the timing of musky activity. Finding the good spots is something you get better at with time and experience. Having the tenacity and mental toughness to work a spot until it becomes active is something that some anglers have a knack for. Once you identify a spot, you have to have faith and the elbow grease to hit it often enough until the bite turns on. Many neophytes give in too early, and can leave a lake before the bite can develop. They may have the right presentation in the right spot, but at the wrong time. Moon activity, weather, and the previous day’s activity are all factors as to know when to throw the towel in and trailer the boat to another lake. The patient anglers and the ones who have the experience to know how long to work a spot are the ones that often score when others go fishless. Conversely, some experts on certain lakes know after just a short period of time when to pull the plug and go elsewhere. These are the muskie fishermen who have logged hundreds of hours there and know what their electronics are telling them. When a particular shoreline is devoid of baitfish, I lose faith real quick. This is more so in the fall that at any other time of the season.

Some things to consider…..
Forget about cold weather and the preparation it takes. Forget about the sharpening of hooks and the new lures you bought. Forget about the wonderful new boat and satellite radio you had installed for the season. If you have old crappy line on your rod, the 6 hour drive you made to Northern Wisconsin to catch these fish is meaningless. During this time of year, more is asked of your fishing line than another time of the season. The heavy 36 pound mono line on your sucker rod has been in your garage when it was 100 degrees last summer and -20 degrees last January. It is a form of plastic, and plastic breaks down with temperature fluctuations and the damage of UV sunlight. I have seen more broken lines with the sudden stress of a hook set on a sucker rod than any other time of the year. It has happened to all of us. And, unfortunately, it often results in a dead uncaptured fish. I work hard to test and maintain tackle for muskies in late fall because of the demands it requires. You owe it to yourself to do the same and make sure that all of you hard effort into enticing that big fish to strike gets properly rewarded.

The fall period is the icing on the cake for any musky angler. It means that the open water is leaving soon and the blanket of winter will soon be upon us. Those musky fishermen who venture out will often have the best chance for a big fish than any other time of year. In my area of Vilas County, it is a religion for many and the pilgrimage by visiting anglers is an experience that is hard to duplicate anywhere else. To prepare for this, use all of your resources to find a lake to fish, a place to stay, and perhaps a guide to help you with your quest. It is a great way to end the open water season and the best way to create memories that will sustain you through a long cold winter.