May 10, 2014

Musky Opener

Ending the Wait with Some Top Water Magic                                        

By: Kyle Sorensen

Imagine this. You are on a lake by yourself besides your boat, your buddy and maybe a song or two. Loons are singing their sweet serenade, the wind is blowing through the tall pines and above you see the massive wingspan of a bald eagle. You think to yourself, “Wow, isn’t this great?” It seems like all the cards are in play and nature is alive and glowing. You certainly had to wait out a brutal winter but it’s all in the past now as you are on the lake and feeding your ever growing addiction, known to us musky folk as, “The Fever.”

As you retrieve your top water lure, you can hear the quiet but subtle clack of the blade as it strolls through the water.   While you are pleasantly enjoying your surroundings, the peace and quiet is violently subdued as a splash of terrific magnitude surrounds your bait. Yes, my friend, the elusive fish of 10,000 casts has hit your lure. You feel the throb of brute force at the end of your 8 ft. rod and 80 lb. test line as you set the hook with all the confidence known to man. The fish aggressively runs deep and you hold fast while yelling to your buddy, “I’ve got one!” You look back to find he has already thrown his rod to the bottom of the boat and is behind you with net in hand. As the fish comes shooting up, you strategically drop your rod into the water in hopes to persuade the stunning creature back into the teal water. You succeed and ultimately land the fish of 10,000 casts. But wait, you only took ten casts…

The Musky Opener brings a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s the accomplishment that you have made it through another Wisconsin winter or maybe it’s the fact you are just thankful to be out on the open water again. Either/or, the Musky Opener brings a handful of wonderful feelings to me.

When the calendar pages turn to May, I begin dusting off the musky gear I “so carefully” stored last season. I find my extra-heavy rods and saltwater reels hidden in so many different places, and let’s not even get into my tackle… When everything is found and accounted for, the first bag I look in is the top water bag. To me there is nothing more exciting than witnessing the unwarranted strike and boating that prize fish after the strategic placement, selection and presentation of a top water lure. To be successful during the opener, you need to have your lure in the water. To have a blast, I suggest throwing a top water bait.

Based upon my personal experiences, May and early June musky respond more consistently and aggressively to a top water presentation. While other lures surely produce well, I feel my tested top water selection is all I need to have a very exciting day on the water. It is important to remember that the fish have not seen our lures during the past months so this certainly plays a key role regarding their activity as well.

When I first launch the boat and begin the maiden voyage, I look towards my previous years’ spots. With the spawning period basically over (depending on water temperatures), I look to the spots with the shallower structures the lake has to offer. If I am fishing a lake with islands, you will find me casting away towards the island shores or the adjacent main shores while keeping a good distance from land. Now I will say this, there are various depths in which I fish during the opener, however, I usually find myself starting with a 5-9 ft. depth range. If I cannot find active fish in this range, I will move shallower, then deeper (notice how I said shallower first) until I find a depth holding active fish. Once I have found signs of fish activity in the given depth, I work on lure selection.

My favorite bait for top water is by far the Top Raider. One early evening during the last opener, I had three fish over 38” boated in one half hour with the exact same bait, the Top Raider. Why? I feel the long slender body with the subtle but simple blade makes for an enticing yet predatory reaction.

For discussion purposes, the presentation of a top water lure is generally quite simple. Whether you are using a Creeper, Top Raider or other non-walking bait, the retrieve is as simple as casting the lure out and reeling it back. The key, however, is to find the appropriate speed. Sometimes burning these baits across the water will produce while other times barely creating any movement will trigger a strike. It is important to note that sometimes adding a pause to the bait can show success. It’s imperative to try different variations to find the unique presentation that produces for you.

If my go to lure isn’t generating the excitement I’m looking for, I will usually look towards a Suick or a Doc. These lures must be offered in a different presentation. They work off a presentation called “walking the dog.” It involves quick movements of the rod tip (up and down) to make the bait glide left and right in the water. Pauses can be added to this presentation and by slowing the rod tip action, the bait will naturally pause after the glide.

So you have found the right water to work in and just as you are motoring towards a windblown point, it happens. The splash sounds a lot louder than it actually is and all of your senses hone in on the moment. It’s like someone gave you a shot of pure adrenaline as you see the size of the fish which looks to be floating just above the surface of the water. You hastily set the hook, because of the splash, but are quickly heartbroken when your lure ends up in the boat next to you. This is a very important part of top water fishing. You must, and I mean must, act like the fish never hit your bait until you feel it. It’s easy to say but controlling yourself is a different story. Now if you continue reeling and you feel the fish, it’s time to set the hook and to set it good at that. The time of day, weather conditions and water clarity all play huge roles in whether or not the fish gets the lure in its mouth. If I do not hook up with a fish after a strike, I continue the retrieve but add more speed. This can sometimes get the fish to strike again without ruining the lure’s presentation.

If the fish does not strike again, chances are you will feel somewhat discouraged as the lure approaches the boat. Don’t give up hope yet. The fish could still be there but lurking in the shadows just out of view. Make sure to keep a keen eye on the water surrounding your lure. Sometimes as the lure gets closer, the fish will just appear but it might not be visible until your lure is five feet from the boat.

A “follow” is something that can harden a memory for a lifetime. Whether the fish hits your bait during the retrieve or not, there is surely something to be said about just seeing one boat side. Sometimes you might just catch a glimpse but if the fish is actively following, you still have a chance and maybe a better one at that. I have seen others get so excited to see a fish that they slow or actually stop their lure because they feel the fish can’t catch it. This is certainly not the case. If a musky can hammer a crank bait being trolled in upwards of 9 mph (if not faster), it can surely engulf a lure running at 3 mph.

I will not go into detail on boat side maneuvers such as the figure “8” or “0” but I will say this: keep that bait moving! Make sure your transition from the retrieve to the boat side maneuver is smooth. If you are able to trick the fish into the turns, chances are you will have a committer. I have, however, had fish actively chasing in the turns for over a minute before they painfully slip out of sight. As I bring the top water lure to the first turn, I like to keep it on the surface for the first couple goes before methodically slipping it deeper and deeper while speeding up the moves, sometimes throwing in a jitter or two.

The opener is truly something. Maybe it’s the fact that the fish are just more aggressive because they haven’t seen a lure in months or maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to throw a lure for months. Whatever the case, I know that if I am not able to get out during the opener, every time out after just seems like something is missing. Of course boating a fish sets that aside temporarily but the hot summer months are right around the corner. The ease and comfort of the opener bite slips away before you know it and into a dense fog of blood thirsty mosquitoes. If you are able to make it out, I suggest putting that buck tail aside for a little while and snapping on a top water lure. Give it full faith effort, vary your lure speeds and make sure you are ready for that splash.

Until next time, Tight Lines. Stay Dry.