Sep 10, 2016
Multiple Options, Multiple Fall Muskies
By: Jim Stroede
We were on a nice, quiet, medium-sized lake that had a recent history of kickin’ out some better-sized fish in the Hayward area. My boat partner for the day was a frequent client of mine, named Kevin. Kevin and I have fished together a lot, and we make a good team. I was extra excited on this day because when Kevin is around we usually boat some muskies.
He was throwing a perch colored Suick, working it through the clumps of still green cabbage weeds. I was tossing a heavy soft plastic walleye colored jerkbait, yo-yoing the bait over and around the cover. As I finished each cast, I made a glancing check of each of the two live suckers we were trailing, making sure they were swimming well and not dragging weeds. Everything looked good; it just felt right, like something was about to happen when Kevin quietly said, “Here comes one, right behind my bait.” I caught just a glimpse of the musky as it turned off his lure at boat side and swam down below the bottom of the boat.
“Dang!” Kevin said, “I thought that one was going to eat on the figure eight.”
“You never know,” I commented, “it still might take a sucker.”
His bait had just hit the water on his next cast when the clicker on the deep sucker rod started to audibly announce the fact that yes indeed, that musky had picked up what it thought was an easy meal on it’s way out after following the Suick. I pulled the rod out of the holder and handed it off to Kevin as the line was leaving the reel at a good pace, “He’s moving away good, I’d stick him now!”
As he slammed the hooks home and the rod loaded up under the weight, I could tell it was a good fish. After a fairly short battle with one deep, head-shaking run, I slid the oversized net under the musky and scooped him up. I was a beautiful, fat, fall northern Wisconsin musky, and we both couldn’t be happier!
This kind of catch is pretty common really, if you’ve got your bases covered in fall. It’s really about options, coverage actually. Let’s talk some about bait choices, and where to look to put more fall muskies in the boat.
Giving the muskies multiple presentation options is always a good idea, regardless of time of year. Generally speaking, give the fish enough choices and eventually they’ll find something they like. When applying a casting approach, just like in summer, having multiple casters is a big advantage. With three, or even four people on board we can more easily be varying our offerings to find out what the fish want.
The first big cool down of the year seems to signal the arrival of fall. Early on, as the waters first begin to cool, big fish just seem to start showing up on spots in shallow weeds. Big baits are the rule here; big number 10 bladed bucktails and large topwaters take a lot of fish at this time. During this early fall period, I focus all of our time on lakes with big fish potential, casting shallow to mid-depth weeds with nearby deep water access. Now is not the time to fish action lakes. During this time frame, we fish in a similar way as in summer. The big difference is that we concentrate on the best weed spots and fish them multiple times a day, picking apart the weeds searching for big fish. This early fall bite doesn’t last long, but being on the water during this time frame can result in some fantastic catches.
As autumn progresses and the days get shorter, lakes continue to cool down, weed growth begins to die off, and things begin to change in the aquatic world. Unlike in summer, fall musky fishing is not a run and gun deal. We fish likely spots a lot slower than in the warmer months. Pick apart structures with slower presentations that tend to hang in the strike zone, make multiple casts that overlap one another, and incorporate the use of live bait. The cooler the water, the slower and more deliberate we cover spots.
The areas we fish change on most of the lakes as well. Muskies begin to show up more often on steep breaking shoreline drop-offs, rock bumps, deep wood and transitions from soft bottom to hard bottom areas. Green weeds will hold fish at times too, most often the deep stuff, though. All of these locations are enhanced by their close proximity to deep water. You want to be fishing near main lake basins, out away from shallow coves and bays and out on main lake points and drop-offs. Find good structure near the deepest parts of the lake, and you’ll find fall muskies eventually.
The presentation system we most often use during the classic fall period incorporates a combination of bigger artificial lures and live suckers. With multiple casters, no one throws the same bait as anyone else. We toss a variety of stuff to optimize choices for the muskies. Big jerkbaits, both the dive and rise type, and those that glide catch a lot of fish in the fall. Deep diving crankbaits, large soft plastics, slow rolled spinnerbaits and even vertical jigs are all part of the mix. All of these baits can be worked slow and deep to get the attention of fall muskies.
The Live Bait Option
Like I stated earlier, giving the muskies multiple options ups your odds of catching them. And there are many autumn days when live suckers are the best option. To many of us that fish fall muskies in northern Wisconsin, it wouldn’t be musky fishing without the use of live suckers. Sucker fishing has changed so much for the better with the implementation of the quick-strike-rig in recent years. Quick-strike-rigs, like the name implies, allows the musky angler to set the hook immediately, or nearly immediately after the musky grabs the sucker. This makes for a much better scenario for the musky, as being hooked in the jaw makes releasing the fish unharmed much more possible.
Most days I like running two suckers, one deep and one shallow. The shallow sucker rod rests in a rod holder with only a couple of feet of line out. A three-foot long fluorocarbon leader ahead of the rig puts my shallow sucker about four or five feet under the surface right next to the boat. A musky that follows a casted artificial to the boat but doesn’t strike will often take the shallow sucker before swimming off. This shallow sucker allows you to often times see the musky stalk and strike the sucker. I’ve seen a lot of really cool musky/sucker strikes from the back of the boat over the years, and trust me, it’s a sight that never gets old.
On the opposite side of the boat, off the side, facing deep water, I hang the other quick-strike-rigged sucker, the deep sucker. In most situations, I run this one about three quarters of the way to the bottom, i.e. if the boat is in 18 feet of water I’ll put it at 13 feet. A couple of ounces of rubber core sinkers helps keep the sucker put and not swimming to the surface. The deep sucker appeals to fish that are hanging out deeper, ones that maybe our baits hadn’t gotten down to, or ones roaming deep under the boat. It becomes another option, another opportunity to boat a fish. And at other times, following fish dive at boat side only to end up eyeball to eyeball with the deep sucker, just like Kevin’s musky did last fall.
Remember, give the fish multiple options to eat and they will find something they like. I hope some of these options put you onto a big fall musky, and help make this your best season yet!
Jim Stroede guides in the Hayward area May through November. Give him a call at 715-520-7043, or look him up on the web at www.JimStroedeFishing.com.