Sep 9, 2017

FALL MUSKIES: Time to get SERIOUS! 

By: Jeff Frick

Fall musky fishing holds a very fond place in my heart for several reasons. One of the biggest is decreased recreational boat traffic. This makes for some very peaceful fishing during some of the very best times for trophy musky opportunities. One of the (if not THE) biggest reasons my wife, Tina, loves it is the lack of those ferocious mosquitos!! This year in particular was really, really challenging with all of the rain we received for so long. They are, of course, at their fiercest right when you want to be fishing and really concentrating on your best big fish spots—sundown. 

Another great reason to be on the hunt in fall is big fish encounters will be at the second of the two seasonal times they are at their peak, at least in my opinion. Early season, second week of June through the end of June is the other peak time. There may or may not be a connection here with less boat traffic, but I sure believe it helps.  

Now that we’ve looked at some reasons to be out there more in the fall (hey, everyone needs more reasons to fish right?), let’s look at some strategies and techniques. 

Best Locations 

If you were guessing I was going to mention weeds here, you were right. These are usually, but not always, my number one target pretty much year-round. In the fall, however, the cabbage weeds will become more fishable because a lot of the less desirable vegetation starts to die off. Millfoil and various lake grasses tend to clear out once the water temps start to drop, but cabbage seems to flourish during this time. 

When targeting fall weed locations, the fish and their activity level will dictate what your techniques and presentations should be. I like to start with a medium/fast retrieve with larger sized spinnerbaits, like our Viper Magnum and Viper Firetail 2.0. These lures give a large profile target, give off incredible vibration, can be fished fast and slow and are possibly the very best way to attack your favorite weedbeds. If fish are reacting aggressively to this approach, you are in for some real fast and fun action! You will be able to hit multiple big fish spots in a relatively short time period and should be able to set up some awesome milk runs on the best spots. If several spots are holding active fish, look for the common denominator: wind direction/current/depth/water temp, or whatever seems to be the case.  

If the fish are following but not hitting, do NOT overlook topwater presentations in weed situations in the fall. Believe me, muskies LOVE topwater lures, especially BIG muskies! If the muskies are aggressively chasing other lures but not hitting, I would start with faster moving topwaters. My personal choice is our Musky Rattler dual-arm buzzbait. It handles weeds without a problem and has been THE big fish lure for us for over 5 years now. Other great choices would be tail-prop and head prop lures (many choices here). Trust me, the action can be fast and furious in this situation. If you are still getting follows, but no strikes, try a slower moving topwater like a “walk-the-dog” style or Hawg Wobblers and Creepers. 

If these two presentations don’t provoke strikes, break out some of your favorite jerkbaits and minnow baits. Start with aggressive retrieves and adjust accordingly. Sometimes they will crush a fast hopping bait, while other times they will just gently grab a neutrally buoyant lure hanging in the strike zone. The weedbeds are far easier to fish with this style lure now than any other time of the year, except perhaps early season. 

If your target lake has any mid-lake structure, now is the time to hit them. You can eliminate unproductive areas fairly quickly with your electronics. Spots worth hitting will have good signs of baitfish on or very near them. If you aren’t seeing any signs of this, keep looking at other areas. Mid-lake areas, whether rock piles, reefs or weedy humps, are THE place to break out the big stuff. Large jerkbaits and minnow baits. Twelve to fourteen inches are a great size to try here. Once again, the fish will surely let you know what type of retrieve they want. Huge spinnerbaits slow-rolled through these areas can also be absolutely deadly for mid-lake monsters! Long casts are the way we personally attack these areas, due to the more open situation with little, if any, cover in most cases. Also, if you have side-scan on your electronics, always be watching for blips out away from the structure! This could be the ONE you are looking for if you get my meaning! If you don’t have side technology, try to train your brain to take every fourth or fifth cast away from the structure you’re fishing. Just ask my wife, she’ll tell you it’s worth it!  

Boat Side Action 

Since water temps are down and more than likely falling, this is a time to concentrate on your end of retrieve details. Extend your figure eight, or as we prefer, large ovals when finishing up your casts. Fish may not pursue as quickly and aggressively as they have been in summer conditions. If you are used to doing two to three “eights,” double that number in the fall period. Fish often have a tendency to show up late and sometimes out of nowhere year-round, but particularly in the fall. Tina had a 48 ½” MONSTER absolutely destroy a walk-the-dog topwater that was sitting motionless for a ten count ten feet from the boat! Water temps were right around 49 degrees. Believe me, now is the time to bring your “A” game for boat side maneuvers! 

Equipment 

Now that we’ve gone through a few scenarios, let’s talk gear. Really, for Tina and I, nothing really changes as far as our equipment goes from early season to the closer. We have no interest in seeing how light of gear we can boat fish with. We use heavy stuff all the time. 7’6”, 8’ and 8’6” extra-heavy action rods from Elk River Custom Rods in Phillips, Wisconsin, St. Croix Rods and Shimano Compre are our favorites. For years, our reels of choice have been the Shimano Cardiff, 300 series for her, and 401 series for me (and I’m right handed, but ALWAYS cast lefty for muskies!). These reels won’t cost you $400+ and are virtually bulletproof. Tina knows if I can’t wreck them, they’re doing something right… 

My line of choice is 80 and 100 lb. test Suffix Super Braid. I’m sure other stuff will work, I just LOVE this line. The wire leaders we use are of our own build and we use 175 and 195 lb. test single strand wire with 300 lb. stainless swivels and #5 Stay-Lok snaps only. I’m not interested in any fluorocarbon style leaders. We have an awesome track record for losing very, very few fish due to equipment or gear failures and we’ve had zero leader failures with our products (available at www.slithertackle.com). 

One last thing to consider actually needs to be done while you are shopping for lures. Look at how they are built. Look at the hooks, screw eyes, lips of minnow baits, wire quality with spinnerbaits and in-lines, how they attach to the leader and overall feel/construction. Through-wire construction is an absolute must for jekbaits and minnow baits. You will experience an extreme heartbreak if you lose a true MONSTER due to equipment or lure failure… 

NOW, get out there this fall, get SERIOUS and put the hammer down on those late season beasts!