Are you tough enough?
Offbeat Canadian Workouts
Ever wake up, look out the window, and wonder why you were born to love muskie fishing? Was it a blessing or a curse? Fishing has been more than good the past several days. The stable weather gave way to an approaching front and big fish were hot, moving good, and eating baits. You’ve been born, died, and gone to heaven all at the same time.
In life, all good things usually come to an end. Beset with a high-pressure system settling in following the front, bluebird skies, colder northerly swinging to easterly winds, and dropping water temps….ugh!! Let’s compound the problem by putting you on a clear water lake that offers the potential of a huge fatty of a muskie. Your heart sinks lower and a defeatist attitude starts creeping in as you realize the best part of your trip is probably over. You’re thinking and muttering that if God himself was a muskie fisherman he’d have to dip into his horn of plenty and probably consult the Holy Ghost besides to pull this one off and boat a fish.
Been there, done it. More than I care to remember
Sometimes it just is going to be really tough fishing or it just ain’t going to happen and true success becomes relative. While I never forget the biggest fish we have boated, some of the most satisfying days have been under the very most demanding conditions, when a fish, any fish, regardless of size, is boated, or a big fish located that we caught later.
There are many standard tactics for tough conditions that musky fishermen view as gospel, and rightly so, but here are a few off-base thoughts that might help you out next time the fishing gets hard.
Guerrilla tactics for tough muskies
When confronted with tough conditions and a seemingly shut down fishery, resist the temptation to run and gun. Instead, go to the areas and spots that consistently hold fish, or spots where you located fish previously, and work them hard, picking them apart piece by piece, bit by bit, several times each the day. Under these conditions, I would meticulously fish 5 or 6 spots 3 to 4 times a day, knowing that if any kind of change occurs (even one I could not sense), I would be near a big fish. I’d end up trying for the biggest, most aggressive fish at dusk or during any noticeable or predictable change. I would prefer that approach to hitting 20 spots trying to possibly find a musky and wondering where the best place to be is.
These are very much like tournament tactics. Pay attention to even the slightest hint of any kind of a change occurring. Admittedly, when fish are on the move, I pay little attention to the moon or solunar tables…unless an extremely large fish is in the mix…figuring I’m on or very near a good fish on every spot I’ve picked. But fishing in tough conditions is one situation where I pay special attention to the moon periods. The sets and rises definitely can make a difference to the point of being the only short movement periods of the day.
High pressure and stalled fronts will usually make the fish do one of two things: tuck in and bury into the closest and thickest weed cover; or break off the edges of structure. Typically, these latter fish will lie on the bottom or suspend deeper, at between 18-30’ depending upon the severity of the front, lake type, and time of the year. I have found these deeper fish to be particularly frustrating, and prefer to concentrate on the weed fish, or those moving back up on top of the structure as the weather becomes more favorable, or sun warms things back up. I’ll still try for those deeper fish with the occasional cast out of the back of the boat just to make sure I’m not missing anything.
On structure with deeper water access, one angler should make periodic casts away from the structure with a Dawg, Big Joe, Medusa, or a Ripp’n Dawg. When fish are moving well, these baits are no better than anything else, but under the toughest conditions, when you can’t seem to get anything going, the rubber baits are at their best. They have a big silhouette, can be counted down and worked deeper if needed, and have the ability to be manipulated with the kind of action that will move fish when nothing else will. If there’s a shallow structure that’s been holding fish consistently and there’s a 12- 28’ hump nearby that’s connected in some way, you’d better hit that to keep ‘em honest. If the fish have disappeared from a shallow structure that is connected to a deep hump by a ridge or trough, it’s a good bet that the muskies will be in the trough or on the deep hump. Another alternative is to make several trolling runs on and off the structure before moving.
In the weeds, find the thickest clumps and patches within the bed and use presentations that can be fished deep in the pockets, or try bumping, tearing, ripping weeds as much as possible. Last year I did well on a watermelon colored, long, narrow spoon with a long plastic trailer, fluttered, dropped, and teased through the heavy weeds. It was amazingly weed free and the best part was it triggered fish and was easy to throw all day. With spinner baits, jerk baits, or top waters, use super lines and fairly stiff rods so you can feel and snap the weeds immediately when you feel them during the retrieve…that’s when the strike will come. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen follows from the biggest fish of the day behind a lure fouled with weeds under post frontal, cold front conditions. The tearing and resulting chaos woke them up and caused them to follow, but, had the bait been ripped and the weeds exploded off, there could well have been picture taking going on instead of stories of a huge follow.
I firmly believe that, under tougher conditions, big fish are much more sensitive and wary and prefer a stealthy approach, especially if it’s a well-known spot. If possible, I like to start my approach well away from the structure and drift in using the trolling motor only when necessary. This allows me to check for suspended fish on the way in and to make several very long casts to the sweet spots up shallower before I get too tight.
Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is that if a fish is pulled off the structure and it doesn’t hit, it won’t always go right back under these conditions. If you return to the spot later, start fishing off the structure before moving in to try where she came from the first time. If you use your trolling motor, use it at the lowest speed and be as steady as you can. Fish seem way less spooked by the duller thump of a gas engine than they are by the high pitched whine of an electric motor, especially if it is going on and off at higher speeds.
I know many guys who say muskies are dumber than a box of rocks, but I’ve messed with fish I swear were a higher form of life, and even ended up catching some of them. So think what you will, but I guarantee it will cost you some fish, especially under tougher conditions.
I have followed Steve’s advice for year because Steve fishes clear water. Clear water can be frustrating because you see a lot of fish but the fish only follows your lure. Steve has learned over years of “trail and error” how to trigger fish to bite.
I will be using Steve’s advice this year in Whitefish Bay on LOTW.