One of today’s most innovative anglers dissects Canadian hotspots
The end of the week was nearing and while there had been a couple of good muskies up to 51” caught in camp, cold front conditions and high skies had moved in to make fishing tough. To make matters worse, Travis was in camp filming a TV show. Travis had teamed up with Danny and had “canned” an excellent walleye segment with fish up to 31” on Eagle, including action muskie fish (36-44”) and pike segments on remote 4WD lakes. Now it was my turn to get him a big fish on film from Eagle Lake; with only a day and a half left in his schedule.
The forecast called for the wind to shift to the north with some cloud cover. I picked 3 structures: an island cluster; a main-lake point; and a complex reef system. Twenty years of experience fishing and reading the lake had taught me what would be hot at that time of the year. In a building north wind, I hoped the fish would be there, but was worried that they wouldn’t rebound in time.
To make a long story short, in a day and a half, we had over 30 fish up, the smallest of which was a 25-incher. With at least four different fish over 40″, we managed to boat Travis’s largest. This one was a 37″ fatty and capped off a great week of filming.
Most trophy waters in Canada are huge and contain seemingly endless possibilities. Where do you start in your search for trophy muskie, and what constitutes a “big-fish-spot”? Some spots consistently hold big fish while others only occasionally yield them. There are others still that seemingly look good but rarely are. What gives?
No matter what type of structure, the more “dimensions” (combinations of structural elements) it has, the more frequently and consistently it will hold large muskies. The more structures there are within a relatively small area, the better the whole area and each structure within it becomes when compared to one spot or structure by itself.
The very best and most consistent spots are located in what I refer to as “corridors” or high-traffic areas. These spots are like stop signs or intersections; muskies don’t live there, but they stop and hang out there. Muskies really don’t live anywhere specific, but rather move around large, general areas and pause at these “stop signs”. Their lives are a series of constant movements that change according to the season, water temperature, baitfish movements, and their feeding habits. A big fish will have many spots it likes to stop at within its patterns. It will perhaps favor one or more areas which in some way are better than others. These favorites can even change from season to season and year to year according to environmental changes such as prevailing winds, weed growth, water temperature, lake level, and resulting baitfish locations. They can also change if the fish gets caught. A muskie is a nomadic hunter.
When you return to a big fish you spotted but couldn’t catch, I believe more times than not, she is simply not there. She has moved on and may return later that day or several days later. When this happens, take a good look at prime spots adjacent to or within the complex or the next closest structure. No matter how far away it is, try picking it apart and many times you will find her. I compare hunting big muskies to patterning trophy bucks. I’ve noticed a pattern over the years that when a big muskie is missed and can’t be immediately located elsewhere, you can reasonably expect to see her again after a period of 3-5 days.
The more dimensional a spot is and the better it is situated within the flow of the water, the better and more consistent the spot becomes. This may be because other fish are constantly stopping there and replacing the fish that have moved on. Many times, while stopping to try and catch a particular fish, you will catch a different one. Spots like this can hold high numbers of big fish. Muskies do not defend territory; if a spot is complex enough, has enough space, is in close proximity to abundant forage, and conditions are right, there can be “wolf packs” using it. I’ve encountered as many as a dozen fish within a single large structure. While this is exceptional, more times than not, most prime spots can and do hold more than one fish at any given time. I believe also that a big muskie is most vulnerable and easily caught during the first day or so after it has moved into a spot that it has not visited for a while or is finding for the first time. This is especially true when these movements coincide with environmental changes that make a particular spot favorable.
There are always exceptions, but if you look at the best big-fish-spots on your map, you’ll see what I mean. This is especially true in the larger systems that contain multiple basins, habitats, and forage-bases. When looking for a good structure on a topographical map, consider it on a broad-scale, much like a deer hunter would. You should be looking for pinch points, travel areas, feeding areas, bedding areas, etc. You will find it easier to search out and locate excellent new spots and eventually will become a better muskie hunter. Some of my favorite areas to explore when looking for new big-fish-spots are islands, weed beds, reefs, points, and rock walls near the mouths of large bays. I also love to search places where large expanses of open water narrow into to clusters of islands, or where one section of the lake gives way to a different section. Examples of this type of transition include shallow water that flows into deep, and dark water or clear water that turns into rocky, weed-filled water.
Consistent Sports vs Secondary Spots
In trophy waters, some of the most consistent big-muskie-spots are well known by resort owners, guides, and muskie hunters who regularly frequent the lake. However, secondary, smaller, and less well-known spots account for a number of big muskies every year and are becoming more and more important as the pressure from intelligent and knowledgeable fishing increases. These spots may not be as consistent, but in many cases, the fish swimming in them haven’t seen as many kinds of baits and, as a result, tend to be more aggressive. Big muskies in frequently-fished spots strike when they want to strike and usually, conditions have to be just right. But big muskies do make mistakes, so keep after ’em.
A simple mistake many anglers make is exploring new waters when their go-to spots aren’t producing. When you hit tough weather or fishing conditions, you should stay with your best spots. Keep picking them apart 3-5 different times throughout the day. “Run and gun” when things are happening. The time to explore new spots you’ve had your eye on is when the fish are moving, not when fishing is tough. If you make this mistake, you’ll rarely be able to tell if a new spot even has potential. It’s tough to do this when the fish are moving, especially if you have some big ones going, but it’s what you must-do if you want to expand your horizons. You may have to hit a spot many times before you figure out just what time of the season, which weather conditions and wind directions, and what time of day, produce the best from your newfound spot. I fished one structure at least 20 times at different times of the year without much luck, but it looked so good that it made my skin crawl. I stuck with it and it finally paid off. In a matter of 4 days, muskies measuring 49-54” came out of it. The key to the spot was a certain time of the season and a particular wind direction. It is still producing for me, but only very rarely when not under those same conditions. The most important thing about secondary spots is figuring out when to add them to your “milk-run” of prime spots. You should try at least 1-2 new spots every day. Every year during our Fall Trophy Musky Hunt the regulars devote a couple of days, or hours each day, to new patterns and areas. While many spots or areas are busts, some have been secretly added to our repertoire.
Generally, the bigger the weed bed, the better. Exceptions to the rule are a slot between the main-lake point and an island; between islands; in the proximity of the main lake area; an island point; or a rock bar. In these situations, I still like bigger weed beds, but I’ve seen huge fish chased out of 3 weeds and a lily pad.
When fishing weeds, concentrate on the turns, points, and the deep edge. Find the thickest, greenest, most luscious patch in the heart of it, and many times, that’s where the biggest fish will be. Conversely, find a boulder pile or a rock in it, or a spot just off the edge of a weed bed, especially on a hot sunny day, and you’d better hold on tight because sometimes a jumbo bozo will come smokin’ off of it. I feel more confident fishing weeds with deep edges that are close to deep water, but I’ve seen so many big fish come out of weeds as far as a mile or more from any water deeper than 4-10’ and from inside weed-lines, that I can’t say that’s a rule for big fish anymore. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re in the clear water or darker sections of the lake, but obviously, I see it more in the greener, darker water. As a matter of fact, when I can’t find fish where they are supposed to be, I go right into the nearest, sloppy snake pit and that’s where they are. This seems to be especially true on sunny, hot days during the summer period. Generally, I fish weeds a lot, mixing them up with rocky areas from the musky opener into the first part of September, with the scale tipping more towards rocks from the end of July on.
Whether it’s a sand point with weeds or a rocky point of the mainland or an island, they can be big fish magnets. The farther the point projects, the better. Be sure to work it way out and look for any place where it becomes more shallow beyond a deeper area. One of the largest fish I ever caught came off a deeper “hump” off the tip of a well known and heavily fished island point. These should be fished on the deeper sides and tip first up to the edge. I’ve caught more suspended muskies off points in Canadian waters, especially on Eagle Lake, than in all other types of structures combined. Then I’ve fished in areas as shallow as it gets. I’ve seen big fish come off tops so shallow that it looked like the rocks were moving.
Some of my favorite early season big-fish-spots are shoreline-connected or island sand points with weeds near big, shallow bays with reeds and emerging grass. Big fish spawn in these types of bays and set up on these points as they begin their movement to the main lake, well into the summer period. Rocky points usually start holding fish consistently in mid-July and peak from mid-August through ice-up.
Rock walls and steep shorelines are overlooked by many fishermen, especially those who have not fished in shield waters a lot. Seldom does a small fish come off a wall. When you find one, it’s almost always a good one. Some of the biggest fish ever seen or boated every year come off rock walls. One wall on Eagle lake produced 5 fish over 40 pounds in a 4-year stretch.
There are lots of walls out there, but only a small percentage are consistently good. The best walls usually face North or West, but one of the very best that I fish faces due East, so, that is not a steadfast rule, just a good place to start. If you are on new waters or are starting to fish walls for the first time, pick walls facing North, North-West, or West that are near slop filled bays or narrow areas between basins. If the wind has been blowing through for several days, I would venture to say you’ll be a believer before long. Not all walls fit these standards, but some do and they are a good place to start and gain confidence with this dynamite pattern. After that, it’s about spending a lot of time fishing them in order to find the good ones. It’s my belief that when a fish is on a wall, it will move easily.
Consider fishing walls in a perpendicular pattern, as I haven’t done well fishing with parallel casting. The fish seem to want the bait that lands very tightly and comes straight off the wall. If your bait is landing more than 2-3′ away from the wall, you might as well be casting in the parking lot. However, trolling parallel to walls in the late fall seems to work. Look for big cracks and crevices along the wall’s face and usually, you’ll find a rubble pile below them. Look for shelves, turns, downed trees, logs, or anything different that could stop a fish as it travels along the wall’s face. Also, be very alert at the beginning and end of the wall.
Rock walls are generally considered to be ideal for late summer or early fall fishing patterns. However, I do not hesitate to fish them at any time of the season, even on the opener, and especially if there are weeds nearby that have been holding fish that I suddenly can’t find.
A narrows is a natural funnel that tips the odds of finding fish moving through the area in your favor. In some lakes, particularly river systems and reservoirs, narrows will have currents. In natural lakes, currents can be created with the right winds. These funnels will be at their best with a sustained blow of several days that moves the water through and also during the first part of the day after the wind dies or switches direction. The best narrows are deeper ones with a combination of rock walls that lie between two major points. These include ones between two deeper lake sections, those between islands, or an island and ashore.
Find a big, table-top type bar with boulders, rock rubble, and maybe a few scattered weed pockets, and add a few fingers dropping off into deeper water, and you will find big fish eventually. Expect the fish to be uptight during warming conditions, sunny weather, and the first day or so of a front, as well as on the edges of extended cold fronts. Pay attention to the fingers dropping into deeper water and don’t be afraid to make some casts from shallow to deep, especially if it’s a well-known spot. These kinds of shallow bars usually turn on early and late in the day or under windy conditions such as an incoming northwester.
Very overlooked in Canadian waters are the deeper bars and points that top off at 18-24’ or more. You must be mentally tough when fishing these areas because it’s less of a numbers game, but there’s potential to find a monster that hasn’t seen many baits and is, therefore, ready to eat. Up your odds by selecting bars that top-off near, or at, the current thermocline depth. The biggest muskie I have ever encountered, one I believe to be world-class or bigger, came off a spot like this.
Large Island Clusters
The right kinds of islands and clusters of islands are some of my favorite spots. They can be beautifully multi-dimensional, including weed beds, slots and saddles, rocky shoals, points, and bars. The best have nearly all types of structures within them. Spots like these can hold big fish during nearly all times of the season, making them some of the most consistent producers throughout the year.
Look for islands and island clusters near deep water that are far out from huge bays, shallower portions of the lake, or in narrower areas between large expanses or basins. Because prevailing winds have deposited sediments over thousands of years, islands in many waters will have weed beds and sand points on the Southern and Eastern sides with rock bars, points, and steeper breaks on the Northern and Western sides. The fish will use the weedier, shallower sides earlier in the season and swing around to the other sides as the season progresses, weeds die off, and the fall winds become more dominant. If the island has the aforementioned qualities, you will be on big fish throughout the season.
Just like the best spots, the most consistent trophy-producing lakes are also multi-dimensional. They have within them all of the characteristics of the many different types of lakes. They also tend to be large in acreage. Fish them as if they were more than one lake. Each section and lake-type within it will have its best time of the season, weather pattern, and wind direction.
Eagle Lake in Ontario, Canada has this big fish potential. Because of its size and complexity, you can really have your hands full. Pick a resort that has the knowledge and experience to help cut your learning curve. The staff at Andy Myers Lodge is dedicated to that goal. Take your map and the multitude of spots you will be given, consider hiring one of the professional on-staff guides to help get you started, and break the lake into productive sections for the time you are there. Don’t bite off more than you can chew at one time; ferret out the kinds of structures and situations discussed in this article. Fish them thoroughly and with an open mind. Mix it up, going with different kinds of structures and presentations until a pattern emerges, then search and destroy. Keep good notes for future reference about the specifics, such as time of day, season, wind direction, weather pattern, water temperatures, and presentations. Also, note when each structure or spot shows activity and you’ll be on your way to consistently finding hawgs north of the border.