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Muskies on the Brain?

  • Blog Post by: Travis Frank
  • June 1, 2012 - 11:09 AM

Are you one of the crazy fools that devote June through December to a slimy green colored fish with a bad attitude?  Welcome to my world.  It's time to eat, sleep and breathe muskies.  Are you ready for battle?

Sean Bailey holds a nice early season muskie caught on a metro lake.

Sean Bailey holds a nice early season muskie caught on a metro lake.

Every year my mind gets cluttered with muskie junk.  Is there a hot new bait?  A hot lake that I just have to fish?  Do I have any new goals this year?  Where should I start?  What lure will I use?  I could go on and on.  I've shared a few conversations with other muskie dudes - clearly I'm not alone.

Until we hit the water, it's all just a guessing game.  It's not like any of us actually know what to expect until we cast our big baits.  Even then, it will take a few hours, maybe days, to get things straightened out.

Here are some muskie thoughts on my brain as I think about the "official" opener.  They are in no particular order...

Don't burn out... It's a long season.  I've watched a bunch of my friends get all jacked up in May, fish like crazy until mid-June and give it all up because of a tough spring bite.  Sometimes the early season can be tough.  That's the reality of muskie fishing.  If there was a month to fish muskies 7 days a week, I wouldn't pick June.  As a general rule, it only gets better throughout the season.  Be patient and stick it out.  A good month of September can make you forget about a bad June.  Make sure you have the gas to stay in the game until fall.

The right lake at the right time... It seems that some lakes are better than others at specific times of the year.  For my boat, Minnetonka seems to start out slow.  Why?  I don't know, it just does and I've accepted that.  But, the beauty is that June and July can be dynamite on other lakes, so I move around.  Don't be afraid to try new lakes until you find active muskies.  When you hook up, make a note of it and use that success to your advantage.  Muskies are creatures of habit.  Odds are good that you'll be able to repeat your success at the same time period for years to come.  Muskie fishing is 90% about being in the right place at the right time.  You could be fishing the right lake, just the wrong time.

Starting out Small... I believe it's a myth that you have to start throwing small muskie lures early in the season.  I may be wrong in telling you to leave your small baits at home on the opener, but I have had some of my best luck early in the season on Pounders and big blades.  I've read a pile of articles on this, and it seems everyone has a different opinion.  All I can speak about is my facts.  In the past 10 years, most of my early season muskies have come on big baits.  The bigger the better.  Theory #1 - All of their forage is at least 1 year old.  Muskies are use to eating larger offerings in June.  Theory #2 - After the spawn, there seems to be a few weeks of heavy feeding.  During this time the muskies seem to favor a big meal to help them bulk up in their attempt to recover from the spawn.  Give 'em what they want.

Fishing open water... I have had some good results fishing open water the first few months of the season.  Muskies can disappear from structure and will literally cruise the main basin gorging on bait fish.  I'm still learning good techniques to catch these fish, and I don't have all the answers.  I can simply recommend that you give it a shot.  And I will say, 45 minutes of open water trolling isn't an honest effort.  Give yourself 2 or 3 full trips and you'll be amazed.  Trolling big flashy baits at speeds of 3 to 5 mph is a good way to get started.

What are the best hours to fish?... Obviously the answer is "whenever you can."  But, if you can choose your hours, I have found some to be better than others.  All of our Minnesota muskie lakes are pounded.  The fish seem to have us fisherman patterned.  Most of us get off of work and then hit the lake around 6 pm and fish until sunset..  For this reason I've found the afternoon/evening to be the most difficult time to land a lunker.  The best times in my boat year in and year out have been the first hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunrise.  Then, sometime around 10 am there always seems to be a good push of activity.  In the evening, I seem to score the most strikes the first hour after sunset.  Because my livelihood depends on it, you can bet that I'm keeping tabs on every strike and fishing accordingly.  These have been the top 3 time periods in my boat for the past few years.  They are not stupid creatures, and it pays to be there when they want to eat, not when we want to fish.

What's the best lure to throw?...It's good to mix things up, but I believe that it is even better to get completely dialed into a single lure.  To the point that you run the bait without giving it any thought.  It should be instinctive.  The reason for this is simple.  Muskies eat when they want to.  On most lakes they probably see hundreds or thousands of fish swim past them daily.  Many of them are easy meals.  If you don't believe me, stick a camera down on your favorite muskie spot and watch the schools of bait fish swim around the muskies.  I believe that most of our success is directly related to the exact time that the lure crosses their path.  If they are ready to eat, I don't think the color matters much - they will eat.  I also believe that every lure in your tackle box looks like food to a muskie.  Sure there are triggers and some baits are better at a certain time, but ff you can work a single lure correctly when that fish wants to eat, your odds go way up.  It's better to be good at one thing than decent at a bunch.

Figure eight is your most important tool...With the high amount of pressure that Minnesota muskies receive, the figure 8 has become the difference maker.  It's the difference between a follow and a fish in the boat.  In my boat alone, the figure 8 has accounted for over half the muskies boated during the past few seasons.  At times, reaching over 75% of my fish.  Do it every cast, and put some love into it.  Wide sweeping turns while raising and lowering the bait in the water column will trigger more strikes.  The goal is to make your lure look like a wounded fish/creature trying to escape.  If it's just flopping around the surface, the muskie will laugh at you and swim away.  If I quit doing a good figure 8, I might as well go home.  It's that important.

Long fishing poles... Why are the new super long poles important?  I'm talking 8'6" to 9'6".  If you want to do a proper figure 8, you will need a long pole.  If you want to cast big heavy lures, you will need a long pole.  If you want to fish all day without the wear and tear on your body, you will need a longer pole.  If you want more leverage during battle, you need a longer pole.  I firmly believe that people that swear by their 6'6" and 7 footers simply haven't thrown an 8'6" or 9 footer yet.  Once you do, you will never want to go back.  The longer pole lets you fish with less wear and tear on your body, which in turn allows you to fish more effectively.  If you don't wear down as quickly, you will be ready for the moment of truth.  All of your casts really amount to only 1 or 2 per day.  It's important to be ready.  Plus, if 3 out of 4 fish come on a figure 8 and a longer pole allows you to do a better figure 8, then the facts speak for themselves.  It's just another difference maker in a sport that needs it.

Proper release tools...This might sound elementary, but our sport depends on proper catch and release.  If you aren't prepared you will regret it.  Bring a big net with a deep basket.  Also, a long-nosed pliers and hook cutters. Leave the fish in the water until the hooks are out and then have the camera ready before you take it out of the water.  Don't hold the muskie vertical, it kills them.  Don't lay them on the floor to flop around, this may also kill them.  Lastly, don't drag them backwards in the water when you are reviving them.  It drowns them.  Sorry, this is my only rant, but it's so important that it needs to be mentioned.

Looking at the current conditions, I'd say that the muskie bite should be good on the opener.  The spawn should be completely wrapped up and hopefully the fish are putting the post-spawn feed bag on.  Water temps have cooled in the metro to the mid to upper 60's.  The weed growth appears to be ahead of schedule, so all indications are that you will catch a muskie on the opener, or you won't!  Anything else would be too ridiculous to predict.  I wish you the best of luck this year and hope to see you on the water.  Until the first muskie strikes, keep on livin' the dream!

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