Early Season Muskie Fishing|
Paul (50 Esox)
Pollock Guide Service
Darkness had recently fallen and the air was comfortably warm as I maneuvered the electric trolling motor to the edge of an emerging cabbage bed. The warm conditions and the onset of darkness had heightened our senses in anticipation of the first big muskie of the new season. As I listened to the hypnotic cadence of my top water bait, I could also hear my partner Garrett Plotnik's bait chugging along as well.
As a pair of loons called plaintively in the distance, the peaceful evening was rudely interrupted by a gigantic splash as a muskie annihilated my bait. Setting the hook on the first big muskie of the season is like riding a bike - you just don't forget - and as soon as I felt the weight of the fish, I launched into a hard hookset.
The muskie reacted with head shaking fury and tore up the surface as only a 'skie can do, and after several more massive headshakes, bulldogged into the emerging weeds and took me for a lap around the boat. After a couple more power runs, the fight in her abated a bit, and I was able to ease her alongside my boat. With Garrett manning the Big Kahuna, I slid the fish into it's massive confines, and let out a loud "Allright, Nice Fish!" , as Garrett peered downward and concurred.
She measured out at at just over 54 inches on the measuring stick, and as I cradled her on the surface while waiting for her to recover I thought, "What an awesome way to start the season!" After a short recovery time, she slid off into the murky darkness with a powerful kick of her huge tail.
In the beginning stages of the season, muskies will still relate heavily to their spawning ares. As they recover from the spawning ritual and the water temperature warms, their metabolism kicks into high gear, and they'll begin the transition into their summer ranges. For many fish this summer range will also include all or part of the locations they frequented early in the season.
Prime real estate includes shallow soft bottom bays; shallow, sandy areas of shoreline; and areas around docks, boat lifts, or bridges. If these areas are interspersed with cabbage and coontail weeds, they become even more advantageous. South and west facing bays and stretches of shoreline will be the first to warm, and consequently will be the first to hold active muskies. These locations will also exhibit the best weed growth because the direct sunlight kicks the photosynthesis process into high gear, which in turn promulgates the entire food chain.
Northern pike will prowl the same areas, and they are usually more aggressive than muskies early on. Incidental catches of scrappy pike which run into the 40-plus inch range are not uncommon, and offer the potential of a nice bonus catch.
There is also a disparate element of the muskie population that spends most of it's life out in the deep water basins. While conventional wisdom says the muskies are in shallow, these fish spend their lives primarily in deeper water. While trolling crankbaits, we've caught them both suspended and right off the bottom in 30 to 40 feet of water. These muskies even have a look of their own, and in many lakes fishermen simply refer to them as "whities." The key to catching these fish is to find the pelagic baitfish such as tulibees and whitefish which they feed on.
Some of my favorite baits in the beginning weeks of the muskie season include cranks and minnowbaits such as Shallowraiders, Jakes, and Ernies. Bucktails and spinnerbaits such as Buchertails, Mepps, and Bionic Bucktails are a staple in my arsenal throughout the entire season. Surface baits such as Stompers, Globes, and Pacemakers work well, and never overlook the effectiveness of "old school" jerkbaits like Suicks and Reefhawgs. When you've visually located a cruising fish, a jig/minnow combination will sometimes turn the trick as well.
The common theory proffered by many muskie "experts" is that you must use small baits to be successful early on in the season. This is hogwash. Muskies don't prey exclusively on small fish at any time in the season. They're opportunists, and if an easy meal that happens to be small presents itself, they'll certainly take it, but they certainly won't turn up their noses at something large. The large meal offers more bang for the buck. The same premise holds true with your selection of lures. Be flexible, and throw them a wide variety of baits in different sizes. If you find something that's working, stick with it.
It is paramount that you use rods, reels, and terminal tackle that are capable of handling a muskie. Every year I see many people muskie fishing using bass size spinning rods and reels with 15 pound test line, and a spindly steel leader. Trust me, if you hook into a 20 plus pounder using equipment like this, she will destroy your equipment and leave you standing in slack jawed amazement as she swims off with your 20 dollar bait in her mouth.
A stout, medium heavy or heavy power rod with a fast action is appropriate for most casting applications. They run in lengths from 6 feet all the way up to 8 1/2 feet. I use St. Croix Rods exclusively, but many good brands are available.
There're many good brands of reels out there as well. An Abu Garcia 6500 C3 is a good all around reel at a reasonable price, and they'll suffice for most types of muskie fishing. Magum size bucktails, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits pull much harder and require a lower geared reel with a big spool. For these baits an Abu Garcia 7000 C3 with it's lower gear ratio works well.
I spool my reels with 80 pound Power Pro which has a thin diameter and wears like steel. Again, there's many good brands out there, but make sure you use nothing less than 50 pound test superbraid.
As far as leaders go, don't skimp on them. I use Terminator titanium leaders in 100 pound test, and they're nearly indestructible. At the very least, make sure you use a 12 inch straight wire or 7 strand leader in 75 pound test strength with a good cross-lock snap.
The information proffered here should point you in the right direction as far as early season muskies go. When releasing a muskie or any fish a good rule of thumb is to only keep that fish out of the water as long as you can hold your breath.......after you run a few laps around the block. If you keep them out of the water any longer than that, mortality, delayed or otherwise, is a very real possibility. Head on out there and give 'em a whirl, and remember - let 'em all go! Keep a tight line!
Paul Pollock lives in Tower, Mn. He guides on Lake Vermilion, Trout lake. Burntside, and Snowbank Lakes. Paul's website is at http://www.pollockguideservice.com, and can also be accessed at http://lakevermilion.com/guides.html. Paul is a contributing writer for TNB/Esox Angler Magazine.
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