Fall Muskies On Live Suckers

Fall Muskies On Live Suckers

There is no greater fish that swims than the mighty muskellunge. The fish is obnoxiously stubborn, notoriously difficult to the point of showing up, out of nowhere, after hours of unproductive casting. They demand time, blood, sweat and tears, and leave hearts broken all across their waters.

But you know what? They are simply magnificent predators that capture the imagination of anglers everywhere. They demand respect, and will break a lesser angler.

Muskie anglers -- and I mean true muskie anglers -- are as hard and stubborn as the quarry they pursue. There's a certain romance that naturally fits with muskie fishing: You’ll surely fail, but to actually win you have to accept the ass whipping you’re guaranteed to receive.

Muskie flopping
Muskie fishing will test angler fortitude and endurance, but they will also test gear durability. If you’re going to chase these big predators, spend the money on quality gear so it doesn’t let you down in the heat of battle. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

Across their northern reach, muskies can be pursued in a limited span of time, typically early summer until ice up. That means you beat your brains out as often as possible, because the off-season can be brutal. Don't miss a moment.

Every muskie angler dreams of a picture-perfect topwater or boatside strike that just takes your breath away. At its core, that's what muskie fishing is all about. But it seldom works that way. In fact, most anglers beat their bodies up and turn the water to a froth in search of a life-changing giant.

Yet few succeed.

But there's good news.

If you're looking to score on a big toothy critter, dragging a 2-pound sucker behind the boat during autumn is your best shot at a big fish in the 50-plus-inch range. And it’s also a chance to get even with a fish that drives you crazy all summer long.

Sucker fishing isn't for everyone, but it's an amazing, exciting experience that will send you into the cold of winter with warm promises to get you through to opening day the following year.

While some consider it an easy way to connect with a true giant esox masquinongy, it takes a tremendous amount of knowledge and effort. And it's certainly no gimmie.

Learn the game, top to bottom. Without time on the water and experience to draw form, you’ll be wasting your time.

True Carnivores

Muskies will eat suckers all year long, and they are native in abundant populations to nearly all their waters. But the time has to be just right for anglers to lock horns with the big fish. As water temps to hit the 55-degree mark, and until ice-up, you are in prime position to hook up with the kind of fish they write songs about.

Muskie
Here is a look at a 15- to 16-inch sucker on a quick-strike rig. This presentation is like a greasy burger to a hungry muskie. (Photo by Thomas Allen)
Muskie rig
Suckers are sensitive fish, but they can survive on a quick-strike rig for hours. Slowly drag them behind the boat and you’ll hopefully lure a big muskie in for a quick meal — and then a photo of course. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

Plus, it's hard to locate and get a hold of big suckers tooearly in the fall. Be patient and wait for the time to be right. The bait market will tell you when -- pay attention.

Serve up a true cheeseburger to the fish of 10,000 casts, and they'll play. If there's ever a time when they are easy, it's now. I'll laugh all the way to the bank with that check.

The Meat

Suckers are a sensitive fish. If the water temperature changes 3 or 4 degrees from their holding tank at the bait shop to your storage program on the water, they could die. And no self-respecting muskie wants an easy-to-catch floating sucker.

It’s a hunt for fish and angler alike.

You want the full Fall-sucker experience; spend the money on big, attractive bait. The largest suckers you can find will entice any muskie into battle. They literally can’t help themselves.

Muskie suckers
Big suckers are generally not available at bait shops until early fall when the temperatures drop. Ideal water temps start at 55 degrees and colder. The worse the weather and the closer to ice-up typically the bite is better. Stay tough and get out there until ice makes you turn around and winterize your boat. Photo by T.A. Harrison)

The biggest sucker I’ve served up measured 22 inches and weighed 3 pounds; I actually weighed it. And it got chomped by a 42-inch fish. A smaller muskie in perspective, but that tells you they’ll eat one of that size without regard.

While there are options out there, if you don’t have a livewell that pumps fresh lake water into the suckers’ gills, you’re literally killing your bait. I even go to the lengths of putting livewell treatment into the water — the same stuff bass anglers use to keep their fish healthy until weigh-in.

Consider adding a couple caps-full of TH Marine’s G-Juice. Not only will you improve the durability to your bait, they will be far more active and attractive in the water once on your rig.

The Game

The formula is very simple. Find classic weed edges and break lines that you fish during the summer, and drop an excitable sucker out the back of your boat. Generally speaking, every fish feeds heavily as water temps dramatically drop.

It’s instinct. They’ve got to survive the winter by eating now. Think opportunistic feeders.

If you’re spending a bunch of money on the meat, there’s an opportunity to save some coin by building your own sucker quick-strike rigs. I’ve built and tested hundreds of these rigs and can assure you they work.

Carry on.

The Rig 

For every component that makes up a musky/sucker rig, start at 100-pound break strength and go from there — the stronger the better.

Muskie sucker rig
Here are all the components of an effective, homemade quick-strike rig. I like the red wire because it appears like blood in the water. I don’t know if it actually works better or not, but I like it and that’s all that matters. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

You can watch the following video to see my complete recommendations and processes to building an effective sucker rig, but it starts with quality components you can depend on.

Start with 100- to 135-pound coated wire; add No. 5 and 6 split rings, and extra sharp 6/0 or 7/0 modified treble hooks. That rig behind 3/4- to 1-ounce weights will serve as the platter a pursuing muskie will feed from.

I’d suggest getting set up with Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Linecounter reels to keep track of every inch of line. While every situation has unique conditions to consider, I think it’s important to pay attention to those details. 

Once your rig is built, the sucker is attached and you’re at the lake, I like to suspend the offering about 12 to 15 feet behind the boat. But as they say, “experiment and let the fish tell you how they want it.”

Personally, I like to be able to see the swimming sucker just a couple yards following the stern whileevilcuriously lurks just behind. The muskies will literally follow the sucker just like a bucktail or a jerkbait. But under these circumstances, you can watch the fish decide to eat after the sucker has squirmed his last.

Muskie commitment
Staying on until the bitter takes endurance, passion and a never-say-die attitude. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)

The key is to help the suckers move along the weed edge, and that will require you to keep the boat moving. Almost like trolling, but slower than normal. Ideally, maintain 0.6 to 0.9 mph. This added action keeps the suckers upright and active, but also moves at a pace that a following musky will remain interested.

Imparted action: Move too fast and you’ll kill your bait.

Once the muskie has taken the bait, give them time —30 to 40 seconds as you turn the boat around and get into position. You’ll want to be directly above the fish, or as close as possible. And set the hook with plenty of mustard.

Set the hook with all the frustration and vengeance you’ve been storing up all summer long. This is your chance to get even.

And enjoy it. 

Sucker fishing in the fall is literally one of the finest ways to connect on the muskie of your dreams. And it’s more fun than should be allowed by law.

Tie one on. 

Hold on.

Live it up. Then, let them go.

Muskie Release
After you’ve connected on a big muskie, put her back. A fish that magnificent deserves her freedom. (Photo by T.A. Harrison)
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