How To Get Out Of Your Muskie Drought
September 24, 2010
Having trouble catching muskies during summer? You aren't alone. Our expert explains how to catch them when the heat is on.
Sometimes orange blades on a black bucktail will trip a muskie's trigger faster than silver blades will.
Photo by Pete Maina
Muskies are never easy. We hear all kinds of things about what makes them tough to catch. The reality is that they are tough because there aren't many of them. It's the way nature works. Those at the top of the food chain are present in the smallest numbers, so there aren't many of them. And, often the muskie your lure does finally encounter is not hungry or just not in the mood. Add to this dog-day summer conditions, and yeah, muskies can be tough.
Summer is often feast or famine. There are so many things to try. It can be very high-speed action, and it's always challenging and fun. And if they're not bitin', you can always go swimmin'.
Here's a six-pack of solutions that work for myself and other guides.
Part of the general problem with summer is simply boating traffic. While the recreational traffic is actually more aggravating to deal with, it is less of a factor in regard to angling success than specific muskie angling pressure. Even though night-fishing for muskies is nothing new, most of the effort exerted on Esox and prime structures is primarily in daylight hours. During the summer -- and especially so on the busier lakes -- this is a great way to target muskies.
With pressure, eventually some muskies get trained to just avoid prime, shallow structural elements in daylight -- with the possible exception of excitable weather conditions and a jumping barometer. In steadier weather, they learn they have far fewer bad experiences after dark, and they can't see as well. These things work in your favor.
This isn't rocket science. If there is a misconception about night-fishing, it's certainly in how to go about it. Many anglers use topwaters only, or maybe bucktails, or possibly even slow crankbaits. Nothing changes really, other than the fact that it will be varying degrees of dark, and headlamps will be needed. Muskies see better than most people realize, though, and are pretty efficient night-feeders. Trolling will work, and not just at a crawl. Muskies get really agitated at fast-trolled lures.
Simply seek out the prime structures on the water. These are the ones that are receiving pressure during the day. And there's a reason they are, because they're good spots. In summer, they are much better after dark.
Wind is a big factor any time of year. Of course, there are many variables, an obvious one being lake size. Sustained wind and the wave action and the current it creates greatly help summer muskie hunters.
Basically, when wind is sustained from one direction for a period of time, it can create a two-fold advantageous situation. First, the longer it continues from the same direction, the more it tends to stack up life on the windward shores and sides of midlake structures. It will generally bring fish up a little shallower. Wave action creates a bit of chaos and reduces visibility somewhat. It can knock potential baitfish silly, making them just a little easier to catch. I suspect this is the reason predators often go shallow in larger waves, because this is where they know the prey will be disoriented. Reduced visibility just seems to make them more apt to make mistakes.
So, wind can create a situation that makes daytime fishing more effective, and frankly, nighttime fishing tougher. And like darkness, wave action tends to reduce both recreational and angler effort.
Many people blindly race to the windy side of the lake, or only fish the windy side of a structure or island. They are expecting "stacked" fish because they are fishing the windy side. Understand that the "effects" take time. If it has been calm for several days and wind starts up, the wave action means nothing other than a little chaos. And this is good. But say the wind had been blowing for several days from the same direction. Now, running to the windy side is likely a mistake, at least for a period of time as the positive locational effects of the previous sustained wind don't immediately dissipate.
So, use wind and wave action in smart fashion. Boat control in waves is definitely tougher, but if a boat is rigged properly, a little experience fishing in waves is easily done and can really improve your odds.
Fishing the "open water" or basically the middle of the lake for suspended summer muskies can be very effective. Like fishing after dark and fishing in the waves, there is little direct pressure on these muskies.
Muskies will generally be living in the top one-third of the water column now, which means you have a smaller pie to slice. While these fish can be spread out -- and in the case of larger waters, there's a lot of area to search -- in many cases they're not so spread out. Their only structure, really, is their food. Finding roaming, not-hungry Esox doesn't do you any good. Hungry fish will be by food. More often than not, open-water forage groups up in schools. So find the forage fish. This can be done with electronics and your eyes. Often, birds like gulls, loons and cormorants will give away the presence of forage fish. And often, groups of forage show up on electronics. Concentrate, if possible, on the edges of bunched-up forage, because that's where predators will concentrate.
But look for food and then fish around food. Trolling is very effective for this and, overall, most effective. Predators will bunch up in these areas. The majority of predators may be in a pretty small percentage of space. So once fish are found, casting can be very effective. And never when trolling do you just want to continue on down the lake after a fish hits. Concentrate in that area for some time, because often there will be several muskies to be had.
My good friends Dick Pearson and Dan Craven both said it first, to my ears anyway: "The surface is an edge." This is a big thing to keep in mind for summer muskies.
Topwater presentations are underutilized overall, and especially so in the waves I mentioned earlier. There is no such thing as waves too big for a surface lure to be effective. As long as the lure will ride over them on top, it will work. In fact, when muskies find topwaters in bigger waves, they almost never mess around by following. They just strike! Many folks think of topwaters as calm-water presentations but I almost think the opposite, especially during the day. For big-wave topwater fishing, it's tough to beat the large Pacemaker by Ty Sennett Tackle
Getting back to that "edge" thing, predators learn that pushing prey against an edge can work. Prey often runs away -- straight up! Once prey hits the surface, its ability to continue "up" is gone. As muskies get older, they continue to learn that they often "close the deal" when the elevator hits the top floor.
In warm waters, speed is something that will trigger a muskie as it fins in waiting. It can turn a very lazy follow into a suddenly aggressive strike, or turn quiet trolling reels into noisy ones. Like anything, it's not always what the fish want, but very often muskie anglers simply aren't going fast enough to trigger reactions from the fish.
The idea is simply to make muskies think they'll have no choice if they don't react now. Those who regularly cast for muskies know of their propensity to follow the lure to the boat with a snobby look in their fiery eyes. Speed takes away their ability to calmly watch, knowing they can catch the prey if they choose. Faster retrieves will often trigger right on the spot, especially with fish hiding in structure. I have seen it many times with my own eyes where a "speed up" with a following fish suddenly makes it lunge and strike.
Another method that produces fish in the summer months is speed-trolling, and often, fairly short-line speed-trolling in very shallow ranges. Muskies are not at all afraid of boats or motors, especially something moving steadily. Trolling crankbaits or spinnerbaits at higher speeds of 4.5 to 7 mph can be very effective.
Drifter and Musky Mania tackle companies have new lures for 2005. There are new hard/soft plastic combos in the Drifter line: a new larger Super Believer and Super Stalker, and a 10-inch Jointed Stalker. These should be highly effective casting and trolling lures. Musky Mania has a new plastic Magic Maker jerkbait and small Squirrely Jake. And both companies have new oversized trolling lures, too. You can cast 'em if you want, but you better be tough. There's a 13-inch Believer and a 14-inch Jake. For more info, go to
If these tips don't help you break your summer muskie drought, it's time for you to go swimmin'!