By Dave Bentley
The biggest muskie I ever caught wasn’t the most exciting. As a matter of fact, some of the biggest muskies have hit close to the boat and put up little fight compared to some of the 40-inch fish that have knocked topwater baits out of the water before gripping them tightly to make hard runs and long jumps before I was able to quiet them down for a quick hook removal and release.
That’s the beautiful part about muskie fishing. Every one you hook has the potential to leave you sweating and tired, but ready to begin the process all over again in anticipation for the next solid bite. Even when one of these huge fish follow a lure back to the boat, it can get your heart pounding and your adrenaline pumping. I guess that’s why us fanatics spend countless hours on the water hurling big wooden topwater baits and bucktails to cabbage beds and rockpiles. We know the next bite is just one cast away, and a battle with a muskie is never forgotten.
I am fortunate to live on the edge of Mille Lacs, which has become one of the top lakes in Minnesota, but rather than get spoiled on my home waters I still make an effort to sling baits in many of the other productive muskie lakes in this state. From my experience, I can attest to the fact that the quality of the muskie fishing in Minnesota just keeps getting better every season. As more lakes mature into productive waters, fishing pressure spreads out and makes those traditional lakes that have garnered a lot of attention in the past that much better.
Let’s look at some of the premier muskie lakes in Minnesota and why they are so productive.
I’ve been living and guiding on Mille Lacs for a number of years and have watched the muskie population expand into what is considered one of the most productive muskie fisheries anywhere. The muskies are not only plentiful in this lake, but there are also many fish over 50 inches in length that aren’t shy about biting. Photos of a 55-incher made the state papers a couple of years ago, and it’s not at all uncommon to hear about a few 50-inchers caught each week from the beginning of the season until the bite stops.
While vegetation plays a big role in the early-season muskie bite, you can’t rule out the rockpiles from early July on. It was on the rockpiles that my tournament partner and I won the Mille Lacs muskie tournament two years running.
The secret on Mille Lacs is that the muskies in this lake love topwater lures. Another secret is that the water doesn’t have to be calm to choose this bait as your prime presentation. On many choppy days I have my best luck on topwaters. Typically you fish the top of the rockpiles in 4 to 10 feet of water, and a big wooden bait sitting on the surface projects a nice shadow on the bottom for the muskies to see. They follow that shadow on the bottom for a few moments, then turn and head to the surface to see what’s creating it. When those muskies spot that lure bobbing and twitching on the surface they have no choice but to hit it before it gets away.
The next time you get the urge to chase some muskies on Mille Lacs, call me at (320) 532-3101.
Lake Vermilion in the northwoods near Tower has the benefit of a tremendous muskie population and few anglers chasing them. This results in a lot of fish that would much rather attack a lure than follow it to the boat. You don’t find that on all the muskie lakes you fish. Muskies can be inquisitive and chase the lure without hitting it. On Vermilion, just because you aren’t seeing a lot fish following is no reason to get discouraged because every cast there has the potential for a bone-crushing bite.
I’ve caught a number of muskies on Vermilion, but the best bite came when a 52-incher inhaled a bucktail I was burning over a boulder pile. You could see the shadows of the smallmouth bass as they filtered through a pair of big boulders and then they disappeared. Moments later a huge muskie just a few feet below the surface glided into sight. When that bucktail came buzzing over the huge fish’s head, he just turned and attacked. Even with my drag hand-tightened all the way, that fish took a quarter-spool of line before I could turn his head.
I put 100 percent of my time on Vermilion on the midlake humps and reefs. Most of these are rock and rubble, and some have a little grass on the top. Every one will be holding muskies, and it’s just a matter of triggering the bite. This can best be done by burning a big black bucktail right over the top.
For more on Lake Vermilion, go to www.lakevermilion.com.
You hear a lot from the muskie anglers in Minnesota about how well conditioned the muskies are on Leech Lake, that these fish get so much pressure they have become followers instead of hitters. That doesn’t ring true when you look at how many big muskies are caught there every year. This lake is extremely productive.
It is true that you see a lot of muskies when you’re on Leech. The fish in this lake like to follow lures back to the boat. That’s fine with me. If I see a muskie, that means I know the fish is there and it’s up to me to figure out what’s going to get them to bite. One of my favorite techniques on Leech is to find those big beds of coontail and slow-roll a big spinnerbait through it. The muskies will always follow a spinnerbait, and then I know they’re there.
Once I see the fish I can switch over to a topwater lure and try to get them to commit to something that looks edible. Sometimes they go for it, sometimes they just sit there and look at it.
If they don’t want the topwater, then it’s time to get out a bucktail and use some slow twitches back to the boat. You want just enough speed to get the blade to turn, and you add some tantalizing action by jerking the rod tip and creating a pulsating, erratic action. We used to get a lot of muskies burning those bucktails on Leech. Now I think that the slow, jerky presentation has a better effect.
You can find out more about Leech Lake by checking out this Web site: www.leechlake.org.
I grew up on Minnetonka chasing bass and northern pike and never dreamed it would become such a premier muskie fishery. Many of the old haunts where I caught big largemouths and pike are now producing muskies over 50 inches. It’s a dream come true.
The beauty of Minnetonka is that there are a lot of spots where the deep milfoil e
nds and a rockpile begins. These are perfect locations for muskies.
I can spend an entire day on the milfoil-topped rockpiles around Big Island and have excellent muskie fishing. I’ll start out with a topwater right over the shallow milfoil, and if this doesn’t generate a few bites I’ll see quite a few fish. And for you bassin’ boys out there, I catch a lot of 5-pound-plus largemouths on these big wooden baits.
Back to the muskies. I then work the sides of the rockpiles with a spinnerbait. You can slow-roll this lure and while you will pick up some milfoil occasionally, this lure is great on the weed edge. To get to the base of the vegetation and trigger a muskie on the rocks you have to use a crankbait that gets down to about 18 feet. That’s where the milfoil and coontail ends, and the muskies will sit right there. I’ve had my best luck generating bites with a lure that resembles a bluegill. A perch color is good, but the bluegill is the best.
When you want more information about Minnetonka muskies, the place to call is Shoreline Bait and Tackle at (952) 471-7876.
I fish the Cass Lake tournament every year, and there is some outstanding muskie fishing on this lake. It’s too bad my best days are always during practice, but one of these years I’ll remedy that situation.
You have a couple of options on Cass. When the lake hasn’t been receiving a lot of pressure from muskie anglers due to a tournament, then a good bet is the bulrush beds. When the pressure is high, it pushes the muskies out into the deep water and off the tops of this structure.
A spinnerbait should be your No. 1 choice when working the bulrushes. You can slide the boat right up to the edge, cast the lure into the pockets, and retrieve it slowly through the thick patches. One of my most memorable bites came when the spinnerbait was crawling out of the water up a stalk of bulrush and a big muskie leapt out of the water and grabbed the bait. It was only a 38-inch fish, but it put up a strong fight in that vegetation.
Your other options are the rockpiles. There are big expanses of boulder and rubble where the muskies are chasing perch and hitting perch-colored topwater lures. Here you need to cover ground, so use a jerkbait-style topwater that lets you retrieve quickly and move fast. Another good lure that lets you strain an area quickly is the smaller bucktail that you can burn back quickly just below the surface. Surprisingly, the two best colors of bucktails on Cass are brown and purple.
To get more information on the muskie fishing at Cass Lake, call Bluewater Bait at (218) 444-2248.
I have to make at least one trip every year up to Little Boy and Wabedo because these lakes treat me so well. I consider them to be like fishing a single lake because they’re attached and you can boat between them. Wabedo is a productive lake in the morning and evenings, and Little Boy has that midday potential, so you can be fishing strong all day long.
On Wabedo I just pound the shoreline. It’s a deep, clear lake and the vegetation grows out into 16 to 18 feet of water. There’s a lot of bulrushes and cabbage, and the muskies love it.
I start out with a chugging-style topwater and land it a foot or two from the shoreline and work it all the way back to the boat. It’s amazing how many fish start following the lure right after it hits the water but don’t commit until they get that figure eight in their face. I keep the drag on the reels a little soft on Wabedo because I like the fish to be able to run when they take the lure right at the boat.
On Little Boy I work the cabbage in the bays with a spinnerbait or a bucktail. If the muskies are in the mood to bite I work a slow spinnerbait through the cabbage and bump it around. If the muskies need to be triggered I burn a bucktail just below the surface.
A good place to call for information about these two premier muskie lakes is the Mule Lake Store at (218) 682-2549.
Everyone tries to keep Lake Bemidji a secret, but the word is out on this lake. There are a lot of big muskies there. These big fish do like the bulrush beds that rim the shoreline of this lake, but there are a few rockpiles there that I will highly recommend checking out with the biggest topwater bait you have in your box.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the boys from Northland Tackle have spent more than a few days on this lake testing out their Bionic Bucktail. It’s a spinnerbait that would be extremely productive in the bulrushes and cabbage beds there. Big spinnerbaits run real straight even with the addition of a big scented-plastic trailer on them. On my last trip to Bemidji the muskies were nibbling the plastic on the spinnerbait but weren’t getting up to the hook. When I removed the plastic they quit chasing the bait. I shortened the trailer and finally hooked a couple of muskies in the mid-40-inch range.
On those rockpiles you should be working over the top with a jerkbait and around the edges with a big jig tipped with a big rubber body. I’ve tried a lot of the rubber bodies designed for muskies, and the one that works best here is the 5-inch twistertail grub in yellow or white. Just use a steady retrieve but keep the lure a couple of feet off the bottom. You don’t see the muskies, but you sure know it when they hit.
A good place to call about Lake Bemidji is Bluewater Bait at (218) 444-2248.
What a great muskie lake Mantrap in Hubbard County has turned out to be. We used to go chase muskies up there years ago, and while the action was always fast, the fish weren’t very big. In the past few years, all those little fish turned into big ones, and now you can hardly spend a day on that lake without seeing at least a few fish over 50 inches. Sometimes you even get them to bite.
Since I love casting topwater lures over sunken islands, you’re going to find me in the southeastern basin. I don’t spend a lot of time around the islands on the north end of the center basin, but I’ve heard there are some big fish there.
There are just so many turns and twists to Mantrap it can be hard to pick a spot to fish. That’s why I always head to my go-to spots, which are the rockpiles in the middle of a lake or basin. I’ve caught some muskies over 50 inches on Mantrap, and they’ve all come from the midlake structure on topwater lures.
If you want more info on Mantrap, a good call to place is to North Country Bait at (218) 732-7500.
Long ago they referred to the muskie as the “fish of a thousand casts,” which made it sound like a long process before an angler could achieve success. The truth is that the muskie is the “fish of one cast” because that’s all it takes if you place a lure in the right place at the right time on the right body of wate
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