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Muskies Are Creatures of Habitat

Musky Range Expanded With The Hybrid Tiger Musky by James Smith
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Are you looking for really BIG muskies? I mean REALLY BIG MUSKIES! Well if so here are a few tips.

First: You need to be able to look at all of the lakes where you can find muskies. There are many lakes available to fish, but there are only certain lakes with viable populations of muskies. Your easiest resource for information is your state DNR. Contact them for a listing of their muskie lakes.

Second: Now sort these lakes by minimum size limit. In other words, if you have a number of lakes with a 36” minimum size limit, some with a 40” size limit and a very few with a 45” minimum limit, then this is where you should start. Gather all the information you can about those in the 45” size limit category. These will be your traditional “trophy” class lakes. Wisconsin classes their muskie waters as Class A, A-1, B, and C waters based upon fishing quality, so not all states do things the same way. Let’s look at how this system works:

Class A – Prime muskellunge waters are placed under the “A” classification. Most of these are native muskie waters, particularly those located in the northern part of the state. These waters constantly support good muskellunge populations and are considered among the best muskellunge producers. Wisconsin has 309 Class A muskie waters.

Class A-1 – These waters are best known as “trophy waters” for their ability to produce larger muskellunge, but overall numbers of muskellunge may be relatively low. Muskies that are caught in lakes with this classification, have a larger average size. At certain times when conditions are just right, however, these waters can also provide lots of great action!

Class B – Waters in this listing class provide very good muskie fishing, but in general muskies are not the principal species or as abundant as in waters listed in Class A. There are 195 Class B waters.

Class C – Waters in this listing do not produce muskies as regularly as those in the first two categories. However, they should not be overlooked or ignored. Fishing results do not always depend on the number of fish present. There are 188 Class C waters in Wisconsin.

I have found that Class A waters tend to hold the larger or “trophy” class muskies. Class B waters tend to hold better “numbers” of muskies, so if size doesn’t count, look for waters in this classification.

Third: If it is possible to obtain stocking records from your local fisheries biologist for your selected lakes, this would greatly assist you also. If you are truly looking for that elusive 50” class animal, you’ll be interested in the age class of fish in your selected lakes. A 50” muskie is more than likely a fifteen year old fish.

Fourth: Review the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame records, Muskies, Inc. M.O.C.R. records, and others to determine (those lakes you have now sorted) which of these lakes has the most catches/releases recorded and/or the most recent muskies recorded.

Next: If you have access to, or can obtain muskie catch & release records from some of the resorts on these “sorted” lakes, you will have some very good information to work with.

Finally: Your goal in each of these steps was to eliminate or cull out this large group of muskie lakes and whittle your choices down to a very few, one or two lakes. Having completed the research portion of this venture, you are now prepared to spend a few dollars to purchase a map(s) of your selected lake or lakes. Have you ever wondered why all of the fishing spots on your favorite maps remain the same after each edition is printed? The only changes I’ve seen on the maps over the past few years are the addition of GPS coordinates or they’ve been printed on waterproof paper. Occasionally you’ll see the addition of a new weed bed, but otherwise your fishing maps are pretty much the same maps each year.

I suppose many of you have heard the old adage about; “90% of the fish live in 10% of the lake”. So what does this mean to those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over our maps to find the perfect “honey hole”? What this means to me is that you need to obtain a map of the lake or lakes that you are going to spend time fishing on, then you need to “customize” your new map(s). By customizing, I mean finding that 10% of the lake where 90% of your fish are going to be.

You can do this by spending time talking with resort owners as I mentioned previously or the local tackle shop owners to determine the best spots to fish. For muskie fishermen (and women) this will, in all likelihood, mean locating where a fish was released. In all probability the tackle shop owner has gotten his information from some of his local guide friends. This is good, as the guides should know best. However, since this is their bread and butter, they may not be telling the whole truth. They may be leaving out some of the most critical information. If you really want to get specific, I know some fishermen who fish a lot and watch where the guides are fishing. Then they mark their maps accordingly. Other options are to highlight articles you read about the lakes you are going to fish. Frequently, authors will give you lots of good “clues” about specific locations in their story.

In our case, we belong to Muskies, Inc. We have a database of over 200,000 released muskies over the past forty years. Currently we register over 10,000 muskies each year. I have a number of good friends (members) who have marked-up my maps and I have willingly shared my locations with them. The key here is that you need to have good, reliable friends who are willing to give you honest locations so as not to waste your time.

It is also important that you keep good records. I usually get at least three friends to mark my maps based upon their experience. Then when I get to that lake for the first time, I begin on those sites. I do not necessarily just fish those locations. I will try others that I have noted in my map study. Those locations that I feel may hold a muskie, based on structure, cabbage weeds, drop offs, or other characteristics that I consider good muskie habitat.

I believe that muskies are creatures of their habitat. I have read a number of the tracking studies that have been done. I recently had the opportunity to tour the Pewaukee Lake study area. They have implanted transmitters in around 40 muskies since 1998. I jumped in the tracking boat with Ralph Anderson and Orin Olson and we motored away from the dock to the location of the first muskie. Pretty soon, actually real soon (like 10-15 minutes) #531 was beeping on the monitor. You see Ralph and Orin knew right, or at least approximately, where she would be.

Then we headed for Tressel Bay, sure enough there was #892. Let me say this, Ralph and Orin are very nice guys and know Pewaukee Lake very well. However, Pewaukee Lake is quite a large lake. With all due respect, these gentlemen aren’t that smart, they just know where that 10% of the lake is that is best to find our tagged friends. And they have an antenna that proves to anyone that they know where the tagged fish are.

I believe that a muskie has a home range that may be very large, but, I also believe that a muskie has a home too. If a muskie is caught or dies, or is removed from its home, then soon another moves into that location. It is this philosophy of mine that a muskie’s home location remains a home for other muskies too. I firmly believe this is further confirmed by the fact that the map companies are not making any major changes in fish locations on their fishing maps every year or even every printing.

Think for a minute about how we fish for muskies. Our primary fishing pattern is called a “milk run.” In other words we go out muskie fishing and stop at each of our favorite spots and throw a few casts. If we don’t have any follows, strikes, or see any muskie, we motor out to our next spot. As we leave we say, “I guess she wasn’t home.” We all have developed our favorite spots on our lakes. Sometimes we may be a bit off the target. I think this may be a good case for purchasing a GPS unit for your boat. At least you should equip yourself with a hand held unit.

Let me give you a good example. Last summer I fished the Winnipeg River out of Maniki, Ontario. I had gotten my map marked up before I went and had one spot that had a large muskie reported. My partner and I fished that area to no avail. A couple nights later, a friend of mine from Detroit Lakes, who I have fished with in the past, came over to me and mentioned that he had watched us fish that area. He informed me that we needed to get closer to a big rock. He also said that his son had lost a 50”class muskie there earlier in the day. My partner and I were not able to get back there again.

This summer another friend of mine went up to fish Minaki. I sent him my map and told him about this 50 incher. I got an email recently that he fished there. No fish for him either. However, he did talk with the owner of the property in front of this location. The property owner told him that, in fact there was a great fish there, however the wind needed to be blowing from the southwest. My point is that with my map and my GPS coordinates I was able to put him onto a great spot. Now we have a spot on a map. It has been verified as holding a nice fish. We know we need to be closer to the big rock and we need a southwest wind. Now all I have to do is get back there. I believe that I have one great fish waiting for me.

I realize that there are a zillion other factors that go into muskie fishing. The thing that is important to focus on here is that by spending time studying your fishing maps and making friends with other muskie fanatics, you can improve your chances remarkably. The other thing to remember is that if you hear a good muskie story, take notes. That fish may still be there. It is certainly worth a try.

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