Establishing The Pattern by James Smith
One nice thing about musky fishing, you don’t necessarily have to get up at the crack of dawn to start your day. It was mid-day in late September as we launched Steve’s boat into one of those famous “secret” Vilas County lakes. It definitely was a no-name lake from my standpoint. Steve was driving and it was his boat. I don’t even live around these parts. But, it didn’t matter as I figured I was in for a big day fishing with the “master”.
We had pretty well cleared all the trivial talk on the way over to the lake. Steve had been an outdoor sports writer, and Editor for Wisconsin Outdoor Journal, Walleye Magazine and now managing editor for a fishing magazine. This, along with his teaching fishing schools, conducting seminars, writing books and doing video productions makes one wonder where he gets all the time to fish. I, in fact, asked that very question. He estimated that he spent parts of about eighty days per year fishing muskies. This ranged from a couple of hours after work to 14-hour days in Canada. The next question was obvious, “how many muskies have you caught?” The answer was phenomenal. 1998-66 releases over 34”, 1999-49 releases over 34”, this year 43 released six over 23 pounds of which three were over 30 pounds. If you factor that into “time on the water” Steve has about a 60% efficiency rating. Mine, about a 20% efficiency and mine include all sizes, not just those over 34” inches. Therein lies the difference in living in northern Wisconsin and vacationing in northern Wisconsin.
Anyway, as I climbed into his boat I noticed two quick checks Steve made.
1. He looked over the lake to see where the gulls were feeding. Feeding gulls indicate a baitfish school (or nearby McDonald’s). Usually muskies will be feeding too, or will be nearby.
2. He picked up his barometer from under the console and set the needle on the current barometric pressure. Then we motored over to near where the gulls were feeding.
He started me out on a Bobbie while he threw a black/brass spinner bait. Steve had me throwing over and perpendicular to a weed bed just below the surface, while he threw off the bow of the boat parallel to the edge of the weed bed. He was “feeling” for the weed edge with this spinner bait.
It was one of those nice warm fall, “blue bird” days, flat water and all. So how do you find a pattern for a day like this? Bottom line is maybe you don’t, but here are some things you can do to optimize your time on the water.
First of all, fall is “transition time”. There probably isn’t going to be any night bite during this time. There are two “re-set” buttons in musky fishing. One is hard water (ice) and the other is turnover. Pre-turnover lasts about a week and you can tell from the algae bloom what stage of pre-turnover you are in. Pre-turnover or the early fall period lasts from about the middle to third week of August, until turnover, which can be 4-6 weeks long. During this time, the lakes are usually murky with algae blooms at their greatest. The lakes turn over at 55-58 degrees, and this can be noted by dead weeds and other bottom-of-the-lake stuff rising to the surface. Turnover lasts for about a week, with the lake gradually clearing after turnover. Turn over shows up on the shore, along the bank with lots of yuk! Smelly dead weeds. No self-respecting musky wants to eat during this time. However, immediately following this time many musky fishermen hit the water with suckers until the ice begins to form.
We happened to be in the pre-turnover stage. The algae bloom was light and the weeds were mostly still green. The water temperature was 60° – 63° degrees. In the turnover phase the water temperatures would be lower around 55° -58° degrees. In the pre-turnover stage you need to look for green weeds, rocks, and reeds along the shore. In the green weed beds fish along the edges with smaller deeper running lures like, spinner baits and small musky lures like the baby depth raider. Fish over the weed beds with shallower running lures like jerk baits or surface lures like suicks, reef hawgs, and creepers. The key here is to fish shallow and fish large weed areas.
Good color choices at this time of the year would be black, fire tiger, white, and blaze orange. The reasoning here is to choose a color that the fish can see in this murky water. The reasoning is to choose a color that contrasts with the algae—either a bright color or solid white or black.
This barometer Steve had is just a basic fishing barometer from Bass Pro Shops for around $30.00. He set the needle on the current barometric pressure as we left the dock. During the day he checks to see if there has been any change. He is looking for a change, a barometer will move a day or two before the weather hits and a downward trend indicates a low front is coming. The best weather patterns are just before a cold front has passed, ideally with showers associated with it.
Another factor to stay in touch with are moon phases. Whether you believe in the effect of the moon or not, one cannot overlook the statistics that show that the best big fish time is the week surrounding the full and new moons. If you follow the moon phases there are a number of fishing calendars that print the phases. You can also access the U.S.Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department on the Internet.
There you will be able to download “Sun and Moon Data for One Day. Be sure you have the longitude and latitude for your fishing location because it will ask you for that. If this appears to be too complicated then order yourself a new Casio Forester “fishing” watch from any number of outdoor stores for around $40.00. This watch will let you set your longitude and latitude and then you can punch the mode button and it will show you the best times to fish each day. It even illustrates it for you in one fish (poor) up to four fish (good).
I have to tell you a story about my watch. I am not a big believer, but I never want to miss a bet either. The next day after Steve and I fished I was out fishing with another friend on another secret Vilas County lake and caught a 38” inch musky. We released it and I checked my watch. The time was 5:16 PM. I punched in the mode and the peak time for that days fishing period was 5:08 PM. which could well have been the exact time I hooked my musky. I do like my watch.
Well now you’ve got it all. Keep your eyes on the gulls and other birds feeding on small baitfish. Fish those areas. Keep track of the moon phases, check your barometer during the day, be sure you set it as you leave the dock to begin fishing. Fish outside the weed beds, stay shallow. Use colors that fish will be able to see, especially on overcast or clear and bright days. Try to establish a pattern using smaller spinner baits and deep running crank baits. Remember there is no rule regarding lure selection and switching. Choose your lure styles based on what has been producing of late and the depth/cover area you’ll be fishing. If you are uncertain of what has been producing, start fast with bucktails and topwaters and eventually work to finesse presentations if the faster stuff isn’t working. If that doesn’t produce any follows change to surface baits or jerk baits. We started with a spinnerbait and a Bobbie that day because Steve could fish the spinnerbait over and through the weeds easily and it wasn’t a bait the fish commonly see (at least in Wisconsin). Steve had me throwing a Bobbie because the fish seem to really respond to Bobbies in early fall where we were. Plus the buoyancy helps keep the bait out of and over the weeds we were fishing around. Keep a different type of lure on each rod in the event you do see a follow, quickly change rods (different lure) and try something that may provoke a strike.
Finally, after giving it your best effort, change lakes. That is what we decided to do around 3:00 PM for the last few hours of daylight. Well, that didn’t work either. We had a great day fishing. I wouldn’t have traded that day for anything. I learned a whole lot from Steve, enjoyed all his wonderful stories and the proof is my 38” incher the following day.
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