Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Best muskie opener in years? Could be

Editor

Woodruff, Wis. With this spring’s cold, wet weather keeping a
lid on rising water temperatures, several Northwoods guides expect
muskies to be in very shallow water for this year’s northern
Wisconsin opener, which arrives Saturday, May 25.

As of May 17, surface water temperatures in Oneida and Vilas
counties were right around 44 degrees on most lakes. Some of the
larger, deeper lakes had even colder surface temps. At the same
time, forecasts called for lows of 28 to 30 through May 20.

“The older guides that I’ve been talking to say they can’t
recall a spring like this,” said Kurt Justice of Kurt’s Island
Sport Shop in Minocqua. “We’ve had cold openers before, but we’ve
always had warm weather ahead of that. We’ve even had late
ice-outs, but the water has always warmed up enough to allow
muskies to spawn before Memorial Day weekend. I’ve never seen it
stay this cold for this long.

“The highest (surface water temp) I’ve seen has been 44.4
degrees,” said Justice, in a May 16 interview. “It has hardly
budged from the May 4 opener, when we had 39 to 41 degrees. A lot
of walleyes were still spawning through opening weekend, and male
walleyes were still in the shallows last week.”

The story is the same from Eagle River to Hayward and
Spooner.

Paul Thorson of Pastika’s Bait Shop in Hayward said fishermen
need a little bit of sunshine.

“Heck, we dropped five to six degrees from May 11 through May
13. It warmed up a little bit since then, but you would still have
trouble finding a lake around here at 50 degrees,” said Thorson on
May 17.

Most lakes were at 45 to 48 degrees that day, he said.

Pete Krueger of Northern Highland Sport Shop in Boulder Junction
wasn’t sure that even a crystal ball would help anglers for opening
weekend.

“We know opening day is going to come, but we just don’t know
what it’ll bring,” Krueger said. “I don’t know if they’re even
spawning yet. The water is still very cold.”

The cold water temperatures certainly are unusual for this time
of year, but all three men said that could actually be a good thing
for anglers. The cold water will keep the muskies in shallow water,
they said.

“I have a feeling that unless something drastic happens, the
fish aren’t even going to be close to spawning,” Justice said. “It
should be a fantastic opener for fishing shallow water. You know,
you might even be able to spot fish and cast to them. That would
really be crazy. I’m not sure how active they’ll be, especially the
females, but with the variety and sizes of lakes that we have in
northern Wisconsin, some lakes are going to be very hot. I think
some very big fish are going to be caught.”

“I think the muskies will probably be very shallow,” said
Krueger. “It could be a very good opener for some people, but only
if they keep an open mind and look for fish in unusual places. I
mean, they could be real shallow even during the middle of the day.
It doesn’t look like we’re going to get warm weather. If it did
turn nice for the opener, the fish should really be active.”

Thorson noted that walleye fishermen have been catching muskies
(and releasing them) on jigs and minnows.

“They’re still shallow and they’re taking small baits,” Thorson
said. “That should be a clue for muskie fishermen on opening
weekend. I’d use smaller lures, or even go with bigger jigs and
chubs.”

Fishermen who insist on throwing everything but the kitchen sink
should still consider smaller lures, Justice said.

“We might be talking two to three feet of water, so I’d go with
smaller, high-working twitchbaits,” Justice said. “Hollow plastic
twitchbaits haven’t been my favorites for the most part, but I’d
use them on the opener this year. Or, small bucktails with big
blades so they ride high. Light spinnerbaits would also be a good
choice.”

Krueger said weed growth is far behind normal. Weeds haven’t
even appeared on some of the larger lakes. Piers, wood, and rocks
could hold fish on those lakes. If weeds pop up between now and the
opener, they could attract fish even if they are only an inch or
two high by then.

Northern Wisconsin game wardens also are aware of this year’s
unusual conditions and know that muskies might be seen in the
shallows. Wardens are concerned that anglers who see muskies, but
who can’t get them to bite, might be tempted to try ramming a
bucktail hook into a fish. Others see muskies lurking under piers
and are tempted to scoop them up with landing nets.

“It’s fairly common to see muskies in the shallows on opener.
Anglers should know that snagging, or foul hooking (unintentional
snagging), is not allowed. A foul-hooked fish must be released
immediately, and snagging is illegal,” said T.J. Edwards of
Spooner, DNR warden supervisor.

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