Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Giant Sucker Minnows for Muskies

Big baits catch big fish.

For muskie anglers, that’s always the case, and even more so during the fall season. But in the fall, most hardcore muskie fishermen put down the large artificial lures and the casting rods they use to present them and go with an even bigger bait – a live piece of meat.

The meat comes in the form of a giant sucker minnow, although calling this bait a minnow seems almost comical. With most suitable sizes for muskies in the 12- to 26-inch class and weighing in excess of four pounds, it’s really a big fish intended to catch an even bigger fish. And they usually do.

John Store owns Quality Bait and Tackle in Detroit Lakes, an area rich with quality muskie fisheries. About the time water temperatures hit the middle to low 50-degree range in the fall, Store starts carrying these behemoth minnows in his shop and he knows he’ll have no problem selling them. He figures he’s sold about 800 large sucker minnows already this fall.

“I have people calling me from all over the state looking for big sucker minnows, the biggest ones we can find, and these guys don’t mind driving a ways to get them,” Store said. “The later in the season it gets, the bigger the minnow they want.”

It’s not that sucker minnows don’t work during other times of the year; it’s more a situation of availability. Most bait shops don’t start carrying them until the water cools down, which means they’re easier to keep alive.

According to Store, sucker minnows of this size are pond-raised and it can take up to five years for them to grow to a desirable size for fishermen. If conditions aren’t favorable in the ponds bait dealers raise them in, muskie-sized suckers can be tough to find.

“If a pond freezes out you basically lose an entire year’s worth of minnows,” he said. “We’ve been able to get them, but that’s not the case every year all over the state.”

The angler’s willingness to drive a long way to find sucker minnows is also evident in areas that aren’t necessarily considered go-to locations for muskies.

In central Minnesota, for example, only Sugar Lake near Annandale and the Mississippi River hold fishable populations of muskies. But the Bait Den in St. Cloud carries large sucker minnows in the fall, they sell well, and most of them are going to lakes nowhere in the vicinity.

Troy Poppe works at the Bait Den and he says he gets a lot of customers from the Twin Cities stopping in for big sucker minnows this time of year, especially when they’re hard to find. He’s also sold them to fishermen from outside the state as they head through town to their fishing destination.

“The biggest thing in this area is getting big suckers and then letting people know you have them, but once people know, they’ll come from anywhere to get them,” Poppe said. “I call them Muskie Hunters. They’re hardcore fishermen that get fired up and don’t fool around when it’s sucker fishing season.”

Deb Macheledt of Ben’s Bait and Tackle in Battle Lake says she could probably get large sucker minnows during the summer, but she also said it’s really tough to keep them alive. In addition, muskie anglers aren’t interested in using them until about mid-September.

Typically, these minnows cost between $7 and $12 each, depending on their size and they are sold individually. So most shops won’t carry them and most anglers won’t use them until they know the water is cold enough to keep them living for a longer period of time.

But when water temperatures hit that magic number, it’s big sucker time. Macheledt pointed out it’s at that point anglers walk in with large coolers and walk out the door with a dozen or more sucker minnows exceeding 12 inches.

“Muskies just seem to hit more on minnows than other baits in the fall,” she said. “They want meat this time of year, just like walleyes often want big minnows.”

On West Battle Lake, which is where muskie anglers fish most in the Battle Lake area, Macheledt knows of one group that recently caught three muskies over 48 inches on minnows in a short amount of time. She says the sucker minnow bite will keep getting better until ice covers the lake.

Typically, anglers fish muskies over 15 to 20 feet of water on West Battle Lake, but they’ll float their sucker minnow only on some type of quick-strike rig 5 to 8 feet below the surface under a bobber or balloon and just let the minnow swim around.

Fishermen also often take a combination approach where one guy throws an artificial, more traditional muskie lure to trigger these giant fish and another will handle a rod with the sucker minnow on it. More times than not, muskies will chase the artificial presentation but attack the meatier minnow.

“It’s like that artificial bait ticks the fish off and then they T-bone the minnow,” Macheledt said. “It’s a very fun and productive way to fish muskies in the fall.”

It’s a presentation that one of the state’s most noted muskie fishermen uses on a regular basis in the fall. Josh Stevenson of Mighty Musky Guide Service in Oakdale holds the current tiger muskie state record and he says it’s tough to beat a big sucker minnow for muskies this time of year.

Stevenson believes floating sucker minnows higher in the water column is so productive because muskies look up to feed. Even in 10 feet of water, he’ll set his sucker only about 5 feet below his float or balloon and just let it swim around.

He also says minnows work better for muskies in lakes with clear water, noting pre-turnover time in the fall is prime time since that’s when lakes present the clearest water of the season.

“They work just about everywhere, but I think it’s more productive on clear lakes,” Stevenson said. “I believe they see the bait better and from a longer distance.”

He also is well aware that the majority of fishermen using minnows for muskies in the fall want the biggest suckers they can get their hands on. But Stevenson says that isn’t always best, especially right now as water temperatures are struggling to drop with the warmer weather.

At this point, he’s been using 12- to 16- inch minnows with good results on lakes such as White Bear and Forest in the Twin Cities area. Stevenson said that would change as the water continues to cool, but until it does, he’s going to stay with medium-sized suckers.

“They (smaller suckers) tend to move around more and muskies are more likely to respond to one than a bigger minnow when they look at it – at least now,” he said. “It just has to be big enough so they can see it – I’ve caught a lot of big muskies on smaller suckers.”

There’s also the fun factor that goes along with fishing minnows for muskies that can’t be ignored. Stevenson said bobber fishing is like being a kid again and his guests thoroughly enjoy the experience.

“That balloon takes off and it’s like Jaws – my clients come out of their shoes,” he added. “Over my career, some of my biggest muskies have been caught on minnows.”

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