Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Numbers and size: muskies in late fall

Muskellunge anglers who invest hours and effort create their own luck in autumn


Anglers who devote a lot of time and energy chasing muskies know that many of the year’s biggest fish are boated during late fall. 


But just because we catch many fish in fall doesn’t make it easy. You’ll spend long, fruitless hours casting with nothing to show, often in windy, cold conditions. But if you put in the work, you’ll be rewarded.


Muskie fishing is hard, but simple in the sense that over the long run, the angler who invests the most effort often catches the most fish. There are times in the fall when fish are moving or biting all day, but it’s more often marked by short windows of opportunity. 


After many fishless hours, the lake may seem like the Dead Sea. But then it magically happens. Muskie fishing requires patience and confidence, and any cast can be the one that produces the fish of your dreams. That bite can happen at any time, but playing the odds helps.


The most common bite windows occur around changes in wind or weather, sunrise, sunset, moon rise, moon set, and the major and minor solar periods. Bottom line: Fish whenever you have the opportunity, though it pays to start early and stay late.


How you fish in the late fall often depends on temperature. If it’s below freezing, casting is basically out of the question and you’ll be limited to trolling or livebait fishing. 


Regardless of how you catch a muskie, it’s a big score, but in adequate conditions, my favorite way to fish for them in the fall is casting and livebait fishing. I generally start by casting but have suckers rigged and ready in the livewell.


Big plastics are the most popular presentation at this time of year and produce some giants. Another technique I find effective is casting suspending jerkbaits. Muskies often behave like smallmouths, and like smallies, they love suspending jerkbaits in cold water. A few favorites are the Williamson Speed Pro Deep, Rapala X-Rap Magnum 30 or 40, and a Triple D.


A secret to this presentation, as with the classic X-Rap for bass, is to dress the back hook with feathers. Muskies often just nip the back hook while the lure pauses; this has produced a lot of muskies for me.


If muskies are acting lazy or you’re seeing nothing at all, try livebait. Or if you have a follow, toss out a sucker and work that area. More often than not, a muskie will show up quickly on the live sucker. 


If you’re not seeing anything, fish the areas you have the most confidence in with livebait. It’s easy to hook up a sucker on a quick-strike rig under a bobber and drift an area, hoping for a bite.


This produces fish, but like anything else, the more you put in the more you get out. I rarely fish bobbers anymore, since I find fishing suckers deliberately on spots just like you’d fish Lindy Rig for walleyes is far more effective. 


Get baits within a few feet of the bottom, then pull them over key elements of the spot, while adjusting the depth of the bait. If you’re fishing with other anglers, have one guy fish a heavily weighted rig directly under the boat and another with less weight farther behind the boat to avoid tangling.


If you have three or four rods out, use a bobber or small planer board to stagger the baits. 


Try to hit a top muskie lake between now and ice-up. Don’t miss this opportunity! While I can’t guarantee you a big fish, the odds are in your favor. Remember that in muskie fishing, the harder you fish, the luckier you get!

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