Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Muskies on the edge of night

By Steve Heiting
Contributing Writer

The muskie was acting like it wanted to get caught. Every time we visited the small bay, it followed our lures from its haunt where a boulder lay on the edge of a weedbed, rushing the bait and going into the figure-eight but not biting.

With darkness closing in, we decided the bay would be the last spot of the evening. After pulling up to the fish’s lair, I snapped a double-bladed, flashabou-tailed spinner to the leader, bombed it beyond the rock, and retrieved it just fast enough to bulge the surface and leave a big V-wake. I turned my rod to the right to alter the lure’s course as it passed by the rock, and the water exploded from the muskie’s attack.

After a good battle, my friend Charlie Buhler slid the net beneath the fish, and following photographs and its release, we headed to our cabin with big smiles on our faces.

If there’s a seemingly magical time when a muskie may be most likely to bite, it’s the hour or so when darkness overtakes daylight. And why not? Many fish species are crepuscular, meaning they’re active in twilight, and muskies’ outstanding eyesight makes them efficient last-light predators. Almost every top muskie angler I know uses this knowledge to their advantage, and the timeframe can be productive from season’s open until its end.

You don’t have to have a muskie spotted in advance to catch it in low light. Even if the day’s fishing was slow with only a handful of follows or none at all, it’s a must-fish window of opportunity. My fishing partners and I have succeeded countless times on the last spot of the evening after a frustrating day of no action. Just pick a favorite spot, or one that simply looks fishy, and cast away.

In fact, last light is my favorite time to catch a muskie when its presence was revealed only through the side-imaging feature. When I spot a muskie on the screen, I mark its location with a waypoint and change the icon to a red cross. I’ll then circle the cross with my boat while casting in the direction of the icon, and if the fish doesn’t respond, I try again just before dark. If it seems like this is cheating a little, understand that you still have to make the fish bite – and often they do not.

A slight change of tactics helps when you fish this time of day/night. A muskie may have followed erratic retrieves, but once it starts getting dark, I prefer to change to lures that require a straight retrieve. For example, I love to rip and twitch lures, but as light fades, I prefer a straight retrieve with the only direction change being a figure-eight at boatside. Besides crankbaits, spinners, and bucktails, topwaters and swimbaits are usually my choices.

Lure size and color can matter, too. Go big so a muskie will have no problem feeling the lure with its lateral line, then hunting it down. I usually choose a darker color for contrast, but I’ve caught enough muskies on lures with perch, cisco, and other natural paint jobs to know that lure color may mean more to a fisherman’s confidence than it matters to a muskie.

Because of darkening water, a figure-eight at the end of every cast is imperative. You should be doing one after every cast anyway, but if you don’t at last light, the time will come when the water blows up boatside as you lift a lure from the water. The handful of additional casts you may make by skipping figure-eights likely won’t matter.

Safety is important during the early period of darkness. First and foremost, your boat lights must work to help with your safety as well as that of other boaters. Second, you need some kind of headlamp, and the brighter the better. Not only will it help you see what’s going on when you hook a muskie, it also will help when it’s time to get it in the net and unhook it. 

I also carry a spotlight that plugs into my boat’s electrical system. A couple of times each season, I’ll need to “light up” a boat that’s headed my way because the operator hasn’t yet seen me. You’ll usually see an uptick in boat traffic as the sun sets and boaters hurry to get back to their docks or the landings while they can still see them.

Another safety factor enters the picture as you are unhooking/releasing equipment. Lots of things can go wrong when unhooking a muskie, and the likelihood of that happening is compounded by darkness. Use release gloves to protect your hands and long pliers to keep fingers away from sharp teeth and hooks. 

Perhaps the item most overlooked is some kind of eye protection. We all remove our sunglasses as the day darkens, and safety glasses can prevent everything from a bug in the eye to a flying lure hooking your face. 

In fact, a couple of years ago a well-known guide was hooked in the eye when a lure tore free from the jaw of a muskie he was trying to net. Thankfully, he was not permanently injured from the scary ordeal, but hearing of it made me immediately drive to the local hardware store to buy a pair of safety glasses that are comfortable enough to always be worn.

Try it – but be safe – and you’ll find that fishing in low light is a great way to catch a muskie.

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