Catching Muskies Through the Seasons

When and Where to Fish, and What to Use

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Photo © Ken Schultz

Muskies have a reputation for being hard to catch, and also for being a fish that are mainly pursued in the fall. They can be caught during all times of the year, however.

Spring

After winter, hardcore muskie anglers are chomping at the bit to get onto their favorite lakes after muskellunge, otherwise known as muskies. The stress of winter and the rigors of spawning have taken a toll on the fish, which are not actively feeding in the beginning of the season.

 But they can be caught if the right presentation is used.

Because muskies are sluggish now, with a slow metabolism, they will not spend energy chasing prey and gorging themselves. Therefore, small lures, the kind that are more suited to bass or walleye, are the route to go. Retrieve them very slowly, using a lighter rod that has good sensitivity. Don't be afraid to use spinning tackle. Only after the water temperature reaches 60 degrees should you start using larger lures and heavier tackle.

Focus your efforts on small shallow lakes, which warm up faster than larger lakes. Muskies will be in the shallower water, which warms up quickly and attracts spawning minnows. Shorelines, shoals, and incoming creek mouths are areas to concentrate on.

Fish late mornings and early afternoons when the overhead sun warms the water, and work later in the day as the water warms up.

Summer

By early summer, the water temperature should be in the mid-60s.

A muskie's metabolism will be at its peak, and the fish should be much more active than they were in spring.

Weed beds have thickened and turned green, attracting baitfish and predator alike. Weed beds near deep water are best. Fish that hang out in deeper water will head to the weed beds to feed. For larger weed beds, work the outside edges first (especially the inside turns), before heading toward the center.

Speed up your presentation at this time of year to the ideal speed for your lures. Large spinnerbaits, bucktails, and jerk baits get the aggressive fish. Full-sized crankbaits and spoons are also a good bet. Larger, heavier lures are the ticket, and heavy-duty tackle is a must to land bigger fish.

As water temperature gets to the 70s, muskies once again slow down. Mornings and evenings then are prime. The fish will suspend in deeper water, so it's time to troll with large deep-running plugs. This is the best way to cover a lot of water effectively. Troll with a long line, use a fast speed, and work tight to weed lines. Move further out and try the same area again. Locate and troll around sunken islands and shoals, too.

On the casting side, note that shaded water will also hold fish. So tie on a jerk bait and hold on tight! Swimming" heavier jigs along deep-water weed edges can be most productive at times. When the fish  are holding tight to the weeds, a jig will get down quicker than most lures, and will not get hung up on weeds as readily as multi-hooked lures. You can cast these, but since jigs are more manageable on tight inside turns, they can also be trolled.

Topwater action at night can also be productive.

Noisy black surface lures that are retrieved slow will produce heart-stopping hits. Spinnerbaits with large blades are also good evening and night lures. On muggy, foggy late-summer mornings, try a buzz bait worked very shallow next to shoreline rock or wood structure.

Fall

Fall is the best time to catch a trophy muskie. Most seasoned muskie guides agree that September and October are the peak trophy months. The water temperature drops to the mid-60s and muskies start putting on fat for the upcoming winter.

Spring tactics will work in early fall, although you should fish with large lures. Jerk baits fished along shorelines are especially effective. As the water cools, fish slower.

Mornings, evenings, and nights are the best times to fish early in the fall, but as the water temperature drops into the 50s, switch to afternoons and early evenings on sunny days, when the water is warmer.

In late fall, muskie will move away from weeds that are turning brown. Concentrate on the shallows, shorelines, and bays. Downsize your lures and retrieve slowly again.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz