Early Season Is Good Time For Muskie Success
With the State of New York allowing anglers to begin legally fishing for muskies before the traditional opener (the third Saturday in June), anglers from across the northeast have been traveling to our part of the world to chase the elusive muskellunge, and local fisheries have been seeing an uptick in angler activity.
While catch-and-release rules are in order, which the 99.9 percent of muskie anglers do anyways, the importance of the “early/special seasons” are important to local businesses.
Early season muskie chasing can be exciting and very rewarding. Clients from across the country travel hundreds of miles to just spend a few hours on local lakes to catch the fish of 10,000 casts. And the early season, in my humble opinion, is one of the best times to boat a trophy muskie
Fishing the first few weeks of any season generally means we all need to change things up a bit. The state doesn’t agree with me that local muskies spawn when the water temperatures are between 49 and 57 degrees, which means most years when our early/special season begins, the spawn is all but over.
What does all this mean to anglers who fish local fisheries? We have found over the years that a slower presentation is always best. We prefer to start casting in shallow water, because once muskies are done spawning, they feed on the prey species that spawn in the same places after them. It makes sense that muskies would stay shallow after the spawn because their food is there, and the water is warmer.
Prime spawning areas are shallow bays protected by landforms or islands from cold main lake water. The best tends to be on the lake’s north side. You will often find dead or newly-emergent weeds and bulrushes, and fallen trees, old wooden docks, and the best spots have an incoming stream which adds current and relatively warm water.
During the heat of the season, our muskie fishing almost always involves fishing in the wind. I like how wind makes musky location predictable, and the most active fish will position with their noses in it. Big fish often find an eddy where they don’t have to fight water movement yet can still use the current to feed.
When musky season first opens, I usually try to avoid the wind as it can move cooler, main lake water into shallow areas. Finding the warmest water can mean everything to early season musky action, and for this reason the best spots usually are protected from the wind.
When muskies just finish up their annual ritual, they would feed on big meals as much, but what we have discovered, like humans when we aren’t overly hungry, they will feed several times on small meals. This is why we’ll tie on smaller (7-10 inch) baits, like a Shad Rap and just about any small-twitch bait.
Until we see or hear muskies chasing bigger fish back to the boat or until water temperature climbs into the low to mid 60’s, that’s when we start running mid- to larger-baits. Slower rolling smaller bucktail and spinner baits will strike also, which means that it’s almost time to start trolling and running larger baits.
Another thing that years of muskie hunting has proven is that we there is not a need to get to the lake at the crack of dawn. Fishing from mid-morning until dusk not only helps our catch ratio, but it allows me to get well-deserved sleep after a long spring turkey season. When fishing weeds, work your baits as slow as possible if you are looking for large muskies. Big females will hold in the weeds, but will not chase. This slow finesse presentation will trigger a strike from sluggish female muskies when they won’t chase a bucktail or twitch bait. Perch and crappie pattern flies are good bets in stained water. Muskie activity will peak during the late afternoon and early evening. Seldom will muskies be active at the crack of dawn early in the season. Later in summer, being on the water at sun-up may be the only way to boat a musky. Night fishing is also not as productive as it is later in the season. This is one time of year when you will actually benefit from rising late in the day.
Muskie will also be most active after warming weather patterns. Stable weather patterns will not only raise the water temperature but the water also won’t cool down overnight. Cool nights will cause the water temperature to drop and slow down the musky action. If you are fishing after a front, look for the best action to occur late in the afternoon. The early season can be a time of plenty for all species of fish, and muskies are no exception. While there is never a sure thing, you can increase your odds. While you may not get that 50-incher, you should encounter plenty of consistent musky action. Do some hunting and check out fresh water.
The early season offers anglers the opportunity to catch some of the biggest muskie of the season and is well worth the little effort and small investment to use smaller tackle to catch a fish of a lifetime. It’s important to remember safe catch and release is important to the future and health of all muskie fisheries.