November 12, 2020
Muskies can be an exceedingly frustrating fish to pursue. At times they are on every spot you fish, and then days will pass without even seeing a fish. Did they move? Are their bellies to the bottom as they sulk out a cold front or sunny skies? These are questions that we may never know the answers to. However, on those days when you are seeing and even catching fish, make sure you are effectively covering good water that you know is holding fish. Dick Pearson has said “don’t leave fish to find fish.” This comes to mind often when I head out to pursue muskies. Most muskie anglers want to cover as much water as possible.
When fish are moving there is an urge to want to cast every single spot on the lake at the same time. Most anglers tend to get the trolling motor humming, put on a bait they can cover water with and start pounding. What most are missing though is that when the fish are up and active, most spots that are holding a muskie will be holding multiple muskies.
This year is the first time that I have fished a tournament. It has made me think differently when making a game plan. Knowing I am on a time limit has challenged me to think about how to spend my time on the water. I have always enjoyed fishing a spot and then moving to the next spot. The boat is usually moving somewhere around 0.7 mph when casting, and I want to cover water. Once I have covered the area I will move to the next spot unless I have raised a fish. If I have raised a fish, I might circle back around to the exact spot where the fish was to give it a few more casts before moving on.
The problem with fishing like this during a tournament is you are wasting time whenever you move locations—time that could be spent fishing. When talking with my partner on how we were going to use our time fishing, he was very adamant about staying in an area if we find fish. He had won a muskie tournament the previous year by spot locking on a single productive spot in a weedy area. It produced two fish for him. One of which was just short of 50 inches.
I have spent some time fishing muskies off of docks and different fish would show up at different times. I have also seen this play out in Minnesota and Canada as well. A couple buddies I fish with have a relatively small spot we frequently fish that we call 10 fish. The name speaks for itself - the first time they fished it they raised 10 fish off of it, and I will guarantee those weren’t the only fish there.
This brings me to the Professional Muskie Tournament Trail event that I want to highlight. While prefishing, my tournament partner, Shane Akin, found a concentration of muskies in an extended weed bed stretching almost a mile long. The weeds looked sloppy, but the bait was there and so were the muskies. The problem was it was three weeks before the tournament; we feared they would transition out of the weeds. We left the spot alone, only checking it days before the tournament to make sure the bait was still there. We figured if the bait was there the muskies would be there as well.
On the first morning of the tournament we went right to a spot on the weedline where Shane had caught a muskie while prefishing. There was a little cleaner cabbage just out from the sloppy weeds. This led to a weed point extending out into a little deeper water. The fish were still there, and they were hungry! A buddy had texted me at 8:45 a.m. to wish us good luck. We had already registered six fish and had seventh, a low 30-incher, get through a hole in the net. All of those fish had come in a stretch of weeds about 100 yards long. We continued to pound that one small area all day. We ended up boating 12 muskies in that small area during the tournament hours of 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
We were able to register nine of those fish, the one escaped through the net, and caught two others that were under the tournament limit of 30 inches. Catching nine fish in a day was a PMTT record.
Sunday morning, our game plan stayed the same. We went right back to the same spot and caught four more muskies out of that same area. Two of those were over 30 inches bringing our tournament total to 11 muskies, which was another PMTT record. Those 16 muskies weren’t the only fish in that weedline either. There was a boat just south of us that ended up in 10th place, a boat south of them that ended up in second place, and a boat north of us that ended up in fifth place. A large number of fish were caught all over the lake that day. Something in the air had them eating. However, I think our plan of staying in a small concentrated area allowed us to catch the number of fish that we did.
This brings me back to Dick Pearson’s quote of not leaving fish to try and find fish. If Shane and I had fished through that weed bed one time weaving through the other boats that were there, we probably would have caught some fish. On a normal day that’s what most anyone would do: Work the weed bed and then move on to the next spot. We probably could have caught some fish in other areas of the lake as we knew of some other similar spots that fish had been using also. However, I believe our plan of not wasting time running from spot to spot is what ended up allowing us to boat as many fish as we did.
There was no wasted time. The fish were there, and we believe that weed point extending out into deeper water may have been a contact point bringing other fish into those weeds throughout the day. Additionally, as we worked back and forth through that area, we casted at different angles and hit different pockets, potentially piquing the interest of a fish that we hadn’t put a cast perfectly in front of before.
Bait selection doesn’t need to get overly complicated when fishing a small area either. It is tempting to switch lures and presentations frequently when fishing this way, but it is not necessary. Shane and I primarily used jerkbaits that we could work down to the weeds and back them back out of. All of our fish came on these baits. We tried some rubber baits and did not have any luck. We know some fish were caught on rubber, but they were eating jerkbaits. There was no reason to switch. It might seem miniscule, but every time you switch baits you are wasting casts. Time management is essential, especially during a tournament.
The last thing I want to touch on: Do not worry about fishing out of the back of the boat or behind other anglers. Oftentimes muskie anglers worry that their catch rate will go down by fishing dirty water behind other boats, or water that has been recently fished. I have probably caught as many muskies in dirty water as I have clean water. I think casting angles and cast placement play into catching muskies more than we realize.
Overall, make sure you are using your time on the water effectively. If you find a spot that has all of the right ingredients of structure, food, and muskies make sure you work that area multiple times. Other fish are probably there. You aren’t effectively contacting them on your first pass through. They could also be a little shallower, deeper, or coming and going throughout the day. Do not be afraid to pound that area and cover it inside and out with multiple baits coming in from multiple angles. Don’t waste your fishing time going for boat rides. You won’t catch them when your boat is on plane and you are bouncing from spot to spot.