Early Spring Muskies

by Chad Cain
Believe it or not, the muskie season is right around the corner. In the southern range of the muskie world, once mid-February rolls around it is time to grab your gear and head out to the lake. Any brief ice period is over, and muskies are on the prowl and starting to feed. Just a couple of years ago I boated a 32 pound 47 incher on about the tenth cast of the year starting in February.

Southern reservoirs such as Lake Kinkaid start heating up much sooner than other lakes, and start producing fish in just a couple weeks from now. Pack your bags and start heading south if you have a craving for some early season muskie action. Most people I know are dying to try out the new lures they bought at the muskie shows.

The months of February and March are a pre-spawn time frame for muskies in the southern range of the muskie world. This is when the females are “packed to the gills” so to speak with eggs and carry some extremely heavy weights. Fish that normally weigh 25 pounds during the rest of the year can weigh over 30 pounds in the early months of February and March.

Although the water temperatures are still rather chilly, ranging from 40 to 55 degrees, the females are still quite active, having to provide energy for the maturation of their eggs. This means one thing……eating. Females must feed regularly to provide the energy for the eggs, and this means that they are very catchable even in cold water.

Catching muskies in the pre-spawn period usually requires one to change his tactics a bit, and several factors play a role. Some of these include location, presence of baitfish, and presentation. I will dissect these in order to have a good understanding of how to find and catch “ Early Season Muskies.”


Obviously, this is simply the most important factor when it comes to muskie fishing because you could have the greatest presentation in the world, but if you are not in the right spot, you’re wasting your time. The location of muskies in this early season period is directly related to water temperature. This is a pre-spawn time frame, and muskies will be seeking out the warmest water available on these bodies of water. Again, water temperatures during the pre-spawn time frame are generally 40 to 55 degrees.

The areas that the majority of your action will come from is in or around spawning areas. The quickest shortcut to finding the warmest water at this time of year is to head to feeder creeks or the headwaters of a reservoir. These areas are typically shallower, more stained in water clarity, and warm up the fastest.

It is important to learn how the creeks run once they enter the lake too, because muskies use these as travel corridors, and normally spawn on flats directly adjacent to the creek channels. These shallow flats could either be a small shallow cove off to the side of the channel, or just a flat out in the middle of the water, just adjacent to the creek. These are the number one producers. Another good area to check out though, is where the channel swings in tight to the bank. A few years back, when I landed a 49 inch 35.25 pound muskie out of Kinkaid, she was laying right up against the bank where the channel swung in tight.

Presence of Baitfish

Now that we have a good idea as to where the majority of muskies are going to be in the lake, let’s take a look at another key factor to there specific location. The presence of baitfish will move these fish around depending on where the baitfish is located. Gizzard shad is the predominate forage base in most of these reservoirs mentioned, and shad will be seeking out the warmest water on the lake as well. So you will have a high number of muskies and gizzard shad in the same general area of the lake. Keep in mind though, wherever the baitfish go, so do the muskies. You may go to fish a flat off to the side of the channel one day, and see no signs of baitfish, and consequently see no muskies. Go there the next day, and it could be loaded with shad and muskies too. Just because you have found the warmest water on the lake, doesn’t mean you search is over yet. You need to find out where the shad are located everyday you are out there in order to be successful.

Daily Movements

This is a time of the year where you get to sleep in a little. Throughout a 24 hour period, the water is the coldest first thing in the morning. It has had all night to cool off, and the shallow flats cool off the most. This causes the baitfish and the muskies to back off and drop down into the creek channels. They are both rather inactive early in the morning. Once the sun gets up and starts to heat up the shallows again, is when everything starts to come to life. Shad and muskies will start creeping up on the flats and let the games begin.

The only time that the fish will not make a big movement up onto the flats is in a cold-front situation. Most of the fish will stay in the creek channel for most of the day. That is when I concentrate all my efforts in fishing the channels. It can be a tough bite, but it has produced some nice muskies for me and my clients.

One more key factor to remember is that there are usually several muskies using the same area. Once you catch a fish on a certain spot, don’t be in a huge rush to get to the next one. Continue fishing the area thoroughly and you might be surprised to see how many fish you can encounter in small area.


Daily movements tie directly into presentations. In the morning, either cast or troll the creek channel with crank baits concentrating on bends or turns in the channel. Once the shallows warm up, then switch your mode to casting the shallow mud flats. Several different approaches work when fishing the flats.

Crank baits are a great choice, and some of the proven baits have been jointed Believers, Super Stalkers, Shallow Invaiders, and the 8” and 10” Jake. All of these baits make a lot of noise underwater, and that is very important since you will be fishing some murky to muddy water. Like I stated earlier, water near the mouths of these feeder creeks are quite stained. Therefore, no matter what kind of bait you are throwing, the brighter colors prevail in the pre-spawn stage. I usually twitch the Shallow Invaiders, Super Stalkers, and Jakes, and do a straight retrieve on the Believers. Slow to medium speed retrieves will work the best, and when twitching, give the bait a pause and let it slowly rise up. Most of your strikes will occur on the pause while the bait is rising.

Another good choice is using jerk baits, but one that can be fished slowly. This is when glide style jerk baits come into play, and a couple of the best are the Jerko and Squirko as well as the Magic Maker. These baits glide with ease, and can be kept in the strike zone long enough for a muskie to find it in the murky water. Again, this is not a time of the year to be fishing very erratic due to water clarity and temperature.

Last but not least would be slow-rolling a big spinner bait. The vibration that a Colorado bladed spinner bait puts off can be deadly in the murky water. A couple of the best that I have found so far are the Funky Chicken spinner baits and the Grim Reapers. Fish them slowly and let them roll right over the cover. These have single hooks so they don’t get snagged up badly.

So that pretty much wraps it up. Don’t find yourself sitting around this early spring day-dreaming about muskie fishing, get out there and give it a try. Hopefully what you read here will help you put some pre-spawn muskies in the boat. We talked about general locations of the muskies according to water temperature, specific locations according to the presence of baitfish, daily movements, and presentations in order to be successful.

You should be well on your way now. One great thing about pre-spawn muskie fishing is that they are the heaviest they will be the entire year and the pre-spawn pattern normally lasts until the end of March. Lake Kinkaid gives you a great chance at this, so don’t let it go to waste. Remember, our counterparts up north are still starring at tip-ups or a tiny bobber while sitting on a bucket on a frozen pond.

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