By: Spence Petros
We’ve all heard the standard answers numerous times. Fish waters that are known to have big fish. Learn the peak times to work those waters to tilt the odds a little more in your favor. Pay attention to moon phases and activity periods. Concentrate on spots having water movement from wind or current. Try presentations not commonly used in the area. If casting is the predominant method of fishing, try some trolling, especially with shorter lines, and check open water. If trolling is common, try going faster than the norm, cast to inside turns and tight corners that most trollers miss, and under low light conditions or at night, cast over the tops of the structures being trolled.Then there is the mechanics of it all. Sharp hooks, quality leaders that won’t pull apart, good rods from 71/2 to 9-feet long, dependable reels spooled with modern, thin diameter no-stretch lines, solid hook-sets, playing the fish correctly, and proper release techniques. This is all solid information that should be part of your gameplan. But a lot of success comes from fast on the water decisions, boat control, and getting that big follower to strike. Let’s examine that logic.
Timing is a Big Key
If you had 10 musky anglers on a big lake all fishing the same 20 spots you’ll generally find that one or two will consistently do better than the rest. On numerous occasions I’ve had anglers show or tell me about a few favorite spots of theirs on a lake I fish. I’d often fish it right before or after they planned a trip, or at the same time. Almost without fail, they would have very sparse results, while we would almost always stick at least a few muskies in my boat.
Having spots on your daily milk run that have big fish potential is one thing, but knowing when and how to fish them is another. Many anglers fish spot 1, then spot 2, then spot 3, and so on. The next day the same thing, especially if they moved a few muskies. Some spots are more well known than others, and you’ll see anglers working these “community spots” during mid-day with little or no wind and a bright sun. A big mistake! The last thing you’ll see me doing is fishing a well known spot in a traditional manner under conditions that usually don’t turn on muskies..
A well known rock complex on a favorite lake receives a lot of pressure. When conditions are right, such as early, late, under dark skies, or when pounded by wind, the spot draws me like a bear to honey. One summer about 4 pm, the winds suddenly kicked up an extra 10-miles per hour. Big fish were raised on two marginal rock reefs in a row. I guessed that if these so-so-spots had big muskies moving on them, then so should one of my favorite community spots. Within minutes we were fighting waves blasting the up-wind edge of the big complex structure. In a 150-yard stretch we raised 7 or 8 different muskies and stuck a big one. I would have never fished this spot at this hour if those two muskies didn’t show up just prior on reefs that had previously produced spotty results. A good lesson…don’t get stuck on a preconceived plan, let the fish tell you what to do next!
The two most common types of musky spots are weed and rock. As a basic guideline for summer and early fall fishing, I generally target weeds more under lower light conditions (early, late, cloudy, rain, etc.), while rocks are generally great when pounded by wind and the sun is visible. Generally the “milk run” that starts off in my mind at the start of the day is sidetracked at least several times before the sun sets. If we encounter mid day conditions with little or no wind and bright skies, less pressured spots with water movement around them (necked downs, funnel areas, etc.), particularly in an area of the lake that has darker water are targeted. Another good option is to toss slow-moving soft plastics to possibly catch, or at least locate, some muskies. Under the brightest, calmest conditions, especially in clearer waters, I may quietly sneak up on spots and look for muskies sunning themselves. Obviously a return later under better conditions enters the plan.
High or low water levels can also drastically change your game plan. I generally prefer higher water over lower water. Lower levels will often kill slop fishing in bays and turn big fish spots into havens for smaller fish. Last summer on several favorite big fish spots, the productive areas of weeds or rocks that were usually in 10-feet of water were now in 6 1/2 to 7-foot depths due to low water. We caught a 38 and 41-incher off spots that rarely produced muskies under 30-pounds. The game plan shifted to structures tied in better to immediate deep water and we boated several big fish. And many of the spots that produced action were “virgin areas”, at least in my book. Watch for muskies to also suspend more during low water conditions.
Fishing That “Spot on the Spot”
When you reach a certain level of expertise, you can pretty much tell what part of a structure a big musky will hold. The biggest, baddest fish will generally dominate the best spot to obtain food. A few examples could be where deep water cuts sharply into a structure, the tip of a point, especially if something else exists such as a few big boulders or deep fringe weeds, or a funnel area with a small patch of cabbage off to one side. Whenever you get to a spot that looks extra special (and you may not recognize it until the first musky is seen or caught), there are several things you should do. The first is not to shortcut the structure and miss the small fish-holding spot.
I consistently see anglers controlling their boats and not fishing the tips and fringe areas of a structure correctly. You might get away with sloppy boat control earlier in the year, but the later into the year you fish, the more important these edges become. This is one of the biggest mistakes between those who catch bigger muskies, from those that don’t. When you come to the sweet spot, that spot on a spot that looks better than anything else, slow down, or better still stop and make numerous casts. Toss across the top of the structure, along the edge, and check out into open water with a few casts for suspended fish, or for a secondary spot that you might not have known about.
Last year I learned another important thing to do on that sweet spot that requires extra attention. Do a deep double figure 8! When casting along an edge I’m moving pretty quick and usually doing the “J” at the end of each cast, unless the water is stained, then I’ll do the complete 8. Sure I’ve pulled it away from a few I didn’t see until the last split second, but that’s how I fish. I’ve come to realize that a lot of big fish follow we don’t see, especially on cloudy days. I don’t want to do a deep figure 8 at the end of every cast, but when I get on that spot on a spot I now do two. Believe me you’ll catch a few extra fish every year you didn’t know were even following your lure, if you do a double deep figure 8 on 3 to 5 casts when you get to that sweet spot.
While spending one day fishing with Jim Lindner during the fall, I mentioned this tactic. He wasn’t surprised because they had rigged an underwater camera that picked up lures as they neared the boat and were shocked at the amount of fish that followed in that were never seen by the naked eye.
Toss Back Success
Finding muskies is one thing, catching them is another. Most good musky anglers I know are prepared to give a following fish a fast second choice if the first offering is not struck. Some toss a slow-moving top-water back at a following warm weather fish. A straight-running crankbait or bucktail cast at a musky that followed a zigzagging jerkbait is sometimes a good choice. I’ve seen where a follow up trolling pass created a strike. But for most of the anglers that I deal with, soft plastics have produced more fish than anything else.
Since 1973 when good friend Tony Portincaso first introduced me to jig-fishing with Reapers for muskies, I’m almost always rigged and ready to cast a plastic offering quickly back at a following musky. There are several lures that I really like as toss back baits. Musky Innovations makes several; their Titan Tube, Bulldog and Shallow Invader are all killers. My biggest musky of 2003 came on a tube. It followed in a bucktail and turned swiftly to go back to a rock bar. I quickly picked up my tube rod, pitched a short cast back towards the structure and began to slowly pump the lure in. The thick-bodied 53-plus incher inhaled the tube about a rod’s length from the boat, and the rear treble was set firmly into the meaty corner of his mouth.
Most of the time a tube is tossed back to a follower, but if fishing a flatter spot where a musky may scoot off to a wider area, or if working shallower rocks near deeper water and I can’t see the rock tops, I’ve grown very fond of the Shallow Invader. This hard plastic/soft plastic hybrid can be burned in fast over flats to cover water, plus it can be retrieved over shallow rocks and is near impossible to hang up. More big muskies have been caught on Bulldogs than any other soft plastic lure, and this is a top choice as a toss back lure. Give these lures a try on following fish and you shouldn’t be disappointed.
“It May Help and it Can’t Hurt”
Just about all avid musky anglers have little tricks or lure alterations they do to make a lure work better or be more attractive to a musky, and I’m no different. In my musky-fishing schools I often get a question such as do you ever blank..blank to your lures? My answer is if it may help and can’t hurt, then do it.
Here’s some of the things I commonly do. I learned from California big bass specialist Bill Siemantel, who introduced me to big tubes, that putting a greasy fish attractant on a Tube several times a day really helps. I know it prevents the tentacles from bunching up, but does the scent attract following muskies? It sure doesn’t scare fish away so why not do it. Bill put me on to Hot Sauce Gel (714-965-0750) which I’m now putting on all soft plastics.
Another thing I frequently do is to try to give the muskies a better target. Mister Twister’s Color Burst comes in a variety of bright colors and can be sprayed on soft plastics, hair jigs, and some hard-bodied lures. A shot of a bright color on the head or tail of a lure can be a confidence builder, especially in stained water.
Certain baitfish have a “false eye” near their tail. This is to help their survival as predators tearing into a school of frantically fleeing baitfish often zero in on the eye. To help generate a strike more towards the front of a lure, especially if it’s a fast-moving or darting lure such as Mania’s Magic Maker, I’ll put on over-size prism eye (Witchcraft Tape Products, 616-468-3399) near the front of the lure. There are many modifications musky anglers do to their lures. Do they all work? Only the fish knows, but lure modifications are always fun to do.
Spence Petros will be starting his popular fishing schools in early March at the American Legion post in Palatine, IL. For more info visit his web site at www.spencepetros.com