In my years of guiding I have found one of the toughest times to consistently boat muskies is during the late summer to fall transition period. With summer ending, daylight hours shorten, thus water temperatures start to drop slightly. This drop in temperature causes large schools of shad to move toward the surface creating a tremendous amount of surface activity. Lurking beneath the surface, watching this activity is the muskie. For obvious reasons, this is buzzbait time. When a buzzbait noisily passes over the watching muskie, the already aggravated fish lashes out in a frenzy at the commotion above. Generally speaking, and this may vary slightly for those of you north of my part of muskie country, by mid August our daylight hours have shortened by at least ten minutes. The water is still a bit above the ideal temperatures that spur the pre-winter feeding frenzy so while the muskies may be gearing up for this frenzy they have yet to transition to a typical fall pattern. During these conditions, I use buzzbaits almost exclusively, only rarely changing styles or colors. The clicking and clacking that the blades on buzzbaits produce must closely resemble the underwater sounds that our threadfin shad make during this schooling period. Under these conditions, find the shad and then learn the area paying particular attention to the formation of the weeds and the downed timer. Weed pockets tend to hold the bigger fish. Therefore, knowing your cover can be the difference between a small fish and a true trophy. Spend time observing as many of these weed pockets as you can, painting yourself a mental picture of their formation. This will make the very much-needed pinpoint casting easier. The retrieve angle of your casts at targeted cover can be the determining factor to reaching success on those days when muskies sightings seem hopeless.At this time of year the weeds have yet to break the surface, as our drawdown has not yet started. Buzzbaits easily pass over these somewhat hidden weed beds and most timber without hang-ups. Targeting downed timber close to shore is also a sure-fire way to get the attention of an active muskie awaiting a passing school of shad. Casting close to standing timber can also yield big dividends on less active fish. The closeness of your bait to the cover can often up the odds in producing, what I believe, to be a reaction strike. My assault on these surface feeders during this period is to work the shallow water in the back of bays and coves, regardless of the cover type. This is where the first signs of schooling shad appear, once they have moved in from the cooler deeper water of the hot summer. No need to worry about electronics here, the schools can be easily spotted in this shallow water. It isn’t unusual for a thirty five-pound fish to be taken in a foot of water at this time. Early morning and late evening I find the fish on relatively bare banks; fan cast these areas thoroughly. Casting to the same area multiple times could be what it takes; curiosity is certainly a factor here. This late summer method is no secret to anglers here on Cave Run. In fact, my largest muskie using this tactic, a 51 incher, was taken while casting a Grim Reaper buzzbait among 8 other boats, most of them also throwing buzzbaits. When working smaller coves and bays muskies tend to spook more easily, try making eight to ten casts and then return later.Remember to return to these spots at the first sign of a significant wind or weather change. A buzzbait splashing across the top of the water is hard for a muskie to identify.A muskie attacks a buzzbait out of hunger, curiosity, shear aggressiveness and probably aggravation. I mainly rely on only two color selections white or chartreuse, which seem to work under most conditions. Personally, I believe color is not as important when fishing buzzbaits as it is with other type lures. Sound, speed, and vibration are the true factors that make a buzzbait produce. At times, adding a rubber trailer behind the bait may be needed to increase these factors. Grim Reapers model 1200 seems to be my most productive lure during this late summer pattern. It has double treble hooks which helps on the hook setting and at 3/4 ounce it stays on the surface easily, which is very important when working above weeds.Grim Reaper’s metal blades put off a squeaking and clacking sound as they rub together, this triggers powerful attack instincts that muskies seem powerless to resist. The speed of your retrieve should be altered periodically, depending on weather conditions and activity level of the muskies. During low light or choppy water conditions I tend to speed up my retrieve, this allows my lure to create a major disturbance while moving across the surface. While on calm bright days I slow my lure just leaving a small surface wake, during these balmy conditions a fish can easily spot your bait.When fishing extremely muddy water I go to a larger size or one with more blades, this will help the muskies locate your bait.Also, the more surface activity I find, the larger my buzzbait choice. The Grim Reaper model 1300 and TNT Triclops can really turn up the water, which seems to ring the dinner bell for those muskies on the verge of a feeding frenzy. Mixing up the speed of your retrieve can also be productive on days when muskies seem to be in a slow mode.In situations where you find yourself only producing follows, do things differently or more frequently. Try popping your lure across the surface, lightly churning up at little more water. These out of the ordinary presentations can make the difference on semi-active fish. Another technique to try is directional change as the lure approaches the boat. To do this effectively a long rod is a must. Halfway back in your retrieve change the position of your rod in a 45-degree angle to move your bait in a different direction. The extra rod length creates a drastic direction change of your lure, imitating an escaping baitfish. Most fishermen complain of missed strikes and harder than usual hook sets on topwaters. Yet, we must admit that mental error causes most of our lost fish on buzzbaits. With muskies this problem multiplies because of the explosion we see as a muskie strikes.Pulling the lure away from the fish’s mouth is the most common mistake. While guiding, I instruct clients to avoid watching their buzzbaits until it nears the boat to lessen this problem. A lot of people think that when a muskie misses a buzzbait, they’re retrieving the lure too fast. I don’t agree with this theory. In my opinion, if fish are missing the bait, you should speed it up. After all, how many fish have you seen slowdown when being attacked by a predator? Rod selection is also very important when presenting buzzbaits to get a quality hook set.My rod choice is a Lamiglas 7-foot G 1000 series Figure 8 Special. The long length and fast tip action generates the right pressure needed for consistent hook ups.Rod positioning is equally as important to ensure the hooks stay in the fish. Start with your rod in a somewhat vertical position. Concentrate on a good hook set for the quick striking muskie, rod position at this point of your retrieve makes it tough to get a quality set without paying close attention. This initial vertical rod position helps keep your bait on the surface. Lower the rod tip slowly as the lure approaches the boat.Thus enabling you to give a quality hook set and allows you to enter into a good figure eight.When starting my figure eight, I lower my rod tip six to eight inches into the water in hopes of enticing a lazy follower. Again, a quick direction change five feet from the boat can sometimes be as good as a figure eight on sluggish fish. Quality line also increases your hook set percentage; no-stretch line is a must on all my reels. I use Power Pro Spectra 80 lb. test, with its small diameter it gives ultra sensitivity yet toughness against the timber. Buzzbaits can be the most productive lure in your arsenal for late summer muskies. In a period when all of us are eager for the fall feeding frenzy to be in full swing, this buzzbait tactic is a recommended appetizer. Try it out and you will ultimately add it to your collection of trophy tactics.
Tony Grant has been chasing muskies for nearly 20 years. As his career started on Kentucky’s Cave Run Lake he has now expanded his guiding to the waters of Wisconsin and Minnesota during the southern muskies dangerously hot summer water temps. In 2005 Tony teamed up with Gregg Thomas to form Musky Road Rules, a series of “Cabin Fever Clinics” and Schools with “On the Water Workshops” across the mid west muskie range. Visit Tony’s sites www.kymuskie.com www.muskiesupnorth.com www.tonygrantoutdoors.com and www.muskyroadrules.com