|“Scope out a few tips on how to examine, analyze and evaluate the evidence to establish patterns to prime muskie territory and forage”
Muskie anglers today more than ever are visiting foreign waters. Whether it is club outings, weekend getaways, vacations or even tournaments, we all are finding ourselves regularly challenged by unfamiliar waters. Facing a complete variation of a lake’s water color, makeup and size, leads us to much more needed investigations as to where muskies are feeding and the prey they are feeding on. Over the past several years I have found myself fishing over 3 dozen lakes annually, competing against time, which has become my fiercest competitor. While researching each new body of water through maps, articles and the internet I have found that “on the water” investigations can be the biggest key to quicker success. The muskie scene examination and subsequent search should be done in a careful and methodical manner to carefully note items of evidence or conditions which may shed any additional light on the investigation. On scene analyzes of weed growth and depth, shore and bottom contour, current, baitfish identification and location as well as other structure will enable us to shrink the learning curve. Let’s take a look at some of the ways my fishing partners and I dissect and evaluate some of this critical data we’ve found while examining new waters.
First we start inspecting the scene of known productive areas, determining just what bits and pieces create prime feeding areas on each individual body of water. These fruitful areas are marked on most all Hot Spots or Sportsman’s maps and collected from local guides and avid muskie anglers. These types of areas can be exploited throughout other parts of the lake as well. Remember that it’s rare for any avid muskie hunter to give up all their secrets. Assume nothing or at least as little as possible while basing our outcome on the facts that are discovered is the trade mark of a successful investigator. The intensity of the scene’s search depends on the particular situation and the conditions present. For example, wind, water level, light penetration and vegetation progression all can become a factor that should alter the investigation.
With that in mind its time to go for a boat ride, trolling when allowed to explore and search out similar structural areas. Also while cruising we can get a good idea of where the baitfish is concentrated and if trolling possibly connecting with a fish. Then we select a half dozen spots and start working them methodically. Any spots, which produce strikes, follows or catches whether it’s through casting or trolling should be considered a muskie scene and investigated thoroughly. The investigators should expand the search to the outside perimeter of the scene and take time to systematically consider their findings. Examine all weeds closely, not all weeds grow in the same manner on most bodies of water. Thickness, height, aging and variety are just a few things that will help determine the better places to further your search for evidence.
Visual findings are crucial, polarized vision is a must and don’t be fooled , quality does make a significant difference. A good choice is Action Optics’ Switchback model, 3 shades of interchangeable lens make for clear viewing under any water or light conditions. Your ability to see all minor details will be a big contribution in your findings and overall success. These types of investigation lead me to some awesome success on a Vilas Co lake this past summer. While pre-fishing for upcoming guide clients, good friend and fellow guide Mike Hulbert and I took a great amount of time to analyze a weed bed which had given up two quality muskies for Mike. Several isolated weed beds in a small area with thick cabbage were our main target that weekend, however only the one seemed to hold fish. After exploring a little further we determined that the producing weed bed was the only one in that area to have other types of vegetation surrounding the cabbage. We started searching for other similar beds throughout the lake with this multiple weed growth and established quiet a pattern that produced a half dozen quality fish for Mike and three 30 pound class fish for my clients and I over the next few weeks. Taking the time to do intense exploration paid off with big dividends
Baitfish identification is nothing new to the avid muskie fanatic , but understanding their habits is just as important as determining the species. Muskies evidently detect size, color, shape, and or movement of their prey and they may selectively reference only specifics of these images when feeding on an abundant food source, ignoring prey or lures that don’t match this image. Also knowing what the baitfish are feeding on can be a big factor, mayflies and other underwater hatches can usually be found with close examination. Competition in my opinion also affects how muskies feed. Strikes on lures will be slower and softer if muskies are not competing for food. Sharp more aggressive strikes can suggest that multiple muskies are present and active. Visible muskie movement near the surface may be more territorial rather than feeding behavior. Vegetation and other structure significantly modify the range and separation between territorial fish. Muskies defend only the areas they see or patrol. Feeding sounds attract other active muskies, but some conventional top water baits don’t seem to duplicate the sounds muskies make while feeding. Anglers may want to listen more carefully to how muskie strikes really sound and then try to make surface lures sound more like actual feeding. We see this happen a lot here on Cave Run and I have been told that it stands true in other mid-west reservoirs such as Lake Shelbyville, multiple fish surface feeding in the same areas. On a few occasions I’ve even had two fish competing over my lure as it passed across the top. Examining all the elements associated with muskies and their prey is the system used by the triumphant muskie scene investigator.
Every muskie scene is 3 dimensional . Transform what you see on your GPS, Graph or Maps into a 3-Dimensional view, this can take practice, but with some patients this will allow you to see things as the fish view them. Knowing exactly how individual things look on your graph could be the solution needed to locate fish. Electronics here are your most important investigative tool. I closely watch both my Pinpoint System, which can read from the front and back of my boat looking for what my eyes can’t see below the surface. I often use the review feature on my Pinpoint 7520 graph to easily replay what I just passed over while I try to visualize it. Pay close attention to everything as you approach an area and again remember to visualize what you can’t see under the surface. For example, in most natural lakes and reservoirs you will have an old slough that twist and turn through the weeds and timber sometimes only 2 or 3 feet deeper but, that is structure, more often than not productive structure. These type spots are commonly overlooked by most anglers because their not easily spotted. The knowledgeable muskie scene investigator’s search is to discover items that have gone unnoticed by their colleagues. Using your graph to locate these types of spots and their exact path will lead you to prime muskie habitat. On Kentucky’s most famous muskie fishery Cave Run, a large slough in the middle of the celebrated “Zilpo Flats” has produced many of the true giants taken from the Cave. Other areas to search out are edges. The edge of the boat row, the edge of the tree line coming off the bank, the edge of the cuts people have dug out to get to their piers. Lots of times there are little edges in the grass beds themselves, where lily pads or reeds grow in with grass is an edge, these can really be hot spots! Look for the little holes, indentions or paths in the weed beds, and then make sure you cover these textbook ambush points thoroughly. Another key to consider is to pay specific attention to structural details no one else is paying attention too. Deep inside cuts in weed edges, stumpiles, and even a few little rocks in sand flat can hold quality fish. You find these when no one else has and you will probably start catching fish, given you have the right lure presentation and retrieve. Not all wood structure is visible, in fact most of the good stuff isn’t. Scope out the banks for signs of fallen timber, submerged lay-downs can be your most productive structure in most all parts of muskie country. Search out brush piles and cribs, this structure close to a muskie scene quit often are staging areas for feeding fish. Understanding the difference between productive and unproductive wood and how it attracts fish is critical when targeting timber. Also stumps, submerged trees and thickets are not to be overlooked and rank very high on the muskie scene investigators list as productive structure.
By making close visual examinations you can evaluate the proper boat positioning for each area of the muskie scene. When it comes to muskie fishing, boat positioning is probably just as important as sharpening your hooks. Using your boat appropriately can definitely make the difference between moving fish or not, especially when certain circumstances prevail such as wind, current and light conditions etc. Crucial boat control is necessary when fishing drop-offs, lay-downs, gradual slopes, rip-rap, steep bluffs, current conditions, vegetation, channel contours, rocky areas, points, windy conditions, etc. just to name a few. In other words, this should become fundamental in most all angling situations to obtain the maximum advantage. The discovery process results found during your scene investigations will help you determine at which angle your boat should be positioned. Understanding the whys and how’s of boat positioning will help us increase our angling skills, confidence, and ability to become better anglers. The previously listed suggestions are provided as a basic guideline and are the opinion of the author. They are based on my experiences, success and observations. But keep in mind that as a muskie scene investigator, you should always be asking yourself questions and then seeking to find the answers by eliminating possibilities one by one.
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