By: Spence Petros
As editor of Fishing Facts magazine for 22 years, and being in the middle of the structure fishing revolution, I avidly taught and practiced the principles of structure fishing. Mostly I fished the deep edges of structure and cover for muskies, but had no qualms about going to adjacent shallower cover, or out over open water for suspended muskies. Early in the year I wouldn’t hesitate to check the shallow junk, sometimes in just a few feet of water, to stir up a musky.Every now and then something would be written about muskies holding in thick, shallow weeds, but the articles generally didn’t impress me, especially when the author was holding up a hungry-looking, medium size fish. “Big deal” I thought-these weren’t the muskies I was after. The truly big fish were near deeper water-I wasn’t going to find a 30-40 pound or larger fish in some thick shallower cover where they couldn’t even maneuver around to feed. I knew in some lakes the reeds or rushes harbor some big fish, but this emergent vegetation is generally near deeper water, and the fish only move up into this cover under certain weather and water conditions.
OK…so I was wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it! There is a population of slop muskies that exist in many waters, and these fish can get huge. Now don’t get me wrong, I still fish the edges of the deepest water in an area most of the time, but I also check for slop and fish it.I’ve got to give Bob Mehsikomer, host of the “Simply Fishing” TV series, credit for turning me on to slop muskies. We ran into each other on Ontario’s Eagle Lake in the mid 90’s and talked muskies for a while. I knew he was into fishing shallow, heavy cover and I began to ask him questions about what makes a good slop bay. In the middle of his explanation he stopped cold and said “follow me”. A short run put us into one of his favorite bays and he explained a few of the features that made the bay productive. That’s all it took, as I was off to the races with another musky-catching tactic to add to my bag-of-tricks.
Since that time I’ve quite a bit of slop fishing, and under more conditions than first were encountered, and I’ve caught 50-inch plus fish out of depths I would have laughed at a few years earlier. I have found out that many muskies exist in this shallow cover during warmer weather, much of the slop is overlooked, and few anglers that fish it really work it correctly.
Why Slop ? Muskies don’t need deep water to survive and thrive. Since that time years ago, I often seek out large shallower areas in bigger bodies of water. This is because the water in these areas is more stained, muskies tend to feed better during the daylight hours, and there is less chance you have to deal with suspended fish. If a lake has large sections of 50-foot plus depths, and good-size areas with 20-40 foot maximum depths, I may fish a few key spots in the clearer, deeper sections early and late in the day, but then I frequently head to the stained, shallower water for the rest of the day. Slop fishing just takes this strategy one step farther. Instead of working a lot of 8-15 foot depths, I also get into the 2-6 foot range quite a bit.
Many chains of lakes have a connecting lake that is shallower and weedier than the rest, and most anglers bypass it for the more “classic” water in the other lakes. It’s a mistake not checking out the shallower lake.
A large lake with varied sections of water, such as Ontario’s Eagle Lake, Lake of the Woods, or Rainy Lake, have extensive stained water areas where big muskies are holed up in the slop. Or a pattern might be as simple as a single slop-filled back end of a bay on a favorite small lake in Minnesota or Wisconsin. The point is…there is an under-fished population of muskies using shallow, weed-choked waters that rarely, if ever, see a properly fished lure.
Let’s assume we have a large shallower section of a lake with a maximum depth of 10-15 feet. An excellent example of this fishery would be Osbourne and Niven Bays on Ontario’s Eagle Lake, or the many shallower stretches of water on Lake of the Woods. The water in these sections will often be stained and may even be down-right dirty due to wind, sediment from incoming water, or tannic acid from inundated surrounding wood. Due to limited light penetration there is no deeper weed growth, with the maximum depths of weeds generally in the 5-7 foot range. Some shallow rock structures may exist, and there may be an occasional band of off-shore weed growth, but the best and most cover usually exists in the back ends of the bays.
Soft, silty bottom usually blankets the bottom outside the weeds, and much of the forage base is weed orientated. Open water forage such as cisco, whitefish, herring, etc. don’t frequent these shallows, which makes the muskies even more apt to use available cover.
The best slop-filled back ends of bays usually have a variety of vegetation such as reeds, rushes, wild rice, cabbage, coontail, and a variety of pads. The shaded water underneath this cover is generally cooler than the sun-pounded open water a little deeper, the shallower areas frequently have a firmer bottom, and plenty of food roams around the shallow cover to keep a musky well fed. If a smaller body of water has only one slop bay, then a large patch of surface-blanketing cabbage or coontail can be OK.
With cover situations being equal, the bays with the deeper vegetation will usually be better than the ones with shallower growth, especially on larger fish. And a little deeper can easily be 6-foot weed patches verses growth in 4 to 5-feet.
Slop fishing doesn’t always mean fishing the thick, weedy back ends of bays. Sometimes when you’re fishing a mature weed bed in summer, the mid-range to shallower sections of the bed might have thick, matted weeds on the surface. While most anglers would cast to the edge of the surface-covering weeds and bring the lures over the sub-surface vegetation, few would run lures over the thick stuff to reach isolated pockets and slots surrounded by weeds. And two reasons for that; they don’t believe a musky would hold there, and they may not know of the limited selection of lures available to work this cover effectively with minimal hangs.
Often patches of open water exist in the slop that are large enough to allow you to fish a L-armed type spinnerbait. A great one for this situation is Bucher’s Slop Master spinnerbait. No matter what brand you pick, make sure the trailer hook doesn’t flop around. One that’s locked in place will be a lot more snag-free.Rods for slop fishing should have enough length to let you fire out long casts and make powerful hook-sets. They’ll also give you needed leverage when trying to control a big fish. Make sure the rod has a heavy or extra heavy action.
When fishing the slop-filled bays, I generally first move the boat along the deep edge of the vegetation, staying about 25-30 away from the edge. Use the electric or drift if the wind is right. Don’t get too close to the edge or you might run up on an outcropping of vegetation that’s the best spot in the bay.Although most of my action has come off the deeper one-third of the slop, sometimes you have to penetrate the mess even further. High water, fishing pressure, or bright sunlight may cause the muskies to hold even shallower, sometimes in just a few feet of water. A second pass may be needed to reach the shallower cover. A controlled drift using short bursts of the electric is often best for working the shallower cover.
Periodically check your big engine to make sure water is coming out of the exhaust port. Weeds can easily foul it and cause over heating.
Muskies tend to roam around more on overcast days. Under those conditions the slots can be hot. Brighter conditions generally cause the fish to hole up under thicker cover and they have to be rooted out.
Once you hook a fish in shallow, heavy cover just hold on and see what the musky does. You may get lucky and have it hit along the weed edge, or even follow the lure out to open water and blast it. That makes things easy. But often the strike will come in or near heavy cover. Just set the hook hard and hold the rod tip high. Often the fish will wallow, roll and twist, wrapping itself and weeds up in one big mess. After it settles down, I’ll slowly move in towards the fish and net the whole mess with my magnum-size net. Everything will be sorted out in the water, the musky is lifted out for a quick photo, then it’s released.
Slop-fishing for muskies is exciting. Imagine hooking a 4-foot long fish in shallow, weed-choked waters more suited for largemouth bass. Besides, it’s an under utilized fishery that can put extra fish in your boat every year.