By: Spence Petros
There are a lot of prime musky waters in North America ,and many of them are in northwest Ontario. Just about every resort owner will sing the phrases of their own body of water, and naturally, they all have “world record” fish. But putting all the bull aside, where are the best waters, and who can an angler trust.
I have fished northwest Ontario over 35 years and have caught numerous 30 to-40 pound muskies in these prime waters. I haven’t fished all the good lakes, but have a pretty good understanding about what’s going on in the area. In this article we’ll profile two of the region’s top waters and how to fish them on a seasonal basis.
This near 70,000 acre lake offers a visiting musky angler just about every fishing situation that’s possible in a lake. Muskies suspended and deep in the “west arm”, to shallow “slop fish” in the darker water eastern sections of the lake, which occurs from about Stanton Island south into Osbourne and Niven Bay.
For a few years many knowledgeable musky hunters got away from Eagle, claiming over-pressured fish that would follow your lures and almost never hit was the rule-a solid strike was the exception. While that line of thought may have had some truth to it 20-years ago, that certainly isn’t the case now.
One of the best musky anglers to ever fish Eagle is Steve Herbeck. “Herby” bought Andy Myers lodge years ago, and guides for muskies on a daily basis. From the musky opener in mid-June through July, Herbeck favors reef, flats, and islands near spawning grounds or extensive food shelves. A multi-dimensional island or cluster of islands having weeds, rocks, and slots that’s just out from one of these areas is about as good as it gets Herbeck claims. Productive lures are minnow lures or “twitch baits” such as the Slammer, Crane Bait, or Jake, particularly in perch or walleye patterns, along with bucktails and top-waters.
Through most of August weeds can still be productive says Herbeck, but mid-lake “table-top” reefs, main lake islands and shelve points (major points near deep water) come on strong, especially on larger muskies. During this time frame crankbaits, along with large, soft-rubber lures, should be added to your arsenal.
“As the first cool nights occur in latter August, muskies will start leaving the weeds. Rock walls and bluff banks close to these bays will be hot, states Herbeck. Once you get into mid-September the weed bite will generally be over, except for isolated action around a few still green areas of vegetation. Most of the musky activity will be rock related from mid-September on, with narrows, walls, points, and reefs being key structures. And don’t be afraid to try reefs that top off 12-20 feet down”.
Herbeck says that once the water temperature falls into the 50’s in fall, he has one angler toss a crankbait such as a Depth Raider or Trophy Diver, and while the other works a large soft-rubber lure like a Bull Dog or Big Joe, he drags a big lively sucker on a quick-strike rig. Herbeck can be reached at 1-807-227-2610 in summer or 1-888-727-5865 anytime.
Although I fished the western end of Eagle for years and caught muskies to 40-pounds there, I’ve recently become a real fan of the darker, easier-to-fish waters on the east end. On a first trip I hosted to North Shore Lodge during the summer of 1996, only 5 out of the 40 anglers on the trip fished for muskies, yet we caught 6 fish around 30 pounds plus a few smaller ones. I had three, plus several 15-18 pounders in my boat, and had never fisher this end of Eagle before. I take a group every July with 2012 marking my 16th year, and the fishing just keeps getting better. We had 14 muskies in my boat in 2010 and 2011.
During the time period of mid-July through early August, I fish fast, covering a lot of water with a run and gun approach. My main pattern is fishing weeds in darker water, concentrating on anything different such as edges into the wind, points, inside turns, funnels, or changes in weed thickness. My most productive bucktails have been the big “double tens” with Bucher’s Mag. Tinsels and Cow Girls topping the list. My favorite top water is Bucher’s Top Raider. Shallow Invaders, Bulldogs, a good spinnerbait, and big Tubes are other must lures in my tackle box
Every year I host a July trip to North Shore Lodge on Eagle Lake. Fishing is usually very good at that time for all species, plus I hold nightly seminars on where and how to fish. For more info on this trip call 1-800-976-9779 or visit their web-site atwww.northshorelodgeontario.com
Lake of the Woods
It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more 20-pound plus muskies in this body of water on the Minnesota-Ontario border than there are in many “prime” musky states. Like Eagle, L.O.T.W. offers a variety of musky fishing options, from deep clear trout waters to shallow, dark water areas where plenty of big fish are pulled out of 2-12 foot depths.
My strategy for consistency when fishing this lake is to work the darker waters, particularly the northwest area of the lake. I come in through Warroad Minnesota and fish the area known as the Northwest Angle, while head-quartering out of Sandy’s Blackhawk Island.Out of this lodge Bill Sandy patrols this area of L.O.T.W. with one goal in mind-big muskies! And nobody knows the area as well as he does. His father Les was a legendary guide on the lake and taught young Bill well. At the age of 5 Bill Sandy was running his own boat and motor, and by the time he was 9 he was guiding.
Sandy’s statistics are mind boggling! He usually puts 300-350 muskies in his boat each year (him and clients-all sizes), and gets at least 12-15 muskies over 50 inches. This is particularly amazing since the Ontario musky season doesn’t open until the third Saturday in June, and freeze up usually occurs in very late October or early November. I fished with him one day in July, at a time when fishing was a little slow, and we got 5 up to 44 inches. On a recent September trip we boated 20 in less than 3 days. The first time I fished with him in October years ago, we caught 25 in 5 days. If you ever get a chance to fish with him…do it!
Earlier in the season Sandy concentrates his efforts near spawning bays. Sometimes even small bays can hold a big fish. Some favorite areas include South Bay, Monument Bay, and Otter Bay. Sandy tosses a lot of “hair” earlier in the season, relying heavily on a bucktails with black/silver or white/silver being top color patterns.
In early July the muskies start to become a little more rock orientated. Points and islands adjacent to bays usually become hot, as do weedy saddles between land masses (a particular favorite of mine). The best saddles have wind blowing through them, and muskies wait in these necked-down areas seemingly daring something to try to swim past.
The blast of consistent hot weather that starts in July kicks the top-water season into fast gear. Sandy catches many muskies on top-waters, with his favorite being Bucher’s Top Raider. He will also fish the Mud Puppy, Cisco Kid Topper, Jack Pot, and Globe.
Muskies start to bunch up in fall, with the key ingredients to finding them being rocks, sharper drop-offs, and schools of baitfish. A major plus for this section of L.O.T.W. is that plenty of muskies can be caught in depths of only 8-15 feet. Sandy particularly likes to target wind-swept shorelines near bay mouths in fall, and trolls them. His favorite lures are Grandmas, Jakes, Depth Raiders, big Rapalas, and recently, 9-inch Shallow Raiders. An ideal big fish spot would be a hump, 6 to 10 feet under the surface, that comes out of 15 feet of water. Add a school of baitfish to the mix and you’re almost assured of some action.
Spence Petros teaches fishing schools in the Chicagoland area that start I early March. For more info visit his web site at spencepetros.com