By Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
True or false - muskies spend most of their time in shallow water.
This answer may surprise you. Radio studies reveal that muskies often roam deep water at the same time that most anglers are beating the shoreline with 10,000 casts.
True enough, the highest percentage of muskies are still caught in weedy bays during a foray to the shallows in search of food. But we believe that's only because that's where most people spend the bulk of their time hunting them. That doesn't change the fact muskies often suspend over water 20-, 30-, 40-feet deep and more.
Armed with that knowledge, the real challenge comes when trying to reach them with crankbaits designed to run 10 to 15 feet deep. Some people use downriggers for the task. But, Marc Thorpe, a long-time guide in the Montreal area of Quebec, adopted a technique he first learned from the locals on the St. Clair River. Thorpe uses wire-line trolling to boat muskies that average 25 to 30 pounds. His clients stand a chance to net one of 40-pounds or more. His biggest ever - 51 pounds.
"When fishing for deep-water fish, you are going to be fishing 18 to 27 feet down over 30 to 40 feet of water," Thorpe said. "Wire lets you get down really deep right next to the boat and work the structure just the way you want. You can get right in their face. That's where you want to be. And, wire puts a hum in the water that draws the fish straight to the bait like a magnet."
This system starts
with heavy-duty rods equipped with roller tips or ones made of hard, silicone
carbide in order to stand up to the wear and tear of the wire line.
He uses 5 or 6-foot rods on the inside, 7-footers on the outside to spread
lines. Planer boards are not used. Thorpe's choice for wire line
is 40-pound Monel. He ties on a three-foot section of 100-pound test
to serve as a shock absorber.
In the spring, Thorpe splits his time between casting the shallows and trolling. But by July, his boat spends most of its time moving quickly over 30-foot breaks.
"There's always fish in the weeds," Thorpe said. "But, the largest fish in the pond are going out deep. I've seen them over 55 feet of water just 3 feet below the surface chasing minnows. Although bigger fish will come up into shallow areas to chase the bait fish, it's a very small window and then they are right back out into deep water. We mark a lot of them in water 30 to 40 feet deep, and I've marked them as deep as 78 feet in the past. Those fish will go screaming down with the baitfish. Where ever the bait fish will go, muskies will follow."
In rivers nears his home, Thorpe looks for current breaks where walleyes and other fish gather. Concentrate on river bends, and check out points, rock bars or weed edges. Look for subtle breaklines near deeper water that may not look like much, but offer muskies protection from current. If they are adjacent to a 15-foot shelf where they can get an easy meal, that's all the better. Try deeper breaks near weed flats.
Troll both up and downstream following contours much of the time. But, don't be afraid of crashing right over the top of a point or hump where muskies may lurk. Hit structure from different angles. Do a figure 8, not with your rod, but with your boat to test different depths and lure speeds.
There is a time and place to go fast or slow. "Fast" in Thorpe's vocabulary is fast - 5 or even 6 mph. Let the fish tell you what they want.
Like most species, muskies will not often feed downward. They normally attack from below. First, mark muskies on your sonar screen. If they're at 27 feet, try putting crankbaits at that depth and slightly higher at 24 feet. "Lots of times, they will lunge up that 3 feet if it's the right color or movement of the bait they want."
How much line to put out? On smaller crankbaits, let out 120 to 150 feet of wire to get it down 27 feet. Try modifying smaller baits, such as the Believer, to run deeper by drilling it out and filling it with foam in a can (like that used in insulation). Let out about 70 feet of line with a larger 13-inch bait, like the Trophy Diver. If you don't have line counters, count the number of "wraps" - a half movement of the level wind across the spool. On a Garcia 7000 with the spool full, try 9 wraps for 27 feet, 6 wraps for 24 or 25 feet. To help avoid fouled lures, loop a piece of the wire leader in front of the crankbait and run outside rods just below the the surface to avoid picking up the weeds. Setting rod tips at the water's surface also makes crankbaits run their deepest.
Fall is when the majority of anglers think muskies start moving deep. But, Thorpe moves shallow when water starts cooling to 35 degrees because muskies start staging near spawning areas. Seek out deeper pools in rivers or lakes featuring breaklines from 15 to 30 feet. As soon as ice starts, they "come up into really shallow water," he said. "They will winter in 4 to 8 feet of water."
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