Walleye Central
Musky Madness
By Norb Wallock

    As the crankbait skipped just below the surface of the lake and touched the outer point of the weed bed an explosion of water and a tight tug on the line brought me back to reality. This kind of reality check is what every fisherman likes to feel with the advancement of fall and the ever approaching winter season. As I lifted the nice 5 pound largemouth bass into the boat, I couldn't help thinking of the forecast and the day I was enjoying.

The fall period has always been one of my favorite times to be on the water. The radiantly colored trees, increased wildlife activity, the decreased human activity and the accelerated fish activity all combine to make any weather adversity mother nature can dish out worth enduring.

Fish On! My wife, Julie and I had ventured into northern Minnesota in to investigate some musky spots and while on the water we decided, as long as we were going to make the trip we might as well get in some bass fishing before the end of the season occurred. Every year when that reality hits me I realize that there is still time for a trip or two to catch a largemouth or connect with some panfish or crappies, before the lake turns to ice and trolling becomes difficult. But, the reason that we were on this particular lake was to investigate and see what the musky fishing would be like.

With that thought, I said to my wife, "What does the graph say about the water temperature?", with a quick glance at our graph she replied "52" and falling. This made me pull my Stearns life vest up a little to make me feel secure. The weatherman was telling us that tomorrow, the opening of duck hunting, was going to be miserable.

With the beautiful colors in the trees, the cool water beneath us and the warmth of that late fall day it didn't seem possible that the weatherman could be right. The fish were on a feeding frenzy, probably fattening themselves up for the impending doom. I turned to my wife in the boat as she brought in another largemouth about the same size as the one that I had just caught. I said, " I guess we should enjoy this day while it lasts. Sounds like tomorrow we'll be wishing for a warm place to sit." Her only reply was, " I got another bass". The rod bent towards the water and the fish jumped for the crystal blue sky of the autumn day.

The next morning we awoke to a steady wind of about 20 miles an hour out of the northwest, with wind gusts well over 40 miles an hour. I looked at the trees and they were all arched towards the water as my wifes fishing pole was the previous day. Little if any of the beautiful fall colors remained only the slight gray spines of what held the color to the trees remained behind, to give a ghostly appearance against the ever churning sky.

The weatherman was right and I was ready for some Musky Madness. I knew that this lake was prime and because of the activity that we had yesterday I knew that the lake hadn't "turned over". Lakes normally "turn over" around late September or early October. If you find that a lake has just "turned", fishing will be poor for at least a week. Move to smaller or larger lake. Weighted jerkbaits, deep divers and large minnow baits are excellent now. But live suckers will generally produce the most muskies.

The key to finding big, trophy muskies on the large, deep, clear lakes is locating the big suspended schools of bait fish, especially cisco. The muskies won't be far away! Watch your graph carefully. Working the area between two schools of bait fish is super!

Cisco will move in to spawn on gravel and rock shorelines around the full moon in October or the full moon in November. The water temperature will be around 42 degrees. Lake trout also move in and spawn in the fall. Watch the moon, watch the graph, watch the water temperature. This is big fish time!

In September, all types of baits can produce at times. Usually by the third week of September, I'm also using live suckers from 10 to 13 inches long.

In October, I put away my bucktails and surface baits as they start to lose their effectiveness. Many cabbage weedbeds start dying off now and muskies may move to other structure like logs and rocks. They often move to deeper water in search of forage. The 25 to 50 ft. depth range is most effective now.

If it's a warm day, you can still cast deep divers, but use a very slow retrieve. On lakes with cisco or lake trout, late fall is their spawning time. If you can locate schools of cisco on your graph, fish around the outside of these schools because big muskies won't be far away!

If I am fishing in the fall I like the big baits. These baits, because of their size, usually run deeper, but that is fine. The cabbage weeds will die off more quickly in the fall on the dark water lakes. This will either move the muskies to deeper water or to structure such as logs, brush, rocks or piers and boat houses.

Time of day can also play a role. If you are not having action early in the day, stick with it, because they might become active in the afternoon or evening. I usually fish from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the late fall. If it's very cold, I may shorten the day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is the most productive time period at this of the year. Also a change in the weather can turn the muskies on. The weather had changed, and as I mentioned before, I was ready for some Musky Madness. I quickly gathered my things and readied the boat for what I hoped to be a cold but warming day of musky fishing.

I stopped by the bait store and picked up some sucker minnows on the way to the ramp. I selected some very large suckers, 15 to 22 inches, should be used now with a single hook fished in deeper water. I prefer to drift fish with these large sucker minnows. With the aid of my Apelco depthfinder I want to locate the big schools of suspended bait fish and the muskies that surround them. Don't overlook some name-brand quality lures like: Cisco Kid/ Suick, Bagley, Grandma, Hi-Fin, Smity, Bucher DepthRaider, Big Fork Lures, Dick Gries Lures, and Rapala. Look for high-quality, well-tested lures that really work. For bucktails, make sure they are well-made from quality components. I prefer Bionic Bucktails, because they stand a lot of pressure from aggressive fish. At no time of the year will muskies be heavier than they are in October and November. These months test the most avid fisherman. Frozen hands, numb feet, and ice covered livewells, tackle and sandwiches are normal experiences. Snow storms, slippery boat ramps, and iced-over boat landings can all add to the problems encountered.

Snowmobile suits, pac boots, wools socks, waterproof gloves, and lots of hot coffee help a bit. A little action from the fish can help a lot during this brutal time of the year!

I quickly found some suspended bait fish and I hooked up one of the large sucker minnows and started my drift down a steep bank of the lake. With a little correcting from my bow mounted MotorGuide motor it wasn't long before my first musky was hooked up with that live sucker minnow. Musky Madness was well underway and I was the only one on the lake to enjoy what nature had to offer.

Autumn is a transitional period of changing weather and with this transition the outdoorsman needs to make sure that his equipment is in proper working condition. An inspection and a checklist will aide you in packing before you are out in the elements. If you are a fisherperson, or a hunter who is on the water ( doesn't make any difference the size or depth) do yourself and your love ones a favor and wear your PFD (Personal Flotation Device) .

The fall is a special time that can be filled with great memories of beauty, but you also need to approach it with safety. Musky Madness is happening right now so, put down this article and head out to your favorite lake and get into some of those monsters.

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