WOOD, WEEDS and the SOUTHERN MUSKIE
By David Christian
Cave Run Lake has commonly been referred to as "The Muskie Capital of the South" and is highly ranked as Kentucky's muskie hotspot. Typically, our first thought of fishing for muskie on this southern reservoir has been associated with banging lures into some form of timber. The variety and amount of timber this lake holds is phenomenal, whether it's standing in 30 feet of water or some downed shoreline wood, we always associate three things, Cave Run Lake, muskies, and wood.
Here is the author
holding a first muskie for a happy
client. This fish was trolled up with a Lil' Ernie along a deep weed
edge at Cave Run
Aquatic life is changing dramatically on this body of water. The past three years have shown an increase of aquatic vegetation (weeds). Anglers are beginning to use some different fishing tactics at Cave Run other than the accepted "norm" associated with southern muskie hunting. These weed-beds are now encountered in every bay that is associated with the main lake basin. We are also finding small, scattered weeds in the tributary arms, which means they are expanding rapidly. This form of aquatic vegetation is a millfoil variety, one of the fastest spreading types of vegetation known in our waterways. This vegetation can quickly take over a lake, but the yearly six foot draw-down at Cave Run Reservoir is keeping it at a manageable level. The depth of this millfoil growth is from the surface to 13 feet deep on our "clear water" years. The floods and long periods of murky water will keep its growth a little shallower, 9 feet will usually be the maximum depth.
Now anglers can add a different approach to muskie fishing when they visit Cave Run Lake. During specific times of the year muskies will utilize the shallow weedbeds. This allows for more follows and hookups for anglers due to the pinpoint location of the fish. Generally, when muskies are located in these weeds they are there to feed. A more effective presentation, which is focused on weed growth instead of timber, is needed to capture these aggressive fish.
The sunny days of spring will warm these dark weed areas first, these darker areas will collect thermal energy from the sun and become three or four degrees warmer than the surrounding water. This warmer area will pull in all types of baitfish, just as the warmest bay typically does in the early spring. All species are searching for warmer water after the cold days of winter. Bays with a combination of weed-beds and feeder creeks will usually be the first place a muskie visits when the surface temperature reaches 45 degrees. As the water warms into the 55-degree range, new-growth will start to emerge and fish will become associated in some way with all of the weed-beds. Your presentation during the spring should consist of smaller lures, line and leaders. Your basic "spring weed" muskie arsenal should include a few Bill Lewis Rattletraps, 00 ACShiners and small Grim Reaper Spinners. The major factor in this smaller presentation is to match your equipment so it can be as effective as possible. A 7-foot Abu Garcia Conolon Premier medium-heavy musky rod has enough tip action to cast these lighter lures without giving up the backbone required to land a heavy musky. Tough reels like the Ambasssador 5500C should be spooled with 65 lb. Berkley Whiplash braided line, and complete the connection with a 30 lb. Sevenstrand leader. The smaller line diameter along with the downsized leader will optimize lure performance.
This is a nice 45
incher caught on a chartreuse Suick while casting a deep weed edge
in early December. The stripes on this muskie indicate the fish are
definitely using the newfound weed growth at Cave Run Lake
Search out the weed growth with your graph, it won't show up very thick because it is new growth and only a few inches tall. Start in the warmest bay you can find and keep your boat positioned in the 9-foot depth range while casting onto the shallow, slow tapering flats. The perfect combination for a flat is a gravel shoreline that has muck areas along with patchy weeds. The variety in bottom composition and its number of changes provide a major hunting ground for these active predators. Feeder creeks will bring muskies into shallow water, sometimes less than a foot. Don't be afraid to get in very shallow as you fish around this faster moving water, it is rich in nutrients and oxygen and is the prime spawning location for riverine muskie. The sunny days will pull fish onto the slow tapered banks of a bay and the post cold front days will drive them into the deeper area of the bay. For those tough, post-front days, jerkbaits and crankbaits are more effective than the faster presentation of rattletraps and small crankbaits. The weed flats are not very productive after cold fronts and cloudy days. A combination of springs lengthening day, warm sunshine, fresh weed growth and smaller lure presentations will provide you with some early season muskies.
Fall Trophy Time
Fall has been known as the premium time for most muskie hunters. Everyone who fishes for this elusive beast knows that the biggest fish are captured during this specific time frame. Cave Run has been the focal point of many muskie hunts for Kentuckians statewide. This past fall Cave Run Produced 13 muskies over 50 inches long, most of which came from the newfound weed beds that have appeared on the lake. The fall fishing season has normally been associated with wood. Now it is taking a turn and a major part of fish location includes the weed growth. As the days start to get shorter the genetic response of millfoil is to grow fast and produce tubers so it can spread and multiply. These weedy areas are rich in oxygen, micronutrients, zooplankton and shade, the ingredients that draw all species like a magnet. There are many areas in these weed-beds for a muskie to forage in. The deep transitions, troughs from deep water and weed variety all provide an edge for them to use. A major factor of fishing this weed growth effectively is to take some extra time and search out the variety of structure these weed-beds offer. The transition area to deep water provides a difference in weed type, thickness and most times a difference in bottom composition and it is adjacent to open water, which usually means bigger fish. The deep troughs in a weed-bed provide more secure travel paths for big fish, especially if it is directly connected to deep water. The cuts and pockets on the outside edge of most weed-beds are deeper and directly located next to the main lake. A muskie that is tucked away in a cut or pocket will have a larger viewing area of the weed line and it can actually see more lineal feet of the weeds, allowing numerous attack angles. As you move between cuts and pockets make parallel casts along the straight weed edge, this will keep your lure in the strike zone longer.
The heavy tackle normally associated with muskie fishing is brought back into play during the fall season. You will need a completely different rod and reel setup during the fall. A heavier rod with an Abu Garcia 6500C3 reel spooled with 100-lb. Whiplash braid and topped off with a 125-lb. leader will allow you to toss the heavier lures. The weed growth is much higher in the water column in the fall so you will have to adjust accordingly. Don't throw deep running crankbaits into the thick weeds, you will just bring fouled lures back to the boat, which can be aggravating and messy. You will need to have a good pair of polarized glasses so you can visually see the shallow weed edge. Also, learn to use your depthfinder as a positioning tool. Bucktails and spinnerbaits are the prime source of muskie catches in the early fall. Grim Reaper Lure Co., which is located in Morehead, Kentucky offers 18 different models of bucktails, longarm spinners and topwater lures designed for muskie fishermen. Cast these lures toward the shallow weeds and use a high rod tip to keep you lures above the weeds. Spinnerbaits and topwater lures are very effective in the thick weed areas. The figure-eight has to be mentioned, even though we have all read about it before. As your lures gets close to the boat, drop your rod tip and end each cast with a good figure eight. 30 % of all muskie catches are made at the side of the boat with very little line out. As fall progresses you will begin to throw jerkbaits and shallow running crankbaits in the deeper edges. The Bulldawg, from Musky Innovations, is a soft rubber jerkbait injected with anise oil. It falls at a forty-five degree angle as it is moved along, which allows it to hover right over the deeper weed tops. All traditional jerkbaits like the Suick and Bobbie will capture fish as well. Crankbaits are the most difficult of the lures to work in the weeds. You must be able to feel the lure as it touches the weeds, then give it some slack line so it floats up and away from them, this stop-and-go, dive-and-rise retrieve produces a very erratic action which is deadly for stubborn muskies. The favored shallow to medium running crankbaits are manufactured by Musky Mania Tackle Co. and include the Lil' Ernie and Jake. These lures combine high vibration and a rattle chamber that will draw in fish from a good distance.
For so many years, anglers from all across the country have come to Cave Run Lake and tossed lures in the submerged timber for the mighty muskie, and most have done very well. The new millennium is going to offer muskie hunters twice the fishing structure and a lot more acres of fishable water to attack. The addition of aquatic vegetation (weeds) will increase the number and diversity of fishing spots and will cause there to be less pressure on the "favorite" areas of Cave Run. It doesn't matter what you toss into a weed-bed at Cave Run Lake, the muskies are utilizing this underwater arena. Anglers will have another item in their "bag of tricks" to help conquer a monster muskellunge.