Big Muskies, Big Lakes?
by Steve Huber
When you think of big muskies, one of the first things that come to
mind is huge, windswept waters. Big water, big boats, big fish....the
three go hand in hand....right? NOT necessarily so Bubba. I routinely fish small waters and it pays off in BIG dividends.
What do I mean by small lakes? By small, I'm talking less than 500
acres. There are sooo many small lakes in the upper Midwest that have good populations of muskies that it's unbelievable. I
have a tattered, dog eared copy of a book published by the Wisconsin DNR
titled "WISCONSIN LAKES" (PUBL-FM-800) and it lists 14,974 lakes in the state. Each county is listed, along with
the lakes in each county, the size in surface acres, maximum depth, average depth,
whether public access is available, if a lake map is available and the
species of fish present in each lake. Man, you wouldn't believe how many lakes have muskies in them.
I look for lakes that have muskies present, with public access and if I
haven't heard about the lake I get really excited! This means that if I
haven't heard of it, not too many others have either. Sometimes, if I have the time, I'll go to the local DNR office and talk to some of the
fisheries people. They often have stocking records, growth records,
lake fertility studies, net surveys and all kinds of really neat, scientific
stuff. I mean, you can really get a ton of info from these guys if
you take the time to talk to them. Based on this information, you can
make some fairly educated guesses as to the potential of the water.
This is a great wintertime pastime and it sure beats sitting in the Lazy-Boy, eyes glazed over, mindlessly cranking a reel and watching
bass fishing shows on TV.
Then, the fun begins....I go check them out. I'll slowly run the lake
with my locator going, map in hand (if available) keeping an eye out
for weed-beds, downed timber, rock bars, etc.. If I can spot forage
fish, that's even better, it gives me an idea of what type lure to use.
Luckily, in the Rhinelander area, just about anything bigger than the
puddle in my driveway has perch in it. This makes lure selection
somewhat easier. I'll put on a medium sized perch imitation and start
casting likely looking areas. Another thing that I've done is ease
around the lake with my trolling motor and a handheld spotlight. I
won't have any tackle in the boat and I'm not there to fish. I just cruise the shallows going as deep as my Q-Beam will penetrate.
You'd be amazed at the numbers and sizes of the muskies that you'll
see doing this. On one small (under 100 acre) lake, a friend and I
spotted 14 legal muskies ranging in size from around 36 inches to one
jumbo that would have stretched a tape measure over 50 inches!!
There are many side benefits to fishing small lakes. First of all, you
normally don't have to pick a number to drift a good looking spot.
You wouldn't believe how many times I have had a lake entirely to myself. You usually don't have to dodge water-skiers, jet skis,
pontoon boats and all of the other distractions that the bigger lakes
have. Small lakes are usually protected, so if the weather turns nasty
and the wind is howling, your weekend plans aren't trashed. With small
lakes, after a couple of trips, you'll soon be able to jump from spot to spot, fishing them
thoroughly in just a couple hours. If you're blessed with many lakes like I am, you can set up a
"Milk Run", fish a lake, jump to another lake, fish those spots, jump to another
lake....well, you get the idea. I've fished as many as five lakes in a
single day, producing musky action on each lake. Structure is usually
limited in small lakes, this in effect concentrates the muskies, making
them easier to find. Night fishing these lakes is much simpler.
You don't have to worry about running across a dark lake, hitting objects,
getting hit, all the fun things that happen at night. Quite often, it's a matter of launching the boat, start fishing right from the landing and
continuing around the lake until you're back at the landing.
Don't for a single minute think that just because the lake is small, that
the muskies are too. I've seen some of the largest muskies of my life
in little lakes. One of the biggest muskies that I've ever seen was in a
lake that is under 70 acres. Conservatively, I'd estimate this fish in the
mid 40 pound class. I don't care where you fish, this is a trophy fish!!
One word of caution when fishing these lakes, catch and release is a
MUST!! With today's angler reaching a level of sophistication absolutely unheard of in the past, one skilled muskie
hunter can seriously damage a lake's muskie population. Please, enjoy them and
release these wonderful creatures to fight again.
Keep those hooks sharp and please, catch photo and release, Steve @ G & S Guide Service