Late-fall musky action is hot

We have a long winter here in Sunset Country so I don’t blame anybody for taking advantage of the last of the open water.
The trade-off at this time of year is the temperatures are cold, but fishing still can be hot. Muskellunge, for instance, bite right up until freeze-up on our big lakes like Lake of the Woods and Rainy—and now is a great time to catch a big fish.
Muskies move up shallow in late fall to gorge on spawning whitefish and ciscos, and their activity levels actually are pretty good. The best way to catch them is easy on the angler, as well.
I’m no musky expert, but I got to fish with one this week and learned that trolling is the best way to put these fish in the boat at this time of year.
My good friend, Jeremy Smith, was up from Brainerd, Mn. to spend some time chasing big critters around and we had some fun. Smith has spent time fishing muskies on waters all over Northwestern Ontario and Minnesota, and has caught more big fish than anybody I know.
Since it’s so cold, fishing for other fish like walleyes, crappies, and bass can be uncomfortable because you need to have some feel, so wearing gloves or mitts can be tough.
But when you’re trolling, you can bundle up, wear some mitts, and just sit back in the boat.
Trust me—muskies will let you know when they bite!
We went out and focused our efforts on main lake structures, and the depths where we found most of our action was in the 12- to 18-foot range.
When I talk about main lake structures, the best locations were points with extended stretches of relatively shallow water coming off them, in the depths I mentioned above, and small reefs and rock piles that were close to mainland or large islands.
An added attraction to these spots was the presence of boulders and gravel.
We also caught fish trolling through numerous channels and neck-down areas that had some current. In some of these places, we actually could see the current, and in other I just knew there was current there because they were channels I know don’t freeze in the winter.
These types of spots really attract forage fish which the muskies are after.
We were trolling a variety of eight- to 10-inch crankbaits and minnowbaits on heavy braided line and heavy rods.
One thing Smith does, which I thought was interesting, was he uses heavy fluorocarbon leaders instead of the traditional wire ones. The advantages of fluorocarbon is it is clear so fish can’t see it and it actually is tougher than the wire.
Wire can kink from fighting fish and wear rather easily from rubbing rocks on the bottom. And if these things happen, it will break.
The 80-pound fluorocarbon we were using is super abrasion-resistant and is extremely tough.
When choosing a bait, you want to use a lure without a really large lip so it doesn’t dive super deep. You want baits that are going to run six-12 feet deep and muskies will have no problem seeing or finding them even if they are down in 20 feet of water.
Choose colours that mimic the ciscos and whitefish they are targeting—baits that are white or chrome-coloured.
Finally, we weren’t trolling super fast like some anglers will in the summer months to trigger fish. Troll baits at 2.5-3 m.p.h. and you will generate some strikes.
We are privileged to have some of the finest musky opportunities in the world, so get out there and take advantage of them. Just go prepared with a large, rubber-coated mesh net or, better yet, a cradle and if you catch a fish, take care of them.
Take a picture—and then get them back in the water as quickly as possible.

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