Early-Season, Big Bait Secrets
By Jim Saric
It was a Wisconsin muskie season opener that couldnít come soon enough. I had been bass, walleye and crappie fishing during the month of May, and fishing had been fantastic, but I had enough and wanted to get down to some serious business. It was an early ice-out with unseasonably warm temperatures. The muskie were finished spawning and water temperatures were in the mid 60s. Weed growth was incredible, and overall the weather had been warm and stable leading up to the opener of the season.
On the first day, I started muskie fishing some of my typical haunts, and rather than select one of my early-season favorite smaller bucktails, I selected one of my favorite weighted Suicks. On the first spot I had a giant muskie slowly follow to the boat. It was amazing how quickly I forgot about all of the fishing I had done earlier in the month and remembered how great it was to be face-to-face with a muskie again. Itís why muskie fishing is so great.
A couple hours later I hooked and caught a nice muskie on special ďyellowĒ Suick. The day wrapped up with a few more follows and one muskie that hit and quickly got off, but overall it was success. Muskie fishing continued to be good for the next couple days of the trip.
As I was pulling the boat from the ramp I met a guy who was just coming up to fish. He was excited about the prospects of his trip and asked me how muskie fishing had been. I told him it was great, and he started rattling off the names of a few baits he thought they would be hitting. I told them none of those were working. He looked at me with an alarmed look, and I held up the big yellow Suick that had been moving and catching the muskie. The guyís face had an instant look of disappointment, as he said he didnít bring any large baits like that, particularly considering we were fishing a deep, clear lake during the first week of the season. I told him the tackle shop in town has lots of them. ďOf course they do,Ē he responded, and he got back in his rig and headed to the tackle shop to buy a big Suick!
That scenario occurred 25 years ago, and the memory of the look on that guyís face still makes me laugh. I wonder how many muskie he caught that week.
As we approach another fishing season, so much of it revolves around the ice-out and early spring weather. When given the choice of what makes a season great, there is no question itís an early ice-out. My catch records since 1978 indicate that on warmer than normal springs, the fishing is mostly better throughout the year. I think there are several reasons for it. Warmer water temperatures get the muskie through the spawning process faster and give them more time to recover by the opening of the season, so the fish tend to be more aggressive early.
Also, the fact that you have warmer water earlier increases their metabolism sooner and they have to eat more.
Another factor is that early ice-outs, with stable weather usually result in better weed growth years. Thicker weeds offer more security for baitfish such a perch, therefore you have more predators cruising weed edges, and that overall increases the likelihood of the majority of muskie anglers to encounter muskie.
So, on these warmer than normal seasons, my thoughts are often about getting a good understanding of the environment for a water. Mainly, whatís the water temperature, howís the weed growth, whatís the primary forage, and whatís the weather trend. I also concentrate on using larger lures early. Large minnowbaits such as nine-inch Shallowraiders, Magnum even Pounder Bulldawgs, or eight-inch Phantom Gliders get the nod. Also, donít be afraid to slow-roll a double Cowgirl. If you are fishing a big muskie water on the opener, and the weather has been stable, donít be afraid to go large with the lures.
Think midsummer, but not necessarily with super speed. Although you have to experiment, because on any given day the muskie might want it fast. Any big lure I can fish with a pull and pause tends to trigger more strikes than a constant retrieve, with the exception being a bucktail. Try and keep the lure just above the cover and donít be afraid to rip a few of those new, green weeds.
Open-water suspended muskie are also feeding big time during these early-season years. The bait is still high as the thermocline is still slow to develop, and even if it does develop early, the thermocline will be shallow, and so is the shallow bait. All of the same lures apply for fishing open water as fishing shallow, early-season cover.
Lake selection early in the season still often favors shallower and stained water. Likewise, if the spring is cold, smaller lures on the opener are preferred. However, if the spring weather is warm and stable, Iíll hit the deep clear waters, as every season big muskie are caught in deep, clear waters early.
The common denominator for catching an early-season giant is warm and stable conditions. Of course, if itís cloudy and warm, that just makes it better.
As indicated above, I grew up fishing deep, clear waters in northern Wisconsin, and I had no choice but to fish them from the beginning to the end of season. I learned early on that muskie donít read magazines, and you just never know when the big muskie in clear water may want to feed.
If you want a giant fish, you simply have to commit to fishing the waters where they live. Certainly, stable and warm weather makes fishing better.
As you hit the water on your muskie trips of the year, donít forget to bring some of your big lures, otherwise, you might just be headed to a local tackle shop to buy a bait you left sitting at home!