Another long, miserable winter has come to an end. You’ve loaded up on some new gear during the off-season. Your hooks are sharpened. Your fishing license has been purchased. You’ve got the itch. Bad! You’re ready to be back out on the water. You’re beyond ready for some early season musky fishing success!! So let’s get to it!
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Pre-Spawn Transition Muskie Fishing
During the first couple weeks of the early season, muskies are making their way to their favorite spawning areas. They tend to follow creek and river channels to mudflats, bays, and coves to go through the natural process of spawning. Depending upon the water that you are fishing, natural reproduction of muskies can be minimal, thus in some places stocking is responsible for the majority of the muskies you may encounter.
A good place to start fishing during this time is on points leading into bays or coves, as the fish use these areas for staging. We have typically found success casting crankbaits, gliders and twitchbaits to the shorelines.
When choosing a glide bait, for some reason we usually find that flat-sided lures outperform the rounded baits during this pre-spawn period. There certainly are exceptions, of course. My personal favorite is the Drifter Tackle Hell Hound, but jointed lures have also consistently put fish in my boat.
If you are fortunate enough to encounter some lay-down timber, which is often times a prime holding area for fish, make several casts from different angles. Be sure to try to keep your lure in the cover. The Drifter Tackle Hell Hound is great here. When your fishing rod tip pulls, it will lower the lure into the timber, and when you pause, the lure rises back, making it ready for the next pull while staying in the fish strike zone a tiny bit longer.
Bait color choice is often critical as most waters vary in clarity. Usually, spring run-off tints the lake water, so chartreuse and orange lures produce good results. However, you should also try shad patterns in water that is clearer. Another option for darker spring water is a lure with flash and some water movement. We have seen really good results with the Savage Gear jointed 4Play swimbait. The lure’s stop-and-start retrieve combined with it’s flashy movement is exactly what you need to move the muskies some days.
As soon as we reach deeper back into the bays and the fishfinder shows eight feet and less, I change the presentation substantially because baits with vibrations and noise are usually the most productive in the shallow water. Wide casting with musky rattlebaits like the Rapala Rattlin’ Shad tend to land us a few muskies during the pre-spawn period. Make sure to crank fast and keep the rod tip up as the muskies can be in as little as 12 inches of water.
Some muskie fishermen find good success with smaller gliders and spoons during this period.
Trolling For Early Season Muskies
Trolling can also be quite productive at during the this period, but it’s important to stay shallow. Using shorter line and presenting over water nine feet and less is recommended, but try to get as shallow as you possible.
Small shad tend to be the main food base, so use baits that are four to six inches in length. For best results, use four to 15 feet of line out from the tip of your rod, and use smaller baits like Rapala Super Shad Rap, SteelShad, and Modenpeak Swimbait Lures. You can also effectively troll with the same rattlebaits that I mentioned earlier – when using 19 to 30 feet of fishing line, your rattlebait should remain just below the water surface which means that you can fish very shallow.
Regardless if you are casting or trolling, definitely try to work the same areas at different times of the day. Usually, muskies tend to wait for the bright sun before they move to the warming water. We find that we have better luck in the afternoons vs the early morning.
Post-Spawn Muskie Fishing
Once spawning is over, muskies are more scattered and you will find them just about anywhere throughout the lake. When the water temperature warms into the 60s, it’s best to start fishing on points which lead out of the spawning areas. Trolling or casting can both yield good results. Focus your efforts around the inside of the point but don’t neglect the shallow water along the tips of the points.
Muskies seem to prefer to hang out near or on weeds, timber, drop-offs and structure. Timber and weeds are quite similar, and finding gaps in their edges will produce good results. Mud flats can also hold muskies, so try to find turns and twists in them. Usually these spots always hold at least some fish.
The best muskie lures for casting include topwater baits such as TopRaider, and buzzbaits like the Whopper Plopper. Blade baits made by Musky Mayhem, Mepps, and Blue Fox are excellent choices for inconsistent timber, edges, and weeds. As the weeds develop in the lake, try fast retrieving the smaller blade baits such as Mepps Muskie Killer or Showgirls over top of them.
Retrieve speed is a major factor, so switch things up until you find what gets their attention. When you find muskies stabilized along edges of structure, switch to medium or large size rubber bait. Allow your Medussas, Red October tubes, and BullDawgs to sink down 2-3 seconds prior to retrieving.
When you are trolling, remember to try to match the size of your baits to the shad in the water. Often times smaller, bass-size baits will allow you to have a multiple fish day if the muskies are feeding on smaller sized shad.
The muskie post-spawn period reveals some very big muskies for trollers every year. Fish in water depths from seven to 25 feet, and be certain to run your lures both low and high in the water column. Cast larger baits when fishing in deeper water.
Learning about the different pre- and post-spawn musky fishing conditions from the other seasons of the year will be what leads to your success. If you follow the guidelines that we laid out above, you will for sure have success and extend your muskie fishing season.