By Steve Heiting, Managing Editor
Fifty-three inches is a lot of musky, and it seems even bigger when the fish is intent on jumping and there isn’t anything you can do about it except hang on and pray.
Jim Saric, Kevin Schmidt, producer Rik Brown and I were on Lake of the Woods last July filming an episode of “The Musky Hunter” TV show, and had just started casting to an island point where Jim had raised a 50-incher earlier in the day. My retrieve after a bomb cast to the north side of the point stopped abruptly when the big musky thumped my Double Cowgirl.
At the hookset, the musky thrashed half out of the water, shaking its head, and I could see the spinner’s blades flash in the late-day sun. I lowered my rod tip to the water and cranked hard to try to keep the fish down, and it responded by jumping completely out of the water, reminding me who really was in charge. The size of the hole in the water made when the musky splashed down was impressive. Now, airborne muskies make for great television, but the odds of them throwing the lure increase when they take to the air, too, so I’d much prefer to keep them below the surface. The bigger they are, however, the more difficult — if not impossible — this tends to be.
Halfway back to the boat the musky jumped again, giving me my third oh-thank-God-it’s-still-on moment when the line came taught. Next it tried to power past the boat and I went with it, leading it around the bow and down the starboard side. Jim was standing by with the net, and I told him I would try to swing the fish to him once it cleared the outboard. The fish came up and wallowed, and the battle was over as soon as Jim dipped the net.
After photos and the release of the musky, we discussed why the fish was positioned where it was and why the 50-incher we had seen that morning was holding on what we consider a spot that typically holds lesser fish. Lake of the Woods was experiencing nearly-record-high water during the summer of 2014, and the substantial flow north to the dam in Kenora created current in places where it seldom is evident. Add in a southerly breeze, and the water flow around the point created a substantial slack water area, or eddy, on the north side where the 53-incher was holding. With a giant fish on the preferred spot, the 50-incher took up residence on a secondary spot. Bigger fish always seem to get the best spot, and that was the case here.
Think about that last statement for a moment — bigger fish always seem to get the best spot. An eddy area is almost always the best spot because a big musky can use all the advantages of the nearby water flow for feeding without having to fight it, as it would in direct current. While many active muskies will indeed stick their noses in the current for feeding, the eddy is the true “spot on the spot” because that’s where the biggest fish will often be.
The first component to finding an eddy area is water movement, either through wind blowing against a structure or cover, or natural current flow (as in a reservoir or river) pushing against structure or cover. Any obstruction, be it rocks, a sudden change in depth, fallen trees, weeds, a point, a shallow finger on the side of a reef, or even a small island can redirect the water flow, sometimes causing it to to wrap around and create an eddy. Weeds are often found in an eddy because sediment collects there, creating a soft bottom from which they’ll grow.
The eddy will be slowly-swirling or slack water near the current. Often this is visible from above, where you can literally see still or flat water in the middle or on the edge of moving water. Sometimes foam pooling on the surface makes such a spot even more evident.
Exactly where a musky or muskies will hold in this slack water is up to you to determine by casting the entire eddy zone. With time, you’ll learn the exact spot on the spot — when the wind is from a certain direction, the bigger fish tend to come from a very defined location.
A small island can hold multiple eddy locations. The island itself diverts the water flow, and any feature of the island — a finger, cup or dent in the shoreline, or a fallen tree — may hold fish. Sometimes a cup on the downcurrent side of the island may be the hotspot because water washing around the island from both sides will create a sanctuary there. Any change in the shoreline may divert the water flow in some way and hold muskies.
However, eddies are not always readily visible and some can only be found by using the side-scanning technology of your electronics, and/or lots of fishing. Side-imaging can show you how the spot is laid out, but deciphering how the muskies use it can only be determined through fishing.
All of the earlier-mentioned spots may also be found in rivers. A true river hotspot is a pool to the side of the main current area. Deeper holes, where fish can hug the bottom and let the current ride over their heads, are another such spot.
One of my favorite spots in a large lake took years of on-the-water time to figure it out. It’s located in a neck-down area just off of a main channel — so it’s a must-fish spot anyway — and it is augmented by lots of water pushed into it by wind and some natural current. It’s one of those spots you cannot drive by without fishing. But after dozens of times fishing through the spot it became obvious that if a big musky was present it would be located on the down-current side of a cabbage bed located along a rock spine. The spine more or less separates the main channel from the rest of the spot and probably blocks the main current flow, with the cabbage providing cover for the bigger muskies while also further slowing or diverting the flow.
It was from this very spot where my buddy, Kevin Schmidt, caught a heavy 51 1/2-incher in August of 2014 in a figure-8 while using a Mepps H210. The fish seemed to glide through the straightaways of the figure-8 before finally nipping the spinner in a turn. After I netted the fish for Kevin and took photos, something about it looked familiar and I told him I thought it may have been a “recycled” musky, one that we’d caught from the spot previously. Once we returned home and I compared some older photos to this fish, I was thrilled to find out that it was the same musky that I had caught as a 48-incher on a Double Cowgirl from the exact spot in 2007, with Kevin on the net. I wasn’t surprised that this spot-on-the-spot was a feeding area for this particular big fish, but I was disappointed it had grown only 3 1/2 inches in seven years. The fish certainly didn’t look like it had missed many meals during that time.
Remember that eddies come and go as the intensity of the water flow changes. With lots of wind and/or natural current, their effect is greatest. When the wind dies or the natural current lessens, their effect is diminished. The spot-on-the-spot may change with the intensity of the flow, so be conscious of this.
Dissect The Spot
Why a certain spot in an eddy will be the primary big fish location is known only to the muskies. Perhaps it’s the best ambush point, or the water flow allows them to feed with minimal effort.
Once you begin to discover such spots, you must dissect them with multiple casts from varying angles. Simply casting through a spot usually is not enough to learn everything you need to know. Water movement alone must make for a confusing scenario for a feeding musky, but they use it because its effect on smaller fish has to be even more dramatic. Your first cast may not even be seen or noticed by the fish. Sometimes a second, third or fourth cast to the exact same spot is required to provoke a strike. What may be the cast angle that prompted a fish to follow earlier in the day may not be the angle needed to get the fish to bite later in the day because the light angle has changed, the flow has increased or decreased, or something else has prompted the fish to reposition slightly. Any spot known to harbor big fish should receive multiple casts in any scenario, but this practice is more critical when fishing eddies.
Two of the largest muskies to ever visit my boat were positioned in a tiny slot behind the same boulder next to an island, but were caught one day shy of a year apart. In each case, neither musky struck until the third cast to the downwind side of the boulder and both struck with a ferocity that you see only from fish that are intent on feeding. One of the muskies had followed a topwater the evening before but repositioned itself around the corner of the island the next day to take advantage of a different wind. Still, it was tucked behind the boulder because, I imagine, the rock offered an easy-to-use ambush point.
Another way of dissecting a spot is to slow your presentation way down. Many musky fishermen, myself included, do a lot of “business” these days by casting twin-tens throughout the summer months. While tens can be effective in eddy situations, a slower, more vertical presentation may be what it takes to provoke a strike from a specific fish. Once you have a specific eddy spot identified, “hover” a walk-the-dog topwater in place over the spot, or pull a Suick or Bobbie so it rises in the critical zone. To create an easier target with even more hang time, I like to use a screw-in weight system to add more weight to a factory-weighted Suick or Bobbie. Watching such a jerkbait wobbling on the edge of the current is almost hypnotic, and when a musky suddenly inhales the bait … well, let’s just say it will be a strike you’ll never forget.
You will need to become an expert at boat control to best fish eddy spots. You’re dealing with moving water, but the fish are lying in a position of little or no water movement. Simple drifting is rarely effective because the boat may spook the muskies before you can make the pinpoint casts that may be required, or the moving water may quickly move your boat out of effective casting range. Or you may waste a lot of time repositioning the boat between casts. Learn to use your trolling motor or kicker to hold your boat in moving water until you are satisfied you have thoroughly probed the spot. Remember, almost everybody can work baits properly, but it’s the anglers who can position their boats so their casts are effective who are the ones who consistently boat the biggest muskies.
Look for eddy situations in the coming fishing season and target them, and someday they will produce a giant for you.
Steve Heiting is Managing Editor of Musky Hunter magazine. For more about Steve, visit www.steveheiting.com