A wise man once said that “fish are either shallow, deep, or somewhere in between.” While that is a humorous approach to fishing, it defines the hunt for fall muskies because they will will use shallow, mid-range and deep water.
Following are the water temperatures I look for as well as where and how I fish for muskies in fall:
- 65-58 degrees — This is my favorite period of the year. Turnover is looming and, it seems, all the muskies in the lake crash the shallows for a major binge. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weedy shoreline or a rocky point. I cast big bucktails and topwaters into water that’s often six feet deep or less.
- 58-52 degrees — Following some of the fastest action of the year is some of the most challenging — the turnover period. Muskies will typically be holding in the 6- to 15-foot range, and erratic retrieves from jerkbaits, minnowbaits and soft plastics usually are necessary. If you have multiple lakes available in your area, the smaller ones will turn over first so concentrate on larger waters. When the big waters start to turn, return to the smaller ones until the big ones are finished.
- 52-45 degrees — Lakes will have settled out from turnover and what many consider “true” fall musky fishing will be at its best. On dark water lakes I like to position my boat over hard bottom just outside the weed edge (which is often at 6 or 8 feet of water), so my boat will be over 10 to 15 feet of water. On clear water systems I want my boat over 18 to 25 feet of water. Whitefish spawn when the water temperature is around 50 degrees, so if they are present in your water be sure to check their spawning areas at that time.
Regardless of depth and water color, I cast jerkbaits, minnowbaits, crankbaits, jigs & reapers or soft plastics toward shallower water, while quickset-rigged suckers are fished beneath the boat from additional rods. This is also a time when you must be extremely aware of your lure speed. If you’re not contacting muskies, it’s quite likely that your retrieves are too fast.
- 45-32 degrees — Muskies will be deeper in almost all lakes. The hard bottom/soft bottom edge will become a travel route for muskies — dial up the sensitivity on your electronics until this becomes evident, and then try to keep your boat and your livebait at that depth. Lure speed will be critical, and feeding windows will become very short so it’s wise to fish only a handful of good spots each day, but spend lots of time on each. Ciscoes/tullibees spawn in water temperatures of 38 to 42 degrees, so if they’re present be sure to check their spawning areas then.
Fall musky fishing comes and goes too quickly, but the predictability of the period makes up for that. Base your fishing on water temperatures this fall and give your net a workout!