In the musky fisherman’s world, it’s a fantastic day when we arrive back at the dock with a camera full of photos of a giant musky. The days when we have photos of multiple big fish are even more rare.
One might say the stars were aligned perfectly when those multi-big-fish days occur, and my record-keeping show that can be the case. More important, however, are the decisions made on those days. A lot of factors — many of which you can control and some that you cannot — have to go right.
Since this issue of Musky Hunter has a summer focus, I decided to investigate what went right on three July days during the past two seasons that produced multiple big muskies for my boat partners and me. Of a total of 11 muskies caught on these three days, eight were 45 inches or longer with five surpassing 48 1/2 inches, with two 50-inchers. I’ll describe the day’s conditions, summarize the action, and discuss the decisions that paid off. On one day, I wish I had done a couple things differently; though it’s unlikely we would have caught more muskies, the decisions I made bother me.
So, what went right?
Day 1 – July 18, 2011
The weather forecast called for bright, sunny and hot conditions, with little wind, as friends Brian and Chris Dzekute and I headed out from the dock. It was three days after the full moon, with moonset to occur at 9:31 a.m., so we immediately fished spots that had a big fish history rather than try to develop a pattern by checking multiple spots.
On the first spot, a shoreline that led to a complex boulder point, a nice musky followed lazily behind my Mepps H210. I swept the spinner into a big figure-8 and almost instantly the 45 1/2-incher ate the bait, and after a short tussle it was in the net. The time was 8:50 a.m.
The rest of the morning was uneventful. Shortly after lunch, I noticed a very slight increase in water current, so I motored to a neckdown area which would accentuate the current. As we rounded a point, I was disappointed to see another boat already fishing the spot toward which we were headed, so instead I steered to a mid-lake reef not far away where I previously had caught numerous big muskies.
While fishing the channel edge of the reef, I glanced at Chris’ Double Cowgirl as it shimmered in the sun and was startled to see a big brown back moving quickly behind it. In an instant the water boiled as the fish struck, and Chris eventually fought it to my net. The time was 2:35 p.m., right on the leading edge of what the late John Alden Knight named a “major period” when he created his Solunar Tables. The 50-incher, Chris’ largest musky, was released after photos.
The remainder of the afternoon was anticlimactic. Following dinner, friends Kevin Schmidt and John Mich joined me and we returned to the area where Chris had caught his big fish. At 7:10, Kevin boated a 47-incher on an H210 on almost precisely the same spot on the reef where Chris got his musky, and at sundown, John caught a 39-incher on a Double Cowgirl in a blind figure-8.
• The right calls — A number of decisions worked in our favor this day. First, I made sure we were on historically-good spots around moonset, and this produced the 45 1/2-incher. In fact, the day before, another friend who was fishing with me caught a 46-incher in a figure-8 at almost precisely the same time, which suggested there was a morning bite coinciding with the moon. In the afternoon, when the current started, we moved to take advantage of it. When another boat was found to be fishing the spot I wanted to visit, we simply moved to another current spot, and this produced Chris’ fish.
When the conditions are right for a big musky to be using a spot there will often be others also in the area, and returning to the same reef resulted in Kevin’s musky. Finally, John’s musky never would have been caught had he not performed a figure-8 after every cast.
Day 2 – July 19, 2012
Musky Hunter Editor and TV show host Jim Saric, Kevin Schmidt and I set out to film a TV episode. The previous night had been cool, but the weather forecast called for a warm day with bright sun early, and with wind increasing as the day progressed. It was the day of the new moon.
After a slow morning, rather than breaking for lunch we eased into a tiny bay where I had seen a nice musky at about noon the day before. There was no wind, and we noticed the water temperature rising in the bright sun. I cast a Double Cowgirl into the same slot in the shoreline reeds where the musky had been located the previous day, only this time it chased back to the boat and ate in a figure-8. This musky was 50 inches long and was caught at 12:15 p.m., right at the beginning of a Solunar Major.
Two hours later, the wind had increased to about 15 mph, so Jim motored the boat to main lake structure to take advantage of it. At 2:20 p.m., still during the Major, I caught a 43-incher from a wave-sloshed point on the same Cowgirl that produced the previous fish, again in a figure-8.
That evening, we visited a shoreline complex where a friend and I had moved numerous muskies the day before, an area that had now been buffeted by wind for about five hours. On the first reef at 7:20, Kevin boated a 47-incher on a Cowgirl in a figure-8, and a half-hour later I caught a 49-incher, again on a Cowgirl in a figure-8 from another reef. At 9:20, with the sun disappearing over the treetops, we moved to an island where Jim had seen a big musky the day before, and he caught a 40-incher on a ShallowRaider in a figure-8.
• The right calls — Skipping lunch and trying for the 50-incher at the same time as it was spotted the day before was a unanimous decision by the three of us in the boat, and the call was the right one. So was fishing wind-blown structure at mid-afternoon. Taking advantage of a spot that was loaded with non-biting muskies the day before, but after the wind had had a chance to work its magic, obviously worked in the evening with two good fish. At sundown, Jim boated a nice musky even though it wasn’t the big one he had seen the day before. Again, spots can often hold several big muskies at the same time.
Day 3 – July 29, 2012
Kevin Schmidt and I were on a marathon day and struggling to catch muskies. The summer’s heat had made musky patterns schizophrenic, with one day’s pattern usually not carrying over to the next. You just had to continue to fish proven spots and sooner or later you would find a biter. It was three days before the full moon, clouds had been building in the southwest all day long, and the wind was blowing, but we had yet to connect with a musky. Conditions seemed perfect and we felt something had to give.
At 7:10 p.m., more than 10 hours after we started the day, a musky T-boned my H210 halfway back to the boat as we rounded the end of a large, wind-buffeted point. Eventually I wrestled the fish to the net and, after photos, released the 49 1/2-incher. The musky was caught at the tail end of a Solunar Minor. We fished out the point, then motored immediately to an island that has produced lots of big muskies for us previously.
As we approached the tip of the island where the wind slapped at the rocks, I saw that another boat had pulled in to fish the large point we had just left, and almost immediately I saw water splashing next to the other boat. I dug out a pair of binoculars and watched the boat’s occupants battle a pretty good musky, and as I announced this to Kevin I saw his rod load up as another big fish ate his H210 in the figure-8. I set the binocs on the boat seat, grabbed the net and slipped it under Kevin’s stocky musky, which measured 48 1/2 inches before release. Before we could reset the boat and resume fishing, lightning cracked and what developed into a horrendous thunderstorm chased us off the water.
• The right calls — With the conditions perfect for musky action — and getting better by the minute — we fished where the wind was blowing on known big fish spots and continued casting despite more than 10 hours of frustration. We maintained our confidence, and when a feeding window opened we were ready to take advantage of it in short fashion.
However, two decisions that I made bother me. The first involved the large point where I caught my musky. While we were smart to go directly to another big fish spot after fishing the point, it is so large it cannot be thoroughly covered with one pass. We should have reset the boat after the first pass and fished it again, because the occupants of the other boat connected immediately after we left. Now, you cannot be in two locations at the same time and Kevin’s catch rendered the matter moot, but I learned from the experience. Since then, I always fish this point twice to cover it completely.
The second decision was pure boneheadedness on my part. Rather than taking the time to find my binoculars and watch the other boat, I should have been fishing. It’s highly unlikely I would have caught another musky during the couple of minutes I wasted, but you just never know. In my defense, I thought we had hours instead of minutes before the storm hit.
So, What Went Right?
If you look collectively at the catches made on the three days, distinct patterns begin to emerge. Of the 11 muskies, 10 were caught on Double Cowgirls or H210s. Obviously, twin-tens are continuing to produce big fish — if you still resist using them you need to reconsider. And, what we did with the baits mattered, because seven of the 10 fish on twin-tens were caught in figure-8’s. Jim Saric’s ShallowRaider fish was also caught in a figure-8.
Taking advantage of water movement, either in the form of wind or current, was a factor with nine of the 11 muskies.
The moon correlation to these muskies was very strong. Even though I rarely plan fishing trips around the moon and did not in these instances, all three days were in full or new moon periods. Six of the 11 muskies were caught during a Solunar Major or Minor, including all four of the fish boated before 7 p.m. as well as two of those caught after. During daytime hours, a Solunar Major will account for three hours and a Minor accounts for 1 1/2 hours, so these six muskies were caught in what amounts to only 4 1/2 hours (37.5 percent) out of a 12-hour fishing day, including three of the four measuring 49 inches or longer. While not definitive, this is a trend worth noting.
Successful musky fishing involves trying to take advantage of every factor that presents itself. The muskies caught on these three days are a very small sample size, yet you cannot dispute the facts surrounding them. You can ignore this information and continue to fish as you have, or you can apply this information to your own efforts and maybe do even better. It’s your call.
Steve Heiting is Managing Editor of Musky Hunter magazine.