The seasons are changing in Northeastern Ontario and that has many anglers winterizing and storing their boats. For the select few “diehards,” the excitement of the late-season muskie bite is here! After all, the season isn’t closed until mid-December. The colder weather of the late season offers some of the best opportunities for trophy-sized muskie fishing.
These predatory giants are feeding heavily in anticipation of the upcoming winter months and are on the move across the lake in search of fall forage. The winter months and colder lake temperatures slow down a muskie’s metabolism, and a high protein diet in the fall is optimal to survive the winter months.
Fall feeding is a bit different than feeding in the summer months as a single, larger meal is preferred over a full day of chasing bait and expending a lot of energy. Feeding muskies are opportunistic and will eat something up to a third of their own size, including each other, so don’t be scared to use larger baits in the 9-14” range. Baits reflecting the natural forage in the local lakes are preferred such as perch, cisco/herring and suckers to name a few. If you’re fishing in dirty, turbid water some brighter baits would be a better choice.
Muskies can be found in key feeding areas such as on steep shorelines, main lake points, between and around islands, and up along vertical banks. Bottom with rocks, healthy weed beds and sunken timber are great habitat for muskie and forage alike.
October has been producing some great and #memorable #trophies and #experiences! From top, 51 inch #Musky by Jeff Costa, Travis with his 46 inch, Nick 45 inch, and Brad with a #beautiful 36 inch #muskie! #fallFishing #FishingFrenchRiver. #ExplorersEdge @neontario @ontariotravel @canadianfishingsociety @keepcanadafishing
Trolling for Trophies
One of my favourite techniques this time of year is trolling. It allows you to cover as much water as possible and leaves your bait in the strike zone longer. Many different types of bait can be utilized but I prefer trolling crankbaits such as Jakes, Grandmas, Believers and Depth Raiders to name a few. A weighted Bucktail In-Line Spinner can also be used as long as it can reach the deeper depths.
Boat control and trolling speed are very important when trolling for fall muskie. A good starting point for trolling speeds is between 3-5 mph and can be modified throughout the day. If a cold front has pushed in or the fish are lethargic try slowing down, this will present an easier meal to the fish. Following contours and breaks is crucial to finding fish and implementing an ‘S’ into your troll route can initiate a fish to strike. The ‘S’ maneuver changes the travelling path of your bait along with speeding up and slowing down your baits. These changes force the fish to make a decision and more often than not they strike!
Often while trolling if I mark fish that won’t commit to a trolling bite, I’ll mark the spot on my electronics to re-visit with a vertical approach. This action presents the bait directly to the fish with little energy being required to obtain a meal. Baits such as Bulldogs, Large Tubes and Bondy’s weighing as much as 11 oz can be used.
The vertical approach jigging technique is similar to most popular walleye methods including bottom contact and a rise and fall cadence. The big difference between the two is the 3-4″ sweeping method for muskie in comparison to the 6-12” walleye jig. Hook sets are also much different between the two—be ready to drive those hooks home as hard as possible. We’re talking about a 20-40lb fish on the other end of your line!
Trolling and vertical jigging are my one two punch in the fall for muskie but casting should never be ruled out. This technique can dissect an area more thoroughly where you are confident a fish is present. Using fan casts to cover water is a great technique; start from one side and cast 5-10″ away at a time. You will leave no water untouched! And don’t be afraid to cast from different angles. You don’t always have to cast directly at the shoreline—try parallel or even from shore out to deeper water. The latter technique makes the fish commit because as the shallower the bait gets, the less water the fish has. Popular casting baits are Bucktail In-Line Spinner baits, Sledges, Suicks and Mantas.
Choosing Your Gear
All of these techniques require specific gear and this recommendation shouldn’t be taken lightly if you want to land a trophy-sized fish. Quality equipment can make the difference between landing and losing the fish of a lifetime. Standard fishing gear is not recommended for these species any time of the year.
Rod choices have improved significantly over the years and can be as expensive or affordable as you would like. Purchasing a Muskie-specific rod is a great place to start, along with insuring a strong backbone, a lightweight and comfortable feel when paired with a reel. An 8’ medium to medium-heavy muskie rod capable of 3/4 – 3oz baits would be a quality all-around rod. For fall trolling, a fibreglass rod is recommended over graphite due to the cold weather conditions that cause graphite to become brittle and break.
Reels have come a long as well and many low–profile, high–line capacity reels can be found on the market. Choose a reel that works for you with a reliable drag system and comfortable handle. This may be the most important piece of gear you purchase so take your time and choose one you are confident in.
Braided line should be used in the 80-120 lb range along with a reliable leader. Many different superlines are available on the market and you can’t really go wrong with any in this pound test. Leaders come in many different materials and sizes. You can purchase steel, titanium or fluorocarbon leaders in all different lengths ranging from 6-48”. Choose a leader based on your preference as it will make the difference between a landed and lost fish. Leaders prevent the line from being cut by the extremely sharp teeth muskies are known for.
Make sure you always have a large net, long needle nose pliers, heavy duty wire cutters, jaw spreaders, gloves and a high quality camera when heading out. Get the muskie to the boat as fast as possible and handle with the utmost care and respect as possible. These may be the elite predators in our water bodies but they are very fragile when handled. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible and give it time to revive. Let the fish relax in the net after the fight and after removing the hooks. Take a quick photo and release it to swim and be caught another day.
The North Bay, French River, Sudbury, and Manitoulin Island areas are home to some of the best muskie fishing in the province. Water bodies such as Lake Nipissing, French River and the North Channel all hold trophy-class fish that are awaiting your arrival. Hold off on putting that boat away for the winter months—get suited up in your snowmobile gear and go hunt down a fish of a lifetime! Trust me, it’s worth it!