In the angling world, the mighty musky reigns supreme, conjuring up images of razor-sharp teeth, truly immense size and extraordinary power. For the avid anglers who are part of the musky fraternity, fishing for these giants has become an obsessive trait that has literally turned into a way of life.
When the water erupts in a shower of spray, there really is no better feeling to be found in this wonderful sport we call angling.
Although muskies can be caught with a variety of lures and techniques, nothing can quite match the sheer excitement and thrill of utilizing a surface presentation. Playing a well- orchestrated game of "cat and mouse" makes for an interesting and productive time on the lake and, when the water erupts in a shower of spray, there really is no better feeling to be found in this wonderful sport we call angling.
Location is Everything
When it comes to fishing topwater baits for muskies, one specific location is always part of the equation and that is shallow water, from the shoreline out to about 12-feet deep. Of course, not all shallow water is created equal. You can, however, significantly increase your chance of success by targeting specific areas within the skinny zone.
Vegetation-rich bays, points, shallow reefs and distinct weedlines are great starting spots but, to up the odds ever further, concentrate your fishing on anything that appears different in comparison to the surrounding area. Transitions from weeds to sand or rock, pebble and boulder combinations, isolated cattails and logs and stumps and fallen trees are all prime examples of something out of the ordinary that will hold fish.
The weeds that you fish should be green and healthy, with clumps, pockets and distinct edges present in order to attract muskies. These fish are ambush feeders, so look for them to hold on the inside or outside edge of the salad, waiting for anything edible to swim by.
Pay particular attention to areas that have nearby access to deeper water. Muskies will wander back and forth between deep and shallow, using the shallows as feeding areas and the deeper spots for resting.
Timing is Key
Although topwater fishing for muskies can be effective during both warm and cold-water periods, the technique is most effective when water temperatures are above 58-degrees F.
As water temperatures climb, so does a musky's metabolism, making it more likely to be aggressive and willing to bust a bait on the surface.
One of the best indications that a midday surface bite might happen is when warm temperatures and overcast skies are accompanied by southwesterly winds, generally a sign of an approaching front. For whatever reason, this combination really seems to stir up a musky's activity level. In shallow, fertile lakes concentrate on large expansive bays during this peak time, drifting with the wind and covering as much water as possible. On deeper shield lakes, head to wind-blown points or islands to cash in on this feeding spree.
Fishing the graveyard shift is another productive time to be out on the water. Boat traffic will be non-existent, and the lake will truly become yours - except for sharing it with the odd pesky mosquito!
I prefer to frequent many of my daytime haunts during the night, and have found that both rock and weed locations will produce well. Sandy beaches and swimming areas have also accounted for some big fish over the years, so don't overlook these high-percentage areas when out in the dark.
Tools of the Trade
When deciding on what color to throw, black will get the nod 90-percent of the time.
Topwater baits come in a large variety of shapes, sizes and colors, each possessing specific traits to trigger strikes. Whether it is buzz blades, props or spiraling bodies, getting your lure to produce an audible sound is the key to getting your pole bent.
By selecting a few baits that generate different sounds, have varying actions and work differently at various speeds, you will discover the subtleties that will cause a musky to strike. Before long, ascertaining which lures produce best will undoubtedly lead you to your very own "go-to" bait.
There are two basic styles of topwater baits - extremely noisy lures and those that are relatively quiet. Lures with extra tail pieces, rotating body parts and large buzzers or props can all be lumped in the noisy category. For moderate wind and wave conditions, this is the group to choose from. As a general rule of thumb, the more wave and wind action you face, the faster your presentation should be.
Calm conditions, with little or no wind, call for surface baits that exhibit less noise and speed. Walkers, creeper-style baits and surface-running jerkbaits all fit the bill here, and are mainstays when the wind runs out of steam.
When deciding on what color to throw, black will get the nod 90-percent of the time. This hue will give off the greatest silhouette against the sky, and it is the only color to toss when tackling the 'witching hour.'
For extremely stained or murky water, a brightly colored lure (chartreuse or orange) will give off increased flash, allowing the fish to hone in on your presentation more easily.
When fishing topwater baits for muskies, slow-to-medium retrieve speeds generally give the best results, but it's always a good idea to experiment. Sometimes muskies will be tuned in to a specific speed or retrieve, and getting it right can mean the difference between catching fish or washing baits.
If a fish is spotted following your bait, the best course of action is to continue your retrieve at the same speed, gradually increasing the momentum as the lure gets nearer to the boat. Once at boat side, a quick ninety-degree change of direction with the lure, followed by a figure-8, will often get that curious fish to lunge.
If you raise a fish but it doesn't hit, try a few more casts then slip away and let the area quiet down for an hour or so. When you return, try throwing a different style of topwater bait. Oftentimes giving the fish a rest before offering another type of bait will get it back in the mood to strike.
To give the fish something different out on the water, try suddenly altering your bait's speed in mid-retrieve by sweeping your rod up or to the side, dead-sticking your bait or speeding up or slowing it to a crawl. Unexpected changes in the pace of the retrieve will often trigger a lethargic fish into action.
When it comes to setting the hook, many anglers stare defeat in the eyes due to the fact that they strike far too early. Although the natural instinct is to haul back on the rod at the first sign of a splash or a lunge, having the patience to wait until the fish has the bait in it's mouth is the only way to ensure a solid hook set.
Make sure you can actually see the lure square in its yap, or can feel the weight of the fish, before hitting that musky stick with all your strength.
Give topwaters a try this musky season. The thrill is second to none, and the memories of pure excitement are sure to last a lifetime.