By: Kyle Sorensen
Eye lashes glimmering with ice, fingers have lost all feeling, gusts of wind with a vengeance just hammering at any and all exposed skin; it’s a signature scenario in any true diehard’s quest for fall Esox. I have lived this scenario many times. Each time my body says “enough is enough” but my heart tells me “keep on going.” All that comes crashing down when the splash, the wave, the rod thumping sign of Bertha enters my surroundings. For that moment, the world stands still. Environmental factors are forgotten and I am one with the moment.
Fall musky fishing is magical. The fish have put the food bags on gearing up for turnover and the long winter months. As we musky fishermen know, this is the time to boat and release the big one. As that moment comes and goes, we ultimately feel the upmost fulfillment as we see our prize catch effortlessly slide back into the depths to fight another day. Whether you are getting ready for some heart pounding strikes while pulling cranks on the Bay of Green Bay, or patiently awaiting the “get the net moments” in the Northwoods, now’s the time to fish… no matter the conditions.
This past fall was another successful hunt, not only in my boat, but for others as well. Fishing the Northwoods of Wisconsin (near Hayward), I put two of my biggest ski’s in the boat from the area, one pictured here. As I said, this time of year the fish are putting those food bags on! Conditions this past fall were up and down. Of course the dates I chose to head up north resulted in horrible conditions but never the less, we stuck with it and put fish in the boat.
As with every body of water, you must find active fish. While everyone has their searching baits for each species, time of year, and body of water; for the northern lakes I stick to Ghost Tails. To add some more elements to my thought process, I use these when conditions are bad, in the fall. As I have said numerous times in past articles and on videos, I love my topwaters but when you are facing a challenging fishing environment, I like to stick to the most simple, most versatile type of bait – the blade bait. When it’s time to change it up, the fish will tell you if you are able to detect and heed their signs.
On a snowy, rainy, windy day last October, this held true. I was casting a black dressed Ghost Tail which was swinging a bright chrome blade. About 45 minutes in – Bam! Fish on! It turned out to be a little snake (roughly 23”) but while I was pulling it in, the excitement happened… a big ‘ol girl came up from the depths of a sharp ledge, through a dying cabbage bed, and smoked the pike! She dropped it after a few seconds and I thought the fun was done. Nope! She pounded it again, almost boatside! While I didn’t get a great look at her, I saw she was a biggin’. So what do you think this fish told me?
After a while, you will learn (kind of) to read the muskellunge. Once you do, they will show you signs of what is going on in their world. From all I saw during this incident, I assumed the following: The fish wants a big bait (because she hit the 20”+ pike), the fish wants a bait that is moving erratically (because the pike was going all about), and the fish was holding on the deeper shelf, feeding up. So guess what? That’s what we did.
With my water logged gloves, snow pounding my face, and a fierce wind blowing the old Lund about, I tossed the Ghost Tail back in the Plano and snapped on the biggest bait I had – the Alpha Dawg (Pounder) branding the black/orange outfit. We fished past the area while keeping on that same ledge. We worked this edge pretty darn good for about an hour which only resulted in a follow. Thankfully, Mother Nature had a plan in place and she gave us a nice break on the front, which allowed me to take off the Frabill jacket which had been my lifesaver for the day. While my core was warm and toasty, my fingers were another story. The sun was barely peeking through the cloud cover but it gave some relief. It was tolerable now.
We motored back to the area of the “incident” and decided to give it a workout before ditching the spot for the day. There I was, tossing the same pounder. The Pounder, aka BullDawg (for arguments sake), is a large plastic. To me, it resembles a large salamander. The bait is an awesome bait… but after a while, it can get rough on the arms. That is why it is SO important to run the equipment that can handle the bait. For this type of setup, I run a St. Croix Premier 8’6” extra heavy rod, partnered with the Abu Garcia NaCI reel. Running the 6.4:1 gear ratio allows me to control the bait quickly, over tops of cabbage or whatever, with effortless cranks of the reel. This combo is spooled with 100 lb. braid to handle the abuse the line receives, especially on the casts.
After about four casts, I began to pump the bait – a slow first half of a crank turning into a hard crank for the rest of the revolution. This gives the bait a pause, yet erratic motion, due to the buoyancy of the Pounder. I got to the sixth cast thinking, this is about the last cast for this spot.
About four cranks in, the line went immediately slack leading to an eruption out of the water. I can still remember the sight. I saw a dandy ski just porpoising out of the water with the orange tail of the Pounder lifelessly hanging out of the left portion of its jaw… it had inhaled the bait. I quickly ran up slack and instead of cranking back on the rod like nobody’s business, I just kept tension on the line as the ski worked her magic, down and up, slicing through the water like a torpedo on a course. While some words were surely being screamed, the phrase “Ohh Baby” was uttered at least once. My partner dropped the net and she slid in like a glove fitted for your right hand.
While I was 100% stoked, feeling like I had been sitting on a reef on Lake Winnebago on a warm sunny day, my attention quickly turned back to the hook placement. While I had been fighting the fish, the one thought besides getting the fish in the net was to what extent was this fish hooked? After I surveyed the size of the fish and the adrenaline decreased from the magnificent strike, I pried open the jaw and was thankfully surprised. The rear treble was just dangling in the back of its throat, not placed. The front treble was about a ½ in. from one of its gills and the single hook was positioned into the roof of the mouth. By going through its gill plate, with a very long and skinny needle nose, the hooks/bait came right out. I felt like a surgeon performing open heart surgery… if that’s what it feels like? I got some pictures of the girl and within 30 seconds, she pounded back down into the stained water to fight another day. As she swam away I thought, thank god I didn’t reef down on the hookset… otherwise she would have been a goner. While I cannot say for sure that this was the same fish from the pike incident, I will say I’m pretty sure it was.
Fall musky fishing (like other seasons) is nothing short of work, dedication and your ability to fight the elements. While certainly not all days in the fall have condition variables, each day fishing for the elusive Esox is a challenge of its own. I hope you all have a great fall bite and are able to partake in some of the gems our state has to offer. Remember, be observant of what the fish are telling you, relate all factors into your bait choice, presentation, and placement… and as always, key in on areas you believe (and know) hold fish. Until next time, “Tight Lines. Stay Dry.”