Photos courtesy of: The Simms Outdoors Team
In autumn, nothing drives game fish more than the need to feed. In spring, fish are bent on the spawn and the proliferation of their species. In the winter months, feeding will of course occur, but it tends to be limited, as the cold water temperatures slow metabolism and put the fish into a neutral or negative feeding mode more often. Likewise, in the summer when water temperatures are very high, the fishing can slow down as well, and fish tend to feed mostly at certain times for short periods. The fall months, however, drive fish to feed heavily and feed often to bulk up for the long cold winter ahead.
In most lakes and reservoirs in the Midwest that contain healthy shad populations, muskie will feed heavily on this forage. Shad are a pelagic baitfish species that school up in groups to roam around a body of water in search of food. In the fall, shad make predictable migrations from certain portions of a lake to others. Finding and following the food will get an angler into muskie action during this great season.
During the late summer and early fall period when surface temperatures fall between the mid 70s to about the mid 60s, many large shad schools will locate in the basin areas of the main lake. These zones are typically deep and wide open, encompassing a large portion of a body of water. In early fall, target large main lake flats, primary points, humps and islands that are located in areas with large, deep, open expanses of water nearby. Vegetation in these areas will hold most of the muskie. Large, thick weed beds are very attractive. The deep weed edge seems particularly good at this time of year.
As the water temperatures continue to cool and drop into the low 60 degree range, shad will migrate from the deep open water main lake areas to coves, bays and creek and river arms, and the muskie won’t be far behind. The shad schools will concentrate in these areas and can be found very shallow near the bank. Shallow shorelines located anywhere in these zones will hold muskie. Irregular shorelines with additional structural elements are best. Small secondary points extending from the shoreline, and channel bends that swing close to shore will cause muskie to stop and wait in ambush. Other good places to check are the shallow flats in the back of coves and bays and in the upper portions of creeks and river channels where they contact the lake. Cover in these areas is a definite plus. Grass and weeds are attractive places for muskie to hold, especially when they‘re still green and producing oxygen. Laydowns, stumps and other wood cover can also produce well. Huge concentrations of shad will remain in these places as the water temperature drops through the 50s and into the upper 40 degree range.
In the late fall and early winter period with water temperatures falling through the 40s and cooler, shad will migrate back to deep, open main lake type areas. Deep points and hard bottom breaklines are excellent places to focus late fall fishing efforts. Rock cover in the form of boulders and chunk rock become prime for muskie. Standing timber, deep stumps and brush piles also hold plenty of fish, and a combination of both rock and wood cover is most attractive. Vertical bluff walls are also good places to check. The best spots along bluffs are ledges, rock slides and cuts in the side of the bluff. Anything that’s different can cause fish to stop and hold.
Once you’re in the right area, start the search for large concentrations of bait. Shad that are positioned several feet beneath the surface will be evident on a sonar unit. Many times in the fall, particularly during the mid Fall period, the shad will be so concentrated that they will black out a sonar screen. When shad schools are on or near the surface, they can be spotted visually. Using a long billed cap and a quality pair of polarized sunglasses like the Master Angler Series Optics from FLYING FISHERMAN (flyingfisherman.com) will drastically cut glare. This allows an angler to see much deeper into the water at much greater distances, making it easy to spot flipping and cruising baitfish from far away. Fish eating birds can also provide clues to baitfish location, especially when they’re actively feeding. Once large concentrations of shad schools are located in an area, it’s time to start fishing.
Presentation & equipment:
Classic fall fishing lures are those that closely resemble the shad that the muskies are feeding on. Some of the most consistent choices include safety pin style spinnerbaits and in-line spinners or bucktails. These lures closely mimic fleeing baitfish. The flash from the blades is like the flash from a shad’s side as it turns to feed or escape from a predator. It’s a powerful strike provoking trigger. Multi-blade lures like the School N Shad from SIMMS SPORT FISHING TACKLE ( www.maout.com/colbysimms.htm ), with its four willow leaf blade design and shad trailer, mimics a school of baitfish that the muskie commonly see and feed upon. When selecting spinnerbaits and bucktails, choose those with metallic finish blades like nickel and gold, as these will produce more lifelike flash. Crankbaits, minnowbaits and surface lures in baitfish color patterns are also good choices for fall fishing. One type of lure that many anglers overlook is the jig and plastic combo. A heavy saltwater jig head paired with a large swimming style soft plastic bait like a curly tail grub or paddle tail shad can be great for fall muskie.
Proper equipment is critical to hooking and landing muskie once they’ve been located and tempted to strike. Choose longer rods of 7 or 7.5 feet for most situations. Longer rods provide more leverage for hook setting. Select rods with a little bit more flex than most. Additional flex helps to keep the muskie on once it’s hooked, as the rod will give when a fish jumps or headshakes. The key is to stay away from the pool cue type rods. Extremely stiff, short rods will not give, and it becomes much easier for a muskie to tear loose during battle. For large heavy lures, I choose SHAKESPEARE Ugly Stik Lite Graphite Muskie Rods in 7 and 7.5 foot models (shakespeare-fishing.com). When fishing medium size and small muskie lures, or even big bass lures, I opt for Titanium, American Classic and Team Series Graphite Rods from ALL STAR RODS (allstarrods.com). The heavier flippin stick style rods in 7.5 foot lengths are best. Match these rods with a quality reel with plenty of line capacity and a super smooth drag system like the President and Trion Baitcast Reels from PFLUEGER FISHING TACKLE (pfluegerfishing.com). I spool up with a strong abrasion resistant line in 17 to 30 pound test like SUPREME Super Tough or CAJUN Red Lightnin, and then add a 6, 9 or 12 inch SIMMS Predator Casting Leader in a Steel, Titanium or Fluorocarbon model.
Don't miss the great fall muskie bite. To book a guided sport fishing or hunting trip at Kinkaid, Shelbyville & Spring Lakes, Lake Of The Ozarks, The St. Francis River, The Chippewa Flowage, MO & IL Hunting Farms or many other great outdoor destinations throughout Missouri, Illinois or Wisconsin, contact the SIMMS OUTDOORS TEAM GUIDE SERVICE, and get the very best custom lures and leaders from SIMMS SPORT FISHING TACKLE at www.maout.com/colbysimms.htm * 618-521-0526 / 573-358-5948 * firstname.lastname@example.org . Please support our great sponsors: JOHNNY LONDOFF CHEVROLET, PFLUEGER FISHING TACKLE, SHAKESPEARE FISHING TACKLE, ALL STAR RODS, REAL TREE CAMOUFLAGE, FLYING FISHERMAN SUNGLASSES & SPORTSWEAR, MINERAL AREA OFFICE SUPPLY, KEEPING YOU IN STITCHES EMBROIDERY, ARTCRAFT SIGNS, and THE LITTLE BIG LURE COMPANY. Good luck!
Colby - www.mwbt.com/colbysimms.htm