Ontario Fishing Network E-Magazine

Ontario Fishing Network

Volume 11,  Issue 11  Nov 2011

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The Next Bite

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Muskie Fishing

Ontario Muskie Fishing

The Next Bite

Ontario Fishing Trips


Muskie Fishing’s Late Fall Trolling Tradition
by Pete Maina

I admit it; I’m a sucker for tradition. That’s probably one of the reasons I love the fall time of year – it’s full of traditions like grouse hunting, deer hunting, trips to the pumpkin patch and of course, the Thanksgiving Holiday. It’s also a time of year when trolling for Muskies can traditionally be THE best way to put a real trophy fish in the net. This is especially true on the largest Muskie waters like the Bay of Green Bay, Lac Seul and Lake of the Woods to name a few.

So what makes trolling such a “traditional” pattern this time of year? It’s certainly not related to structure; on Lake of the Woods the best trolling spots tend to be steep rock drop-offs and walls near deep water where as on Green Bay the biggest muskies come from trolling large relatively featureless flats. What these two systems do have in common however are hungry muskies, and hungry muskies want food. Find their preferred forage, and you’ll find the fish you’re after.

A little research on any good muskie water will quickly give you a good idea of the general areas that hold good possibilities for catching fish. Seems every lake with a “tradition” of fall muskie fishing has a few key areas where the majority of the action takes place. Understand however, that on many of these larger lakes, a “general area” may be a couple square miles in size. That means there is still a large part of the location puzzle that you need to put together. In order to narrow down the search is going to take some time on the water and some good technology.

Those that know me know that I am not the most technologically savvy individual on the planet. However, when it comes to fishing electronics and using them to find key fishing areas and fish, I have adapted and I must say it has increased my understanding of the Muskie’s environment and movements more than I could have ever imagined. I always thought of myself as pretty good at interpreting what I was seeing on my sonar in the past, and as the units got better and gave us as anglers better resolution, my understanding of what was below the surface got better and better. But when Lowrance came out with their StructureScan technology for the HDS units, my world changed forever. With features like the SideScan Imaging, I can now search to the sides of my boat, out a couple hundred feet, which is a real benefit when searching for the large schools of baitfish that attract muskies this time of year. And when it comes to interpreting what’s below the boat, DownScan takes you WAY beyond regular sonar imaging. No longer do I have to guess if what I’m seeing on my screen is a school of bait, weeds or brush; now with DownScan, I get as clear a picture as possible showing me exactly what’s below the boat. Even for the technology-challenged like me, this is pretty simple stuff to learn to use, and the benefits to your fishing success will be substantial.

So are you looking for big forage or small forage? That depends on the where you’re fishing. On Lake of the Woods for instance, the main forage in the fall is Tullibee (also known as Cisco or Lake Herring), which can run 8 to 10 inches in length. On the other hand, the bay of Green Bay is chock full of shad that run around 4 inches. Knowing what the forage the muskies are targeting on your favorite fall trolling water will help you not only determine where to start looking, but what size lures you should at least start off trolling. Obviously, if you’re on Green Bay, smaller cranks like the Sebile Koolie Minnow in the 4 5/8 inch, Medium Diver model would be an ideal lure to start your search with. As the season progresses however, the forage base here can shift to Whitefish, a much larger forage, meaning much larger lures would be in order.

Keep in mind however that these are muskies you’re after. These fish don’t always follow rules or traditions, especially when it comes to lure choices. Just because the main forage on your particular lake might run 4 inches long doesn’t mean a nine inch lure won’t get the most attention. And just because you’re trolling doesn’t mean that crankbaits are the only game in town. A bait category that gets tons of attention when discussing casting patterns and almost none when talking trolling are soft plastics. From big tubes to many of the popular “creature baits”, soft plastics can offer a very viable alternative to hard baits when trolling fall muskies.
One piece of advice I will add here; when trolling soft plastics I feel it’s important that the rods be hand-held as opposed to being stuck in a rod holder. The reasoning is two-fold. First, the hooking percentage when trolling plastics is a bit lower than with crankbaits, so hook setting becomes a huge key to success. Secondly, by hand-holding the rod, additional action can be imparted to the bait in the way of sweeping or jigging the lure to increase its triggering capabilities at times.

Where you troll in relation to the forage is another key you don’t want to ignore. The natural instinct once you locate a large school of bait fish is to set up your trolling run right through the middle of them. That’s not typically a good idea. All that tends to do is bust up the school and mess up your chances for success. What you want to do is fish that school like you would any other “structure”, trolling the edges, be it the inside edge or the outside edge. Think of it like this … the biggest predators in the system are not going to be in the middle of the forage or the forage would not be there. The big fish will be hanging on the outskirts waiting for an opportunity. You want your offering to be that opportunity.

We all have our favorite fall traditions. If yours is to try and catch your biggest muskie of the year, I suggest you head for the biggest muskie water near you and give the fall trolling pattern a shot. It’s a good bet it’ll become a long standing fall tradition for getting your Next Bite.

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