When the Predators Return
John Peterson with Noel Vick
Boats crisscrossed it all summer long; personal watercraft here, tuber
there. Weeds uprooted and shredded, fouling the surface like bees in a beverage. These
disorderly but auspicious shoreline flats are playgrounds for people, and consequently
vacated by gamefish.
Labor Day changes everything, though.
Tourists leave. Cabins close like books. Pleasure boats and pontoons fall victim to
winterization. Jetskis, well theyre stored in moth balls. That buffer zone from
where the docks end and the first serious break begins is returned to its rightful owners,
northern pike and muskies.
Its not just a flat but a feeding flat, a 5 to 12-foot
deep expanse that offers modest features, such as varied weeds cabbage and coontail
a few hard spots, and maybe sandgrass. They appear innocent enough on hydrological
maps too, oftentimes the dullest waterscape in print. But beneath the monotonous exterior
lies a plenteous but treacherous place. A kingdom unfit for travel unless youre 40,
better yet 50-inches long complete with chops of fangs and incisors.
Brawny and iron-jawed fish hang on such flats, more so on the bigger
pieces. A 25-yard flat does some good, but certainly pales in comparison to a hundred yard
or mile long flat more food, more real estate, more fish, and heftier specimens to
boot. Better flats flirt with deep water, and the hottest spot on a given flat
usually grazes the sharpest break. This theory is proven time and time again. In the fall,
both pike and muskies will suspend off and away from feeding-flats, usually transferring
back and forth from the sheerest verge. Fish, like humans, find and utilize the shortest
distance between to locations.
A flat that functions as part of a greater point or bar is extra
intriguing due to the added structure. Immense shoreline points and shallow bars commonly
present wide and horizontal crests, which double as feeding-flats. Shoreline flats are
commonplace, easy, decidedly more so than rock reefs, weed islands, inside turns and all
the other complexities we tirelessly search for. In comparison, early fall is childs
play, so far as it pertains to finding hotspots anyway.
Northland Tackle Pro Brian Bro Brosdahl, a distinguished
multi-species guide, also hounds flats in the fall. He focuses on swatches of surviving
green cabbage, windswept rocks atop flats, and the perimeter of deeper hardstem bulrushes.
He views wind and waves as crucial in the quest for monsters, as the elements combine to
draw together forage. The dilemma then is not locating probable haunts,
because theyre massive and obvious, but rather how to effectively blanket something
so large. There are, though, means to shrink the water, and fortunately, theres a
dynamic already working to your benefit.
In autumn, foraging pike and muskies put it in cruise control. Vigorously,
they fin back and forth across prime flats, prowling, snacking. But a key position, like a
weededge or unmapped rubble pile can maintain these marauders and draw newcomers in with
regularity. Hook a fish or two from an area and its wise to settle in and cast for a
With that said, effectively scouring a flat requires elbow grease. You can
whip baits, and where legal, troll, but regardless, theres no getting around the
reality that time consuming and extensive coverage will be in your future. And nothing
spans the globe like a spinnerbait. The chief contender in early autumn,
spinnerbaits are both easy to operate and burn water faster than an oil rig disaster.
Select an oversized, magnum spinnerbait. Northlands Bionic Bucktail Spinnerbait is a
grand choice, its a proven big fish lure, having nipped two 50-pound muskies in
Make long casts across the flat with your boat positioned off the break
and over deeper water. Work the spinnerbait over, around, and through the vegetation and
associated structure. Burn it below the surface, sometimes bulging but not
breaking the seal. Bulging is especially effective in the morning, evening, and under
cloud cover. Youll need to experiment with retrieval rates too, but historically,
theres a need for speed during this time of year.
If the flat seems to be gator infested but nothings chomping, back
away and make casts beyond the break, off the flat. Let the spinnerbait dive 5 maybe
10-feet down and then commence reeling, albeit slower than you wound line on top of the
flat. Cold fronts and midday slowdowns might necessitate even deeper falls, reduced
retrieves, as pike and muskies will loiter near the bottom. Watch for peekers and prepare
to bust into a figure-8 as well (rod tip in the water, drawing eights with roughly 2-feet
of line out), because semi-interested fish often follow.
Another tool for plucking Esox from weedlines is an upsized jig bedecked
with either a sucker minnow or large grub. Pitch it and pull her through the outer weeds
and down along the break. Pretend like youre fishing for walleyes but with a
steroid-swollen jig. The haired and haughty Northland Bionic Bucktail Jig ½ to
2-ounce sizes is responsible for yanking countless trophy pike and skis,
making it a fine selection.
Muskies and pike arent the only flat-going species when surface
temps cool and lollygaggers leave the lake. Titanic largemouth bass and walleyes often
share residency and will likewise inhale an outsized spinnerbait or beefy jig and minnow.
Fan-casting while slowly motoring along performs brilliantly for searching
a flat, but even the finest casters and boat-controllers cant compete with trolling.
Depths are somewhat stable and cover constant, yielding straightforward trolling
conditions. Running bow forward, hit the throttle, pitch the spinnerbait back, give it a
little slack 40 to 60-feet total and prepare for a shoulder dislocation; rod
holders are recommended of course. Like retrieval speed, the boats pace also must be
tested, but normally a 1.5 to 2.5 mph tempo suffices. And make wide S-shaped trolling
patterns, sliding on and off the weededge. The winding path will sample more waterscape
and keeps the line off the fish.
Jousting with torpedo-sized muskies and pike calls for serious lumber. A 6
to 7-foot heavy baitcasting rod and reel will endure violent strikes and prolonged
battles. Fill the reel with feisty monofilament too, like 25 to 40-pound Berkley Big Game
or a superline such as FireLine. By and large, mono outdoes a superline on the troll
because it surrenders some stretch, not ripping lips. But for casting, superlines bury the
hooks with greater authority.
Now that the Griswalds have departed National Lampoons
Vacation reference and the hoodlums down the lake removed their slalom course, that
fat, shallow, and weeded piece is yours. But youll have to share it, though, because
a collection of predators waited patiently for it too.
In this issue:
Tempting the Big Walleye's of Fall
- When the Predators Return
Tomiko Lake - Lodge Classifieds
Fishing News - Downloadable Lodge Guide
NEW ONTARIO FISHING CHAT
to the Ontario Fishing Network