Targeting Monster Fall Muskie: Tackle and Strategy Tips

Photo courtesy of Cody Miller

Fall is the time of year for the leaves to change, chili, cinnamon rolls, and pumpkin-spiced everything. Fall also gives you the best opportunity to land the MONSTER muskie (or musky) of your dreams. Throughout the summer, the fish of 10,000 casts has been bulking up, preparing for the long cold winter ahead, and they hit their growing peak in the autumn months. Here are some tips to improve your fall muskie fishing, help land your trophy, and give you bragging rights. Read on…

 What They’re Biting

Spinner Baits

I am a big believer in the idea of spin to win for muskie, especially when casting. If I am trying to work off of a weed bed drop off or rocky area I want something that will catch their eye. I love using numerous types of bucktail spinners, big spoons, and have even had some luck on some of my terminator spinnerbaits.

My most successful spinnerbait is the Musky Mayhem Double Cowgirl. Any kind of spinnerbait that provides a flash is great, but the double cowgirl provides a huge spinning target that muskies can’t resist. I have had a lot of luck with these lures in the autumn months, raising multiple big fish out of the depths. These baits can be cast or trolled, depending on the size.

 Jerkbaits

If the spin to win method isn’t producing my other personal go to are slow working soft plastics and jerk baits. These baits are great for mimicking a slow-moving or injured fish that is an easy meal. The problem with using Jerkbaits often lies in the hands of the angler. These types of lures are not meant to buzz past a big muskie. They are meant to be worked.

Jerkbaits are most effective in the fall, because of the lackluster, lazy nature of muskie this time of year. On hot summer days, a lunge (Muskellunge/muskie) might see a spinnerbait buzzing by and having the energy to go after it, but not so on a shivering cold fall day. On days like these, the back and forth scurrying movement of a jerkbait might look too easy to resist.  

A jerkbait is meant to be worked by jolting and pulling the lure with the rod through the water, then letting it rest as opposed to jerked at the name would suggest. As the bait slows its initial pull, quickly move your pole back towards the water to create slack in the line, so you can repeat the procedure.

One of my favorite fall jerkbaits is the Prism Chartreuse Perch made by Phantom Lures. This versatile and easy to use lure is essentially a glide bait with its hard body and a replaceable (really love this feature!) soft plastic tail. You get all the benefits of a durable hard body bait and the action of a soft plastic tail. Their life-like movement just drives the muskie crazy. I prefer the darker colors in the fall to give it a more realistic look. 

The lure that I have been the most excited about as of late is the Chaos Tackle Mid Medussa 10″ Walleye Musky Swim Bait Bull Dawg. I love these particular Bull Dawgs because they are absolutely foolproof. This lure is very effective for jerking, slow-rolling, twitching, ripping and trolling. The key to success with the Medussa, regardless of how you reel it in, is to keep it moving along.

I particularly love it because it landed me the largest muskie of my life last fall at Big Mantrap Lake, just outside of Park Rapids, Minnesota. It was a cold, dreary morning, and we had just trolled through our favorite spot directly in front of a weed bed that features about a 10 foot drop off just off the weed bed when we saw a monster follow on this lure. We drifted through a few times and were about to give up on it when it hit.

Another great thing about this lure is the two large treble hooks that make it really tough to lose a fish, no matter how hard it fights. I retired this particular bull dawg to my trophy case for now but may have to bring it out of retirement in a dry spell. I love this lure!

Where Do the Monsters Lurk?

autumn muskie fishing on minnesota lake

The first place any good muskie hunter should try are drop-offs/break lines. These are an old standby for many anglers, and there is a good reason for it, it works. Drop-offs are areas where water depth changes quickly, which provides an opportunity for an ambush, and for large predatory fish hunting smaller, quicker pray, an ambush is crucial.

My most successful fall days casting have come from fishing in 8 to 15 feet of water, moving from drop off point to drop off point. I prefer this water depth throughout the year and the fall is no different.

Muskies tend to be more active and aggressive in shallower warmer water. This, of course, is assuming that the weed beds are still intact. If you can still find healthy, shallow weed beds, great! 

Unfortunately, the endless weed beds from the summer have died off come fall, and as they disappear so do the fish. Muskies thrive in weed beds because they provide much-needed oxygen, so it is important to be able to find the surviving healthy weed beds. To do this you will have to venture out into deeper water which is where trolling comes into play.

 Fall Muskie Trolling Strategies

Something that I tend to do far more often once the water temperature begins to drop is troll more consistently. If you are new to trolling make sure you know how many lines you can legally troll, there actually are limitations!

The Right Tackle

 Another must is to make sure you have heavy enough tackle when trolling. Your equipment is under constant pressure when trolling so you will need some heavy tackle in order for it to hold up to the current that your boat provides, weeds, as well as the added pressure when that big fish hits.

When trolling, I generally equip myself with a 10-foot cork handled rod and at least 50-pound test, with a six-foot-long, hundred-pound test, full carbon leader. I also generally use a longer leader, so that I’ll have at least 60 inches between the weight and the bait so that the weight isn’t killing any action on the bait.

I use that long of a leader for another reason as well – if that monster does strike it won’t be as easy to get tangled in a longer leader. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a big fish caught in the leader because we all want to get the fish back in the water safely.

Slow Down the Pace 

Whether you are casting or trolling, a key change from summer to fall is the pace at which you must retrieve your lures. During the summer months, you are able to cast and reel as fast as your heart desires because the fish are more active and aggressive. However, once colder weather hits fish metabolism slow down, and they become far less aggressive, which requires finding an easier, slow-moving meal. 

Generally speaking, trolling is most effective because you are able to cover a ton of open water in a short amount of time. As I had previously stated it’s important to retrieve baits a little slower in the fall, so take your foot off the gas, and give the monster a chance to catch up. Since I need to troll slower than the summer months, I like to troll in at least 25 feet of water so that you don’t risk the bottom at any point. 

The key to fall trolling is to make sure you are letting your bait get deep enough. Even avid muskie fishermen make the mistake of trolling in the upper ( 5-10 feet)  to mid-tier (10-15 feet) water levels thinking that the fish will strike at the top of the water like they do in the warmer months. By doing this the baits are literally going over the fish’s head. Fish can’t bite what they can’t see, let your bait get down 20-25 feet to give yourself a chance.

Use Bigger Baits

Something to keep in mind when trolling is bait size. If I am trolling in the summer I would generally be trolling with quicker moving, smaller baits. In the fall I wouldn’t troll anything under 7 to 10 inches, and I am looking to use any opportunity to troll the biggest bull dawgs that I can. Remember, at this point of the year, it’s easier for the muskie to hit one big meal as opposed to tracking down numerous smaller, quicker fish.

Fish the Right Spot at the Right Time

If your lake still has healthy weed beds in shallower areas you might never be tempted to venture into deeper water, but even with healthy shallow weed beds, numerous water depths can always be effective. It all depends on what time you are on the water. The biggest key to landing a monster muskie is to be in the right spot at the right time. To do that you need to follow the baitfish.

Morning Muskie

The old saying that the early bird gets the worm, (or fish in this case) is an effective strategy when fishing for muskie. The key to landing a big fish in the early to mid-morning is staying in that 6 to 15 feet of water depth as long as you have healthy weed beds remaining. In the early to mid-morning baitfish are in shallow, which means so are the predatory fish. This is time to fish those drop-off/ break lines that I discussed earlier in the article.

Afternoon Muskie

Hopefully, by the late morning, you have already had something hit in the shallows and you are headed in for a much-deserved nap. If not, it’s time to head out to deeper water.

Once late morning has arrived your window for catching something near shore has officially closed. The baitfish have head out to open water, so you know what to do, follow them. In the afternoon you will be wanting to fish in deeper water, and trolling is a great way to cover a lot of open water.

Evening Muskie

The evening is my favorite time to fish for muskies. The water has had all day to get as warm as possible, and the fish begin to come into shore to feed. Around sunset is “magic hour.” The fish seem to have a tougher time distinguishing lures from baitfish. In the evening you will want to move back into the 8 to 15-foot break line area as the fish are coming back in to feed. 

Well, that brings us to the end of this post but I hope that with these tips you will be able to land your own trophy muskie, and, hopefully, it won’t take you 10,000 casts!

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