Lake Frontière Muskies

A lake Frontière Muskie
A lake Frontière Muskie

Originally published in the Fall 2018 edition of the Release Journal.

Lac-Frontière is a small municipality of 175 inhabitants located in the Appalachians on the border of Quebec and the state of Maine, just south of Montmagny. The municipality is of course located on the shores of the lake that has the same name. Between 1842 and 1849 the place was known as the English Lake due to the presence of Americans and British who were staying there during the surveying of the Canada-US border. It is in 1919 that the municipality is officially founded; this means that next year will be Lac-Frontière 100th birthday. Back in the days, the BC Howard company erected up to 4 sawmills around the lake. The railroad was used to supply the mills, the population of this small village will reach up to 3000 inhabitants at its highest point. Today there is not much left of this prosperous period except the remains of the railway bridge and many 100-year-old timber logs that lay on the bottom of the lake.

An error in fisheries management

Unlike most water bodies in Quebec that flow into the St. Lawrence, Lake Frontière is located at the head of the Saint John River watershed.
Unlike most water bodies in Quebec that flow into the St. Lawrence, Lake Frontière is located at the head of the Saint John River watershed.

The lake itself is small. Its area is 1.1 km2, but the Great North West Black River which feeds it winds from Talon Lake for more than 20 kilometers. Unlike most water bodies in Quebec, Lake Frontière is not included in the St. Lawrence River watershed but rather in the Saint John River watershed. This geographical feature had important repercussions that had been underestimated by the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing in the 1970s when they determined that Lake Frontière would be one of the sites of their muskellunge stocking program.

Between 1970 and 1979, the Quebec Ministry of Tourism, Recreation, Hunting and Fishing stocked a total of 6250 muskellunge from 7 to 20 cm in the lake. The goal was to offer a species for sport fishing to the population and to reduce the presence of white sucker. They believed that the muskellunge would remain confined to the lake and the river, but after a few years they learned that the muskellunge was way more adventurous.

Today, Lake Frontière muskellunge is found everywhere in the Saint John River watershed. Muskies stocked in Lake Frontière has colonized the waters of the Saint John River in New Brunswick, and because of that we have the Muskies Canada St. John River chapter today. Muskellunge is now caught in East Lake near La Pocatière and Beau Lake in Témiscouata, Qc.

Chaque année un tournoi de pêche au maskinongé se tient à Fort Kent dans le Maine avec des bourses totalisant 35 000$ USD.
Each year a Muskellunge Fishing Event is held in Fort Kent, Maine with awards totaling $ 35,000 USD.

Each year a Muskie Fishing tournament is held in Fort Kent, Maine with awards totaling $ 35,000 USD. Although Muskies are considered by the state of Maine to be an invasive species (no size limit or number of capture) and to record a catch at the Fort Kent tournament Muskies has to be killed, the tournament organizers request recommend that muskies under 38″ should be released. In New Brunswick, the Muskies are still considered has an invasive species, but in recent years some progress has been made thanks to the involvement of our members in St. John River.

Au fil des ans, le maskinongé est même parvenu a franchir la chute à Dupuis de la Grande Rivière Noire Nord-Ouest.
Over the years, muskies has even managed to cross the Dupuis waterfall on the Great North West Black River.

We know today and probably at that time too that the arrival of a non-native species in an environment can have serious consequences. But after 40 years, we must face the fact that it will be impossible to go back and that we should rather embrace the benefits of this past error.

The habitat

La Grande Rivière Noire Nord-Ouest.
The Great North-West Black River.

The lake itself is very shallow. In the middle of the lake there is only 9 feet of water. There are many weed beds all around the lake. At the northeast end of the lake there is a large marshy and very shallow area that is full of wildlife. On a canoe trip in the small pond you can see ducks, herons, bitterns, beavers, muskrats, frogs, and of course furrows in the water of muskies fleeing in front of the boat. On the other hand, some pool in the river are more than 20 feet deep.

Mon père Georges et un maskinongé de 42" du lac Frontière.
My father Georges with a 42 incher from lake Frontière.

I spent the summers of my youth on the shore of Lake Frontière. My parents built a cottage there in 1981. At the time, there were very few cottages around the lake and it was not uncommon to see moose come to cool down in the marshes in the summer. The state of Maine has a phenomenal moose population and the border is less than one kilometer from the lake, so moose often cross it. By the way, every October during moose hunting season, the border becomes like Vimy Ridge in 1917 with watchtowers and hunters on the lookout every 300 meters. Today there are many more cottages around the lake which represents an environmental challenge to avoid the increase of eutrophication of the lake.

L’auteur qui donne un peu d’amour à un petit muskie.
The autor giving some love to a small muskie.

Muskies in the lake are well established, but we can say that the better days are behind us. In the 1980s Lake Frontière delivered its largest muskies. It was the growth peak of the stocked muskie, they had abundant food and relatively low fishing pressure. In the 1980s, my father captured two specimens over 40 inches (41″ and 42″).

Membre du chapitre de Québec, Jimmy Lachance connais bien les maskinongés du lac Frontière.
Québec City Chapter member, Jimmy Lachance knows really well the lake Frontière Muskies.

Catches of 44″ and 47″ have also been reported. At that time, you could fish for perch from the shore and catch an impressive number of yellow perch in good sizes. This is not scientific, but it seems that the quantity and size of yellow perch has greatly decreased since then as has the size of the muskellunge too. Today a big Muskie of Lake Frontière is 35-37 inches. Average catches are between 26 and 30 inches.

Release and regulation

The daily catch limit and possession limit of muskellunge on Lake Frontière is 2 per person. There is no size limit.

At the beginning of my engagement with Muskies Canada, I thought that if the fishermen on Lake Frontière were all practicing catch and release, the quality of the fishery would only improve in the next few years. But since then I’ve learned more about it and I understand that the lake’s muskies population is healthy but has likely reached a ceiling in the balance between the amount of food available and the number of predators competing for this food. If a size limit required anglers to release all catches greater than 32 inches and take a good amount of smaller muskellunge (say, larger than 26 “), perhaps after some years we could hope to capture specimens over 40 ” again. But know that I have no degree in biology and my knowledge of fisheries management are very limited so what I think is worth what it is worth.

However, the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks will do nothing to regulate the muskie fishery on Lake Frontière because it would go against the muskellunge management done by the Department of Inland Fisheries. and Wildlife of Maine – Division of Fisheries and Hatcherie. As explained above, since the Lake Frontière watershed is not completely contained in Quebec, they can not control what is happening in Maine or New Brunswick. Quebec neighbours would not take well a regulation that will go against their own regulations.

Conclusion

Fishing the muskellunge on this lake on a good day can be a lot of fun. It is not uncommon to take several muskellunge in one day. This small lake in southeastern Quebec is still being talked about today as the source of the muskie invasion of the Saint John River, but it is also the source of my passion for muskie fishing. It’s my lake. I know all the bays, the depth of each meander of the river and I go back there every summer.

Coucher de soleil sur le lac Frontière.
Sunset on lake Frontière.

Interview with MCI President Chris Nielsen on Blue Fish Radio

Muskies Canada Sport Fish and Research came into being to introduce conservation measures into the sport of Muskie fishing. For over 40 years there now 700 members from the 13 different Canadian chapters have been supplying the Ministry of Natural Resources with catch-and-release logs to aid in Muskie research. This year the organization has funded three different research projects, including one on Lake St Clair in partnership with Shimano Canada.

 

Check out Blue Fish Radio

Muskies Canada Partners with Wounded Warriors Canada

Muskies Canada is proud to announce a new partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada to host a “Fishing in the Kawarthas” weekend at Scotsman Point Cottage Resort on Buckhorn Lake.

Fishing in the Kawarthas will provide ill and injured Veterans and their families with an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors while fishing for muskellunge in the company of experienced Muskies Canada anglers. What’s more, the event will provide a relaxing environment that will allow the participants the chance for respite, reflection and the ability to reconnect with their fellow Veterans and family members.

woundedWarriorsWounded Warriors Canada is a registered charity whose mission is to honour and support Canada’s ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, Veterans, First Responders and their families.

 

cropped-muskies_canada_logo.pngMuskies Canada is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to Muskellunge angling, research and conservation. Muskellunge, or Muskie, is Canada’s apex freshwater predator and an important sport fish in eastern Canada. Muskies Canada anglers have boats and equipment well suited to host Wounded Warriors for a great weekend on the water.

“It is with great pride that Muskies Canada entered a partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada, to spend time on the water with veterans that have given so much to their country.  It not only will be an honour to spend time with these veterans but to show them that Muskies Canada acknowledges and is grateful for their sacrifices”, said Tyler Duncan, a Muskies Canada Board of Directors representative and Chair of the Upper Valley Chapter.

Wounded Warriors Canada Fishing in the Kawarthas weekend will be held at Scotsman Point Resort on Buckhorn Lake, August 25-28, 2017. Friday night feature a “Meet-and-Greet” get-together with and Saturday will be Muskie fishing day, teaming participants with Muskies Canada members.

Phil Ralph, National Program Director for Wounded Warriors Canada, commented, “We continue to witness first-hand the benefits of recreational programs that bring together Veterans and their families. We are proud to partner with Muskies Canada and Scotsman Point Resort on what will be a great annual event that provides our participants with important respite and the opportunity to reflect and reconnect.”

Scotsman Point Cottage Resort is a sponsor/supporter in the event and is donating accommodation for the Wounded Warriors Canada participants. “All of us at Scotsman Point Resort are very proud and honoured for the opportunity to provide the most courageous of Canadian citizens some well deserved relaxation and fun. We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with all of the partners involved in this memorable event”, said Leslie Clarkson, General Manager of Scotsman Point Resort.

For more information, please see:

Wounded Warriors

Muskies Canada

Scotsman Point Resort

Fish of A Lifetime

Sometimes a fish is more than a fish.  This remarkable story came to me from a good friend who has taken up guiding this year.  Read on and when you get to the end, take a moment to send some positive energy Bill’s way and remember to enjoy every moment.

“Being a guide can be rewarding. Bill was my guest for two days. He has inoperable cancer so he’s been travelling the world to catch fish on his “Bucket List”.

His wish was to catch his first Muskie and to catch a 50 inch fish. He had never caught a Muskie before and catching (and releasing) a Muskie was now at the top of his “Bucket List”. That’s a tall order for any guide.

The first day he worked very hard, casting big blades all day. This can be very tiring. We caught Pike but no Muskie. As it got dark we set up a trolling run so he could take a break and sure enough, he the reel went off and he caught and released his first Muskie, a nice 38″ fish. He finished the first day a happy man.

Day two, we now needed to find a big fish to fulfil the second part of his wish.
Anyone that fishes for Muskies knows that it’s not so easy to find and catch them and the really big ones are very elusive. This is where being a guide helps. When you are on the water a lot, you see patterns and seasonal activity that enhances your knowledge.

I really wanted to get him connected with a giant so we worked hard as the day progressed. I knew he was tired and sore after two days of casting but I encouraged him to keep going. He did.

As soon as his cast hit the water there was a big swirl and his rod bent over double as he set the hook. I could see that it was a big one. As he tried to bring it to the boat the fish had other ideas and went the other way. When it came around, I could see that if we could get it close enough to net, he would have his 50 incher. As the fish came into the net we could also see how fat she was. Nice fish.

I brought it into the boat for him. We did a quick measurement. 50.5 inches long by 22 inch girth. He couldn’t lift this big fish so we put on his lap for a quick photo. Back in the water after that and we were left with that great feeling of “mission accomplished”. He smiled and said, “I’m done! Take me back now. I’ve caught my fish of a lifetime.”

There’s no better feeling as a guide than helping someone fulfill their wishes.”

fishoralifetime

 

Muskie Sunday

Every year there is a special event at the Spring Fishing and Boat Show (SFBS). We call it MUSKIE SUNDAY.

This year it happened on February 19. The doors opened at 7.30 am and we started at 8.00. We had over 300 people come in early to be part of the action. Big Jim McLaughlan was the host and MC for the event.

Great Speakers:
The folks that organize the overall Show are very good to Muskies Canada. They bring in top-notch speakers and group them together in one powerhouse session.james-linder-jeremy-smith

This year we had US experts James Linder and Jeremy Smith who gave a terrific presentation about using in-line spinners; the bait that has revolutionized muskie fishing. They fish hard in highly pressured waters in Minnesota and Lake of the Woods and shared some tactics that work well for them.

John Anderson gave us a rousing presentation called “Ontario Muskies Rock!”. He let everyone know that Eastern Ontario john-andersonand Western Québec make up one of the best but often overlooked muskie hotspots in the world. He identified 5 zones that provide world-class muskie fishing: The Lower Ottawa River; Lake of Two Mountains, Lake St. Louis (Montreal); Lake St. Francis, and The Upper St. Lawrence between Cornwall and Kingston. John is sure that the next world record will come from these waters.

Gord Pyzer brought us the NW Ontario perspective and told us many stories about some of the baigord-pyzerts he uses. He challenged us to break out of our ordinary approach to find and work current breaks, to use the surface (topwater), and especially to consider fishing the bottom with jigs and soft plastics. He suggested that we use something that the fish may not have seen before or to fish an area in a way that is slightly different.

Arunas Liskauskas is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world about Georgian Bay muskies, having worked for almost 30 years with Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. arunas-liskauskasArunas talked about the distribution and characteristics of the muskie populations in and around Georgian Bay. He shared some valuable information that has come from research and tracking done by the Ministry in association with McMaster University. Doctoral candidate Dan Weller of McMaster was the recipient of Muskies Canada’s Ed Crossman Research Education award, which helped with the work he’s been doing on “The Bay” with Arunas and MNRF.

Marc Thorpe talked about the important work that has been going on the Ottawa River in association with the Québec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife & Parks. This tagging and sampling study is gathering DNA for detailed genomic analysis at Université Laval. It is also using a non-lethal aging technique using the ray of a caudal fin. These sampled fish are tagged and released so they can be monitored. About 10 volunteers from the Ottawa chapter participated in 2016 and sampled over 100 fish.

This data will give the Québec ministry much more information about how to manage this unique population of muskies. Marc also reminded us of the importance of fish handling. His own approach is to never even take the fish out of the water and he showed us some great examples of spectacular photos, above and below the water, of fish in the cradle. His concern about not over-stressing fish that are caught and released was evident throughout the presentation.

Muskie Sunday as a Fundraiser for Muskies Canada Projects
Not only were the speakers great but also we had tremendous support from the angling industry to help us put some great prizes out on the prize tables and into the silent auction. The big crowd was eager to bid for some hot stuff. Shimano graciously donated a brand-new Tranx 400 reel, one of only a handful that have arrived in Canada. Shimano launched these new 300 and 400 series Tranx at the show and it was a very hot item. Abu Garcia helped with lots of unique items; Hose Baits had some fantastic lures on the table. We had great products from St. Croix rods, Handlebarz lures, Figure Ate guiding service, Waterwolf, Beaver baits, Sandy Haven Lodge (Nipissing), Scotsman Point Lodge (Lower Buckhorn), and many, many more.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors and the terrific enthusiasm of participants, Muskies Canada was able to raise over $6000 to go to our important projects. This will help us greatly in our work to ensure the sustainability and success of Canada’s muskies for generations to come.

Thank you to the Spring Fishing and Boat Show, Muskies Canada’s tireless volunteers and to everyone who came out to Muskie Sunday. It was a huge success. For Muskies Canada members, if you missed it, we have filmed the all of the sessions and will put them up on-line Members Area in the video section.

Lure Love

Love – the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration

I didn’t want to admit it, but I’m in love and it’s affecting my game.  It happens to all of us whether we want to admit it or not.  I can’t stay away from that lure for very long and it shows up in all of my big muskie dreams !

I caught my PB on this lure late last year and I guess that’s when it happened.  Did I  fall in love with it because I had spent so much time thinking about catching a big fish on a top water?  Was the attraction just a result of that adrenaline high you get when you put a big fish in the boat?   It just sounds and moves soooo good that I can’t stay away.

Affairs of the heart are a mystery to me  and I don’t have an answer for the fatal attraction.  I do know that I have a rod in the boat that always has that lure on it.  It’s the first lure I try, no matter what the location or conditions.  I continue to throw that lure well beyond the time when I should be changing things up.  When I’m not throwing it, I worry that I should be throwing it.   When my boat partner is chucking it – I’m jealous.

After considering my options for trolling this top water, I decided that I needed to re-visit my relationship and god forbid – decide to try a trial separation!

Last time out I spent some time casting blades and had some moderate success.  Thoughts did creep in – that muskie that missed the blades would have been hooked up if I had been using “her”.  I tried to ignore those thoughts and stick with the separation, telling myself that it was me, not her (just in case I need to go back to her later).

I’ll stick it out and hopefully put a big fish in the boat during the separation.  Just in case,  I ordered two more of the same lure.  I picked different patterns in case the separation created some bad Karma with the original pattern.

This is normal right ….

 

 

 

Trailer Maintenance

We are only 2 sleeps away from the opener on the Ottawa river. With my opening day fishing plan in place (since Feb.), thoughts turn to other important aspects of Muskie fishing that can definitely make or break your day.

Trailer Maintenance

by Trevor Smith Originally published in the Muskies Canada Release Journal May/June 2010

The soft water season is fast approaching! Our boats have been cleaned and prepped, but what about your trailer? Over the years I have come up with a check list, I go over not only in the spring, but throughout the season. Let’s get started!

Lights
I will start by providing a reference for the trailer wiring colours:

Brown -Tail lights / Marker lights
Yellow – Left signal
Green – Right signal
White – Ground wire

Most lighting problems can be diagnosed with a multi meter and a 12 volt test light:
When diagnosing, start with your tow vehicle; trailer unplugged. Test for power at each terminal, with the appropriate accessory on. (Turn each light on individually). This will verify you have power on the correct terminal.

After this has been completed, plug the trailer wiring in and connect trailer to vehicle. It is important to have the trailer connected as this can be your ground connection on some trailers. Continue to test for power working back to the problem light.

Lighting Tips
Most lighting issues are related to a bad ground. A bad ground can cause vehicle lights to malfunction, and numerous lighting problems with your trailer. Some ofthese problems include: dim lights, flickering, or not working at all.

When I wire a trailer, I like to have the ground wire from the trailer connected thru the trailer plug to a well known ground on the vehicle.

As mentioned earlier, some trailers ground thru the trailer ball, which can cause connection problems; due to rust and dirt.

Bulbs
Another problem I have found is the wrong bulb has been used. The most common bulb is part # 1157. This is a double filament, incandescent bulb. It can be identified by the 2 contacts on the bottom of the bulb and offset notches on the body of the bulb.

This bulb can be mistaken for an 1156 bulb, which is a single filament, 1 contact on the bottom and no offset notch. The bulbs should not be able to get interchanged, but do. The sockets on trailers tend to be cheaper lighter gauge metal; making it possible to install the wrong bulb. This can and will cause major issues.

Newer trailers use 30 and 31 series bulbs and LED lighting. If you are looking for an upgrade; LED lights are a great choice because of there low maintenance.

Wheel Bearings
Wheels bearings are integral in getting you to and from the lake. In my opinion they need to be inspected yearly.

Tires / Wheels

  • Tires should be checked regularly for cracks, cuts and foreign objects in the tread.
  • Tire pressure should be checked regularly when the tire is cold.
  • Trailer tires are identified by the ST in front of the size. P and LT identify passenger and light truck tires.
  • Tires only rated for trailer use should be used. Passenger tires are engineered for ride comfort and sometimes cannot handle load capacity.
  • Tires are rated by load range and identified by a letter. (Usually B, C, D) The higher the letter, the more weight the tire can carry. Your tires work in conjunction with your trailer suspension. Increasing tire load range does not allow you to exceed axel rating.

Load Range “B” = 4 Ply
Load Range “C” = 6 Ply
Load Range “D”= 8 Ply

trailer1_01
A tire showing signs of wear that indicate a replacement is due

Wheels should be checked for tightness at least once a season. Check tightness with a torque wrench, if available. Torques specifications will vary depending on stud type and size. ( refer to manual or internet).

Suspension

  • Look for broken or damaged leaf springs.
  • Tighten all hardware.

trailer1_02

Frame Inspection

  • Inspect trailer frame for cracks and loose bolts.
  • Check rollers for adjustment and wear.
  • Inspect trailer bunk for damage and wear.
  • Check license plate mounting screws. I have upgraded to lock nuts for my license plate, as it has come loose on a couple of occasions.
trailer1_03
Inspect rollers and frame for cracks, wear, etc.

Trailer Winch / Tie down Straps

  • Check winch mounting bolts for tightness.
  • Make sure winch locking mechanisms release and lock properly.
  • Inspect winch strap for frays. Be sure to check safety hooks and latches as well for damage. Inspect tie downs straps as well.
trailer1_04
Check winch mechanism, strap and mounting bolts
trailer1_05
Replace broken hardware

That’s it! You can inspect your trailer relatively quickly, and you should do some sort of an inspection before each use. Spending a little time before your trip can provide you more time on the water, and that’s what it’s all about.
 

Ask the Biologist

This information never gets old !

Originally published in the May/June Release Journal 2012.

AAB_01
Steve Kerr – MNR Biologist

Steve Kerr is a senior fisheries biologist with Fisheries Policy Section of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. He has worked as a biologist at various locations in the province for more than 35 years. Steve has had a long involvement in cooperative projects with Muskies Canada and has published several papers on muskellunge. In 2010 he was inducted into the Muskies Canada Hall of Fame.

 

Do vertical holds really harm a muskellunge or is this a myth?

Amazingly, there have been few, if any, well designed scientific experiments which have examined this issue. The consensus amongst numerous experts (Butler 2004, Ramsell 2004, Landsman and Thorpe 2008), however, is that vertical holds should be avoided.

The body of a muskellunge is supported by water under normal conditions. When out of the water, large fish need to have their body supported. Vertical holds can lead to a number of problems including:

  • separation of the vertebrae
  • injuries to soft body tissues
  • damage to the operculum and connective tissues in the head and gills
  • organ displacement or damage
  • internal haemorrhaging
  • stretched or torn muscles

If necessary to remove a large fish from the water, do it quickly in a horizontal position and support the fish’s body mass with one hand or arm positioned near the mid section of the fish.

Instead of vertical weight measurements, muskellunge anglers should lift the fish (preferably in a cradle or knotless net) and weigh the fish while having its weight supported by the net.

Note: You can also use a weight calculator – based on length and girth.

What are some of the most important things to remember for a successful release?

There are several key factors to keep in mind:

      • quickly play and land the fish
      • remove hooks quickly
      • keep fish in the water as much as possible
      • do not touch the fish’s gills
      • use a horizontal hold (supporting the fish’s body mass) for photos
      • minimize the amount of air exposure
      • spend as much time as required to revive a fish

Does catch-and-release angling work?

Absolutely. There is considerable evidence to indicate that the quality of Ontario’s muskellunge fisheries is due to protective size limit regulations and an increase in catchand-release angling practices.

References:

Butler, M. 2004. Vertical holds of larger fish: not the best choice for catch and release. Muskie May:4-7.

Landsman, S. and M. Thorpe. 2008. Blending science and proper handling practices for a better release. Muskie. October:15-17.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Muskies Canada Inc. 1999. Effective release techniques for muskellunge. Queen’s Printer for Ontario. 7 p. Ramsell, R. 2004. Muskie handling techniques to improve the chances of survival for your released catch

Castus Interruptus = Lost Opportunity

By Mike Kadoura
Originally published in the Release Journal July / August 2011

Let me get to the point right away.  Do not get distracted on a cast, or you will miss out on that fish you are yearning for so badly.

Case in Point…Last week my buddy Mark and I went out to Madoc to fish the opener on a nearby lake. It is a smallish lake, but we had boated four there a few years ago in two days, so in our own musky lore this lake had become a real gem.castus01 With his 32′ RV and my 17′ fishing machine trailing behind, we felt like quite the pros rolling down Hwy 7 from Ottawa that beautiful Friday afternoon.

We set up at Crystal Bay and were on the water by 6 pm. The water was 66 degrees and right away we spotted a saddle between four islands, five minutes from the launch. This being spring, the weeds hadn’t choked the spot up yet. There were two cherry bays in the area where I suggested to Mark they had spawned weeks earlier. “Bud”, I said, “this musky cabbage, those bays, and the deep water near us tells me we need to start here.”

I tied on a double showgirl and he began casting a glider. “Man, this looks good. If something sees it, she’s got to hit,” he said after the second cast, as he saw how his glider swept and swirled below. We were concentrating and not talking those first 10 minutes of our season. Had one hit, I thought, we’d have a good chance.

About 40 minutes later we’d covered 80 percent of the spot with no action. I picked up another rod and threw out a virgin Topraider. I told Mark that if the water is in the mid-60’s we should get them on top. We fish topwater down into the 50’s in the fall. On the second cast a 28’” pike hammered it. Mark then switched to his favorite jackpot from last season and began ‘dogging’ it.

“MUSKY! SETTHE HOOK!”

After about an hour and a half, we began to settle ourselves, and remember that musky fishing can be lots of casting with no action. Focus is the key, as this story will now remind us all. As we approached the last island Mark made another beauty of a cast that brought the topwater between some surface weeds in about 8 feet of water. Twenty feet from the boat he stopped the lure. He took the rod out of his left hand and started to flex his arm. “My arm is getting sore already” was all he said. The sun was behind me and I could see his Jackpot sitting right next to this clump of weeds. Just as he said those words I saw a 45″ class ‘ski rise up, open its mouth, grab that bait, turn and dive. I yelled, “MUSKY! SET THE HOOK!”

In the time it took him to move the rod back to his left hand, grab the reel and pull back, that wise fish must have said to itself, “what is this woody thing?” because the lure popped back to the surface and he just buried it into the weeds as he yanked back hard. Now understand, I watched this fish rise, open its mouth, bite down and dive with the bait in its mouth. The fish was lost because he stopped thinking about his cast. He broke concentration. He interrupted his cast to massage his arm. That fish was catchable. It was his for the taking.

After that I began to notice how often I’d stop paying attention during a retrieve to look down at the trolling motor and adjust my direction or speed. I began to notice how often I let myself get distracted during the retrieve to look around, or how often I let go of the reel handle to reach for coffee or water. It happened a lot. That fish I saw him miss caused me to reflect on this.

So my message is this, fellow anglers. As a kind reminder, rub your sore arm between casts. Hit the juice on the trolling motor before that next cast. Do not look down and hit that switch during the retrieve. Take a drink of water after you finish the figure 8. But do not break concentration during a retrieve. We talked about this over steaks and a beverage that night. The second day we reminded each other. The results were better a 30″er, and a 45”er that got off after some tremendous head shakes and acrobatics.

Musky fishing is a game of patience with huge payoffs at unexpected times. Make sure to complete each cast with devotion and concentrate throughout. And the next time you see that big girl come out to eat or your buddy says, “Musky! Set the hook!” you will be one step ahead of him and will be able to say, “Fish on!”

Speed for Musky Fishing

By Jeff Gardner
Originally published in the Release Journal July / August 2011

As my bucktail hit the water the blades started spinning immediately on entry, and two seconds later a long green shadow shot out of a weed pocket from my left, covering the twenty feet to my lure in the blink of an eye. She lined it up….and bailed out with only inches to go.

…I guarantee you can’t reel (or troll) too fast for a Musky to chase down your lure.

What happened? Well, I’m convinced that it was simply moving too slow. Prey flees for its life when being chased, and I believe the fact that my lure didn’t speed up further when the musky went to attack mode sent it a signal that something wasn’t right.

When it comes to casting, no matter what reel you are using or how fast you crank, I guarantee you can’t reel (or troll) too fast for a Musky to chase down your lure. Most of us have seen fish easily cover 20′ in one second; that works out to 13.6mph, and there is speculation based on observation that they are explosively capable of up to three or five times that speed.

So, does this mean to stop fishing slow altogether? No, not at all. In fact, there are times when fishing slower can be the ticket. The key lies in identifying when to apply what speed.  This comes down to knowing whether you are fishing for reaction strikes from neutral or opportunistic muskies, food seeking/hunting strikes, or reaction  strikes from negative muskies.

Reaction Strikes The Case for High Speed

The time a fish spends feeding represents a small fraction of each day. So, the vast majority of the time, it isn’t likely that we’re fishing for a musky that is actively seeking bait/food. However, the saving grace – and the point that allows an angler to capitalize – is that they are opportunistic feeders.  In other words, Mrs. Musky might be just resting next to a nice little patch of cabbage, or on top of a warm boulder, but if something zips by and looks like it’s struggling, fleeing, or dying, she can make a split second decision to rocket out and chomp it, or let it pass by.

To catch a musky in this neutral mood, you have to make it flip the switch. Bring a lure past at low speed, or with too rhythmic a cadence, and she’s apt to either let it go by, or give a halfhearted lazy follow.  When fish are on structure and in this kind of mood, it’s hard to beat a burned inline spinner (traditionally called a bucktail, but these days most often made from other materials). This technique literally gives the fish only a split second to react ‘fleeing food…eat it!’

Now, if you are built like a gorilla and have all the stamina in the world, you can high speed burn double 10’s Colorado blades, such as the Double Cowgirl. It takes a lot of work to crank up the speed on them; they just thump/pull so hard. If you’re going to do this for any length of time, I would highly recommend inlines with single or double #8 blades, in french or indiana, or willowleaf varieties.

Another group of lures that gets the nod for high speed are glider jerkbaits. In this  application, the approach is not taptap-pause, tap-tap-pause. Instead, the lure needs to be ‘quick hopped’ back to the boat; in other words, twitching and snapping while reeling as fast as you can the entire time.  This brings the erratic into the equation. Here the fish gets one or two seconds to react ‘injured/dying food…eat it!’   Both torpedo shaped (e.g. Reef Hawg) and flat sided (e.g. Phantom or Hellhound) gliders can be worked in this fashion.

Finally, tail spinning prop topwaters like the Topraider bring surface commotion into the mix, and can be worked at a fairly fast clip to trigger strikes.

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A selection of high speed baits. Counter-clockwise from top left – Reef Hawg, Soft Tail Phantom, fluted french bladed inline, colorado bladed inline, double fluted french bladed inline, and double willowleaf bladed inline.

 Food Seeking/Hunting Strikes

It’s pretty difficult to say with any kind of certainty when exactly a feeding event is going to take place, or when a window will open. However, there are a couple of queues that can be taken while on the water, as well as events that can be planned around ahead of time.

When it comes to planning ahead of time, I always consider the major and minor periods of every day to be a feeding window sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset. These are the prime times to be on the best spot you know, or where you’ve seen the biggest fish.  When it comes to queues on the water, there are two key indicators to feeding activity a change in weather, and sighting of fish.

Weather can be a complex subject, but suffice to say that change is good. A storm rolling in is best, and wind picking up or changing direction to the southerly and/or westerly side of the compass is very good. The wind dying after a northerly or easterly blow can also be a positive change.

Seeing follows can be simultaneously exciting and frustrating. However, learning to read the attitude of the fish can lead to improved success. Watch for signs to see whether the fish is on the hunt for food. If the distance to your lure doesn’t change, or the mouth or gills aren’t discernibly moving, the fish is messing with you. Well, ok, let’s not give them that much credit. Perhaps the mood is curiosity (if they are capable of that), or perhaps it’s just escorting an unwelcome guest (your lure) off its  spot/home.

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A selection of high speed baits. Counter-clockwise from top left – Reef Hawg, Soft Tail Phantom, fluted french bladed inline, colorado bladed inline, double fluted french bladed inline, and double willowleaf bladed inline.

If the fish closes the distance to the lure, gills flaring, mouth open, consider it an eater. If you don’t get it to go on the figure 8, or on a back cast, now is the time to hang a lure in its face for long enough that it can zero in and gobble it up.  When speed fails in these situations, it’s time to break out the slow movers. My favourites are slow moving wobbler style topwaters, or slowing a prop tail topwater down to where it just rotates the blade with a deep plopping sound. The imitation of a slow moving, dying baitfish on the surface is just too much to resist for a musky that is actively seeking food.

If you’re senses tell you that the surface is not the place to go, it’s also hard to beat a dive and rise jerkbait like a weighted Suick, which offers the best of erratic/dying imitation and the hang time to let the fish line it up to t-bone for an easy meal.

 Negative Moods – The Middle Ground in Speed

So what about when they are just plain in a funk, sitting on the edge or just off structure, with not even the slightest notion in their mind about food?  We’re talking bluebird, cloudless days; blistering hot, or drastically cooler, than the previous  days. On days like this, I prefer to fish solely at first light and last light if I’m on a vacation trip. If I have to get out during the daytime, there are two approaches I’ve found to work in these situations.  The first is going erratic, and the other is getting right in their face. Both approaches basically come down to pissing a fish off to provoke a strike not out of hunger or opportunity to eat, but out of downright aggression.

On the erratic side, my weapon of choice is a 10” Jake. The technique involves twitching the lure very hard two or three times, with slack given in between in each twitch, followed by a pause. What I’m trying to do is get the lure going hard and fast from side to side, but not coming back toward the boat more than a foot with each twitch. From a mental/visualization perspective, try to twitch it in place.  You’re aiming to get a reaction strike, but are giving the fish time to make up their mind.

The other technique is bringing a spinnerbait right past their face. Sometimes this means grinding it through weeds, sometimes slow rolling across the tops of rock, and sometimes halfway between surface and bottom.

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Rad Dog spinnerbait, and 10” Jake. Bluebird day savers.

This is a  ‘hit it-or get out of the way’ approach; think about someone putting a finger in your face you either defensively move out of the way, or you act to get it out of your face.

Double #10s & #12s:

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You’ll notice there hasn’t been much talk here about the ‘magical’ double #10 and #12 colorado bladed inlines. Without a doubt, they catch fish under a very wide variety of situations. For me, there’s two applications in which they shine. The first is using it as a search bait; there’s probably nothing that will cover water better and show you where fish are.

The second is as a first attempt at a known big fish. I’ll give such a fish a chance to smoke a big double bucktail first, and then move on to a slow mover if it fails.

Final Thoughts:

My parting advice is to also consider mixing up speed within a given cast. A burst of speed or a pause can be just the thing that gets a fish that was eyeing your lure to commit.  A speed burst puffs the skirt material of an inline, or sputters water forward on a topwater, signaling a musky that it’s trying to get away. A pause of a slow moving topwater or big minnowbait signals that injured prey is on its last legs, and makes for an even easier meal.  The next time you’re out there don’t just think about what is he right lure or the right spot to fish. Think about the best speed to fish as well.