Open Water Musky Trolling

with Jeremy Smith

Open Water Musky Trolling Video: Throughout the season, fish migrate and swim to different locations depending on the season. Jeremy Smith and Doug Wagner target the mighty musky using open water trolling tactics to intercept and catch these beasts.

Open Water Musky Trolling

I wonder what’s out there? A question anglers have always asked. We’ve known big fish roam vast open water areas, but how to target them has remained a mystery…until recently. The power of technology has turned mystery and the seemingly impossible into probable.

Though muskies and probable may seem a contradiction, what’s been discovered in the open water has proven to be one of the more consistent patterns for big fish seasonally. So how can this be? Muskies, a low-density fish roaming vast featureless expanses, be caught with consistency? Well, what’s out there may surprise you, and it’s not as daunting as you may think.

Let’s look at where we begin the search for open water muskies. First, begin with basin depth. Look at it like trying to find crappies in the winter. Begin by looking for the deepest water in any section of water. It might be a 30-foot hole surrounded by a 15-20 foot basin in some lakes. In other locations, it might be 80 or 90 feet of water surrounded by water in the mid-50s. From there, we look at break lines and bottom composition, just like we’re fishing traditional structure. Using the depth highlight feature is a very powerful tool to dial this in. When you find a depth that seems to be holding fish, light it up, and you’ll see features like sharp drops, points and turns you previously weren’t even looking for.

Just like fishing classic structures, target hard to soft bottom transitions, sharp breaks, points and turns. Though muskies, and even big pike and walleyes, may be suspended many feet above these areas, they’re good spots for a reason.

Fish in the basin are there for one reason: food. These transitions in the bottom are where a number of aquatic insects live as larvae, and early summer is when many of these species rise to the surface and “hatch” or undergo metamorphosis. Mayflies, the most well know, occupy a tremendous amount of biomass in many systems. When the “hatch” is on, fish of all species head to these areas to feast. The muskies aren’t out here targeting mayflies, but they are after smaller fish eating them. In many lakes, the big predators are after ciscos, but this same bite happens in shallower lakes that don’t have ciscos; perch and other smaller fish binge on these bugs too.

To really dial this in, it isn’t just about putting the boat in gear and driving over the middle of the lake; we follow contours and transition lines and will troll specific sections of those breaks repeatedly, just like we would when fishing shallower structure.

Lures—There are a number of presentations that work out here, but crankbaits dominate. Here’s a good reason why. The last time I talked to Doug, he had over 250 muskies in the boat, with 38 over 50-inches. Though he travels all over musky fishing, his base of operations is Green Bay. There, small baits out produce big baits. In fact, he says at times he may be running as many as 15 lines, and the fish get so keyed in on the Rapala Super Shad, he calls them “Stupid Shads” because it’s so effective it’s on every line. In many of the lakes where we are in Minnesota, it seems the bigger the bait, the more bites you get. A classic trolling lure for this is the Storm Flat Stick, but other bigger baits with wide, wondering wobbles seem to get most of the action.

Open Water Musky Trolling

But it’s not just crankbaits; bucktails will produce, and swimbaits and topwaters are also effective. We’ve had plenty of cases where muskies have actually hit the planner board, a major part of open water trolling success is not to fish too deep. Muskies are usually high in the water column and seem willing to travel 10, 15 feet or more vertically to hit a bait. Secondly and maybe most importantly, fishing baits too deep can result in difficult releases and even mortality. We rarely run our baits deeper that about 12’ down to prevent fish coming from deep water and experiencing barotrauma.

These insect larvae move vertically at low light periods, primarily dusk. When you’re out here at this time, pay attention to areas when you see the sonar screen begin to fill with clutter and slowly rise in the water column. This is what triggers the whole event.

Look for deep holes, breaks, bottom type, as well as points or turns. Look for food or signs of life.
Identify key depths you’re seeing signs of life. Both in terms of the overall depth and at what depth the fish are in the water.

Anglers often face a question: Are they not here, or are they not biting? We’ll if conditions seem right, the presentation you’re using has Electronics have helped to answer this question immensely. But if electronics tell us the fish aren’t here, then where are they.

Anglers have known for decades that fish use the seemingly featureless expanses of open water. How does one approach this daunting task with so much water and apparently nothing to hold fish? Well, the knowledge base is building, primarily due to the advancements in sonar technology.

Muskies are moody and often present in low density. who often have very narrow windows of activity. Musky are unquestionably one of North America’s unique game fish. In the big picture, musky are low-density top-end predators in the waters they swim. Today, most good musky lakes see a tremendous amount of intelligent fishing pressure.

Seasonally hard-core musky anglers run a number of very specific locational and presentation patterns.

In spring, shallow flat bays are key to catching musky early. Late spring throughout the summer, deep weeds are prime habitat to find musky. In many lakes, casting shallow rocks can be the ticket to musky success throughout the late summer period. The Late season cold water bite often revolves around ciscoes moving out of the deep-water basin to spawn.

Like all fish, asides from spring-spawning, the musky movement is dictated by one factor: food. Where’s the best food available to feed big fish. Sometimes the best place to catch gian musky is in the middle of nowhere.

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