By Tracy Crail
The summer months bring with them a wide range of musky activity.
There are many factors that dictate their feeding levels. Learning to identify them and maximizing your chances will put more fish in your boat. I have 5 key topics that I rely on in the summer months that put fish in my boat on a regular basis.
Muskies hit peak feeding in the summer when the water temperature gets to 70 degrees for the first time of the year and then stops and holds in the mid 70’s. This is known as the summer peak. It can last as short as a few days to as long as a few weeks.
During that period you can have multi fish days and many follows as the fish will be very active. I have found that I rely on bucktails the majority of the time mainly because I can fish them fast and cover more water looking for active fish. This is not the time to sit and target that one big fish in a specific area. Come back to the area at different times throughout the day and give that fish periodic breaks as you cover different water for different muskies. The key here is to cover water and optimize your chances at hooking an actively feeding fish.
Once the water temperatures stabilize in the mid 70’s the summer peak ends and we enter a period many call the dog days of summer. This period usually last much longer than the summer peak. While muskies still actively feed the bite is not as consistent as earlier.
However, if the water continues to increase into the 80’s muskies stress and exertion from being caught can be fatal. They may even swim away, appearing to be just fine, but can die due to delayed mortality from lactic acid build up. I recommend waiting for low light periods or at night when temperatures can get under 80. The upside to fishing at low light or in the dark is that the action can be excellent during those periods because that is the only time muskies can comfortably feed in the upper water columns.
Boating pressure during the summer can drive a musky fisherman crazy. Jet skies, large speed boats, pontoon boaters and even kayaks can make a musky outing difficult to say the least. Heavy recreational pressure can be overcome though by fishing early in the mornings or later in the evenings and letting them have the lake in the peak sun periods.
I also take advantage of cloudy drizzly days when it doesn’t favor the boaters. Night time fishing in the summer can be awesome as stated earlier. During these hours I like to use only a couple different lures. A big bladed bucktail such as a cowgirl fished slowly will give off lots of vibration. The lateral line of a musky can zero in on this vibration and this factor alone has put many large muskies in my boat over the years. I also like to use a slow moving noisy topwater bait during those really calm nights such as a topraider or a creeper but be ready, the surprise explosion of a musky taking a topwater bait at night is not for the faint of heart.
Contrary to what you may believe, darker colors are actually better for nighttime fishing. Colors such as black, purple and deep reds will and often do out-produce lighter, brightly colored baits. Muskies in fact have decent nocturnal vision and these dark baits, especially surface baits, silhouette much more effectively when a musky sees them from below.
Angling pressure is a very real factor and how you deal with it can make a big difference in the amount of muskies caught. If your lake is getting fished hard I suggest trying to get out before the others and be on the best spots first.
I am normally out before daylight and hit as many key areas as I can before the others are out. Also consider where everyone is fishing if you happen to know.
Examples are such as a weedline; if everyone is just fishing the outside edge and not getting any results, move up on top of the weeds or move to the inside weedline. Once these fish get a lot of angling pressure they will many times move deeper in the weedbed. Docks also hold muskies as they offer shade during bright, sunny days and also concentrate forage species such as bass and bluegill that muskies feed on. If everyone is fishing the ends of them I will work them over thoroughly and many times get fish that were tucked way up on the back side of them. Baits designed for bass such as large Texas rigged creature baits that can be flipped and pitched up under the docks can also be a deadly maneuver.
If fish are not being caught I will also change up my lure selection depending on what other anglers are using. If bucktails are the dominant bait being used I will switch to a slow rolled spinnerbait or a big plastic bait like a bulldog or tube bait. I will also burn a smaller bucktail and try to get a reaction bite. Don’t stick with what the crowds are using if fish are not being caught. Sometimes the one that is different is the one that will get bit.
Weather can be a big factor on catching a single fish on a very tough day or putting several in the boat on that perfect day.
Cold fronts during the summer can be as bad as jet skies buzzing you all day. When I encounter these fronts I change my routine up. Instead of throwing large bladed bucktails I will downsize to smaller blades that produce a more subtle action and vibration. I will not move as fast either. I will get in key fish holding areas and pick the area apart and be patient waiting for that one bite.
Rubber baits such as bulldogs, meddusas or tube baits are also very good choices during these fronts, moving them slow and getting your baits deeper.
The perfect days are when the weather has been stable for several days at a time and a storm is coming in later while the barometer is falling. The muskies normally turn on when this weather pattern occurs and this is a great time for a trophy fish. This IS the time to be on your very best spot and NOT the time to be out exploring new areas. Take advantage of this situation before the storm hits. Just make sure to be safe and don’t take any chances that will put you in danger of an approaching storm.
If you keep track of when the moon rises and sets during the day more times than not you will notice fish activity during these periods.
If it means staying out on a slow day for a major period try to talk yourself into it. Many times it will be the feeding window you were looking for. The fishermen that are aware of these periods fish them religiously for a reason.
Full moons and new moons are also big fish periods. There have been studies done on when world and state record fish have been caught and many of these fish have been caught three days before or up to three days after these moon periods. I have had great luck fishing muskies on full moon nights especially when the weather is clear and moon is bright. During the daylight period of a full moon the action is slow and uneventful in most cases.
The new moon has been much better for me during daylight fishing. The new moon at night can be good also but it can be very difficult to see your bait and retrieve in the pitch dark. It is also virtually impossible to see a follow without the moon casting a faint light into the water. A GPS system is almost a must at night to aid in navigation and locate waypoints, depth breaks and structure in the dark.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Summer time musky fishing can be a great time period if you put the odds in your favor. By recognizing the weather patterns, moon phases and water temperatures and being on the water at the right times you will increase your success.
Avoiding the boating and angling pressures will also make your time on the water more enjoyable. Musky fishing is a series of tough choices. By picking the right choices you may catch the trophy of your life!
Tracy Crail guides for muskies on Iowa muskie lakes on a part time basis and can be reached at 1-712-579-0031