I am sure many of you starting to read this have a soft spot for tossing topwater lures. Be it bluegill, bass or something with far bigger teeth, the end result when a fish strikes is very visual and very exciting. When anglers think of topwater, most minds are directed towards largemouth and smallmouth bass. That explosion of predatory instinct is second-to-none which is why fishing surface lures is so popular. But, have any of you had a muskie crush a surface lure before? Those who have can probably guess what I am about to describe taking place.
Topwater lures work for muskies because as stated being necessary, they cover a lot of water and can be fished with relative ease by anglers new to the sport. When muskies pull up in dense weed beds the baits fish over top effortlessly where other subsurface lures constantly foul. Some make a lot of commotion to attract the attention of fish from a distance and also make for an excellent option while night fishing, something a lot of anglers do not realize is very, very effective for these fish. A lot of other factors are in play such as the solar/lunar cycle so let’s scratch the surface, so to speak, and explore some options that Iowa anglers can put to good use!
Just like a lot of other species, muskies tend to turn on their feeding a little when an approaching front is on its way. Some of the best days for topwater are when its overcast and the wind is blowing out of the southwest. If you don’t have the wind, cloudy skies still prevail. The absence of bright sunlight takes some of their shy nature away when chasing a lure at the surface.
On sunny days it pays to hit the moon or sun right, (which we will discuss shortly) and also focus efforts around low light or dark periods. Not all muskies are created equal so if you are on the water it pays to keep the hardware flying. The fish of a thousand casts may be on that next cast. When the sun is out you will often find fish a little deeper or suspended over deeper weeds and rock. Don’t knock the topwater in this situation because a hungry or curious muskie can and often will pull off structure as deep as 15 feet to investigate a potential meal.
Ask any hard-core muskie angler and they will tell you that solar/lunar activity is something they hold in high regard. Take for example a fish you may have had follow that simply disappeared back into the depths without so much as a bump on the lure. Come back to that same area when the sun is setting/rising or the moon is setting/rising and that same fish might absolutely crush your bait without hesitation.
There have been a lot of studies done by anglers who keep in-depth diaries of exactly when and where they catch muskies and the corresponding weather and solar/lunar periods associated. What has been revealed is that some of their biggest catches fall around key periods. I’ve done a little reading and a lot of talking to muskie anglers and the general consensus is following the sun rise/set and moon rise/set with determination to key in on big fish. It’s pretty universal for anglers to capitalize on many species of fish in the morning or at dusk but following the moon can be a little trickier, especially on overcast days. Those hour or so time slots around sun rise/set or moon rise/set are definitely something to consider.
Muskies have very good night vision and often feed readily after the sun goes down. If you find yourself seeing follows and reeling up nothing but water, try switching to fishing after dark, even if it’s only for a few hours, especially when the moon is coming up. You will also notice a change in behavior as fish that did nothing but follow seem a little more aggressive likely due to the fact that they can’t see quite as well and the activity on the lake will most certainly be less allowing for reduced pressure and negative influence.
Muskies at night tend to roam a little too and patrol the outer reaches of their territory. Do not discount sandy beaches or rocky shorelines as fish often hunt these areas for prey who are less aware in the dark. Fishing over the tops of green weed beds and around the tips of weedy or rocky points is a classic pattern for night fishing. Weedy humps or flats out in the lake can be equally as good.
A few other things to consider when fishing topwater baits at night would be presentation and lure color. One might assume that a light colored bait would be easier for a muskie to identify. The exact opposite is true in fact especially when the skies are clear. A dark colored bait against a moonlit surface makes a silhouette that is easier for a predator to pick out. The same goes for bass too if you find yourself chasing nighttime largemouth. Presentation is also important and a slow methodical retrieve will offer a lot more strikes. The fish need a little more of an opportunity to line up their target in darkness.
Lure Styles and Water Clarity
Browse any topwater bait section for muskies at an outdoor store and you will likely be overwhelmed at the selection and price to fill a tackle box. Some of you may already have a good selection but some may not. If you are looking to start this adventure fresh then don’t sweat, a few key baits will get you well on your way to suit most scenarios.
Stick baits are one option and work well in water with good clarity. They resemble an oversized Zara Spook and are fished in the same walk-the-dog action. They do not produce a lot of surface commotion compared to other styles and work really well for coaxing fish out from shallower cover in clearer water.
Prop baits work well in dirtier water and especially at night when a little more “noise” is needed to call fish out from ambush. They also work well in windy conditions and over deeper water due to the noise generated and are a great all-around lure style to fish with. They can be fished slow or fast to cater to a variety of situations.
Buzzbaits also work well and offer a good option when fishing over heavy weeds or looking to cover a lot of water. Their semi-weedless nature also allows the angler to fish in cover such as pencil reeds and woody debris. Lakes such as Brushy Creek or Three Mile would be prime examples. They can also be fished with some success at night but tend to run a little fast to stay on the surface so pick one with big blades that allows for a slower retrieve if doing so.
There are many other styles of surface lures than what I described but these will capture a wide swath of what works for most settings. Color is also something to consider so talk to a local bait shop, browse the web or simply experiment on your own. Topwater fishing for muskies can bring sore arms from hours of casting but the reward when a big fish smashes your bait takes all of that pain away right then and there. Focus on the solar/lunar periods of rising and setting, pay attention to weather and cover a lot of water. Good luck chasing big teeth!