They’re Everywhere…

They’re Everywhere

By: Craig Sandell © 2012

A Touch of FallThe changing color of the trees heralds the impending end of Muskie season and the start of the long wait for next year.

I was able to steal a long weekend on the Chippewa Flowage from the 24th to the 28th of September. I had every expectation of seeing a Muskie or two even though the time was short because of the time of year. As we who fish for Muskie know, the Muskie tend to put on the feed bag late in the season just after the water turns over; but it is always a good idea to revisit the mechanics of this phenomena. If you have read my article on Understanding Turnover, you know that turnover is the homogenization of the water into a single temperature up and down the water column. When this happens, the dissolved oxygen is also evenly distributed. What this means to fish movement is not always obvious, so it bears elaboration.

As we know from the recent study participated in by my good friends John Dettloff and Scott Allen, Muskie, at least on the Chippewa Flowage, tend to spend most of their time in deep water and, only occasionally move shallow. Once the water turns over, the reason for fish to stay in deep water, assuming it is temperature and/or forage related, disappears. Now, Muskie could be anywhere and probably are solely focused on location based upon available forage. More so than any other time of the year, forage will dictate the presence of Muskie.

With that in mind, and after verifying that the lake had turned over, the hunt for this little 3 day excursion took on a new tactical approach. The location and concentration of the forage fish became extremely important.

Combined with the turn over, was the gradual dropping of the water level on the Chippewa Flowage. This accelerated the mild current that moves the ‘flotsam and jettison’ upon which forage fish feed through the ‘neck down’ areas. It soon became obvious that this was the key to an emerging pattern of Muskie location. Along with John Dettloff, we consulted our maps of the water to determine the likely areas that would be ‘high percentage’ given this fall pattern.

On Saturday evening, John and I set off for one of these spots and put our attack plan into action. With a pattern like this, one never knows where the fish are likely to reside on a piece of structure so the method of area coverage also became very important. Our approach was, given the structure we were fishing, to accomplish multiple drifts of the area in overlapping patterns. We reasoned that this would allow us to cover the area efficiently and fish it clean.

SunsetLure selection was another variable to the Muskie equation. We looked at the recent catches and recognized that early evening success was vested in the use of jerk baits. John and I loaded our rods with a Bobbie and Striker, respectively, and began to systematically execute the plan of attack.

The evening shadows announced the setting of the sun as we made our 3rd drift of the area. As John and I discussed the events of the day and the ‘general meaning of life’ (the way most Muskie anglers do when fishing methodically), a Muskie came up behind my Striker and timidly embraced the rear treble hook in his mouth. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of him until I executed the next Jerk of my lure. The Muskie swirled on the water, and feeling the hook began to run in an attempt to free himself. I was busy fighting the fish and only got a glimpse of the fish’s head and neck area, however, John saw the whole animal and, recognizing that it was in the 25 pound class, encouraged me to go to free spool and thumb the line. About that time, this beast rose by the side of the boat, turned his head away from the boat and straightened the treble hook.

Surely, I was disappointed that this fine Muskie won the fight, but the action did confirm the soundness of the attack plan. We set up another drift and began to work the area again. This was the 4th drift of the area and about three quarters of the way through, John’s Bobbie was struck by a small Muskie. Recognizing that it was undersized, John shook the rod and executed a "fish friendly" release. That was the end of our adventure for that evening. We did another couple of drifts to no avail.

On Sunday,  I got a late start on the water. It was already past sunset when I arrived on our spot for the evening. Once again, lure selection was an important part of the Muskie equation. Even though the water had turned over, surface lures were still effective after sunset. I loaded my rod with a creeper and began a drifting pattern over a shallow shelf area. On our first drift, a Muskie swirl up behind the lure, reinforcing my confidence in the attack plan. I finished up the first drift and set up for our second drift. This drift did not yield anything, however, still confident in the approach and in the area, I set up for the third drift.

Just as transitioning from 6 feet onto a 3 foot stump shelf, my creeper abruptly stopped plopping its way through the water as the result of an aggressive clobbering 38 Inch Spet. Muskiefrom a Muskie. I pulled back on the rod to set the hook and began to reel in to keep a tight line. As the fish came close to the boat, it was illuminated by my head lamp and I could see that it was a very respectable fish. He tugged at the line in an attempt to shake the hook, but without success. I lead him around the front of the boat and finally positioned him toward the waiting net. Bit-a-Bing, Bit-a Bang, Bit-a-Boom, he was in the net and the growl of success vibrated the vocal chords of a very excited angler.

The work was accomplished to free the Muskie from the lure. Muskie in hand, it measured out at 38 inches. A picture or two and the Muskie was back in the 61 degree water and on his way.

I did a couple more drifts of the area, but the adventure was over for the evening. I returned to Indian Trail Resort to register the fish and institute a ritual celebration of buying the bar a round of root beer Schopps. This was, for me, my last Muskie adventure on the Chippewa Flowage for the season. It was certainly a pleasure to share it with friends and confirm a few new variables to the equation that is Muskie fishing. No matter how much you fish for Muskie, there is always something more to learn.