As Spring heads towards Summer muskie seasons across the Midwest and Canada are opening or already underway. These predators have a reputation for being tough to catch, and early season adds challenges for the average angler. Let’s break things down!
Location and Technique
Spawn: As the ice melts and water temps quickly rise to the low 50s, muskies move into the shallows to spawn. The preferred substrate is dead vegetation, but at times we’ve seen muskies spawning on rock and sand bars. The fish pair up make and female and broadcast spawn, muskies do not create nests like many other fish. Sometimes there will be as many as 3 males on each female.
The spawn lasts for a few days, and with the range of waterbody sizes and depths, can cover a few weeks across the range. Muskies don’t hit when spawning very well and should be left to complete the cycle without any pressure anyway.
Post Spawn: Look for classic spawning areas in the backs of the bays and along weedy shorelines. Focus on the shallow edges in these areas first, using smaller lures. The general belief is the need to ‘match the hatch’ in the Spring, but that’s not true. The reason we use smaller baits early is the fish are shallow, and lures that don’t sink fast and are easy to control in the shallows stay up in the strike zone more effectively. The males will be the most active early, and then the larger females as they get rested up from the spawn. Spinnerbaits, inline spinners, crankbaits, and twitch baits can be very effective.
It’s also effective to choose a surface bait in the Spring. The adage to look for ducks hatching is not accurate; muskies will take a surface bait right after the spawn all the way to ice up.
As the water warms into the 60s the fish will move out to the weeds and rock edges, and larger lures like bucktails, jointed crankbaits, jerk baits, and larger topwaters will start putting more muskies in the net. Concentrate on the flats and breaklines associated with spawning areas and move out along the breaklines and structural elements as the Spring progresses.
Matching the rod and reel to the line and lure is critical. Medium heavy high quality Tackle Industries rods in the 7′ to 8′ range are perfect for pitching 1 to 4 ounce smaller lures early. The 8′ and longer heavy, extra heavy, and heavier actioned models are designed for the larger, heavier lures thrown more in Summer to Autumn. Make sure you have a reel mounted to the rod that meets your needs, spooled with 60# to 65# superline for the smaller lures of Spring. Leaders in the 100# up in steel or fluorocarbon will work just fine.
Make sure you have the proper release tools. A quality hook cutter, moth spreaders heavy enough for muskies, long needle nose pliers, and a hook remover should be at the ready. It’s important to release every muskie as quickly as is possible. Unhook the fish in the net, hoist it for a picture supporting the entire length of the fish, and release to catch that muskie again!