Sleep in, and don't skip the figure 8!
DNR — Jordan Weeks has been fishing muskellunge in Wisconsin for a quarter-century and working in fisheries management for the state since 1999. Based in La Crosse, he shares his secrets to success in landing the state's official fish as anglers ready for the Saturday, May 26, opening of the northern musky zone.
Get ready for the chase
"Spring has finally arrived and soon catching muskellunge will be on the minds of Northern Wisconsin anglers. The northern zone season opens on Saturday, May 26, this year and fishing should be good!
Wisconsin is home to superb and diverse musky fishing opportunities. There are more than 600 lakes and countless rivers and flowages that hold the toothy predators. Whether from shore, boat, canoe or other craft, there are fish to be had.
The famed "fish of 10,000 casts doesn't have to be a reality if you follow a few tips.
Water temperature drives fish activity
Each spring when water temperatures reach 55 degrees muskies spawn. In the northern zone, this usually happens well before the season is open. This year, however, is a bit different. Late ice out and cooler than normal weather this spring have delayed the spawning time for muskellunge. Muskies tend to spawn in shallow warm water over varying bottom types. After they have finished with the annual spawning ritual, these fish quickly begin to feed. This is a great time to be chasing them.
Step 1: Find the warmest water in the lake. If vegetation in these areas is beginning to grow and green up, you have found a winner. If the lake you fish has little vegetation, no worry, look in shallow bays and south facing shorelines, which tend to warm quickest in the spring. Bays tend to be great locations to find muskies in the spring as are large weedy flats adjacent to those bays. Dams tend to congregate fish at this time of year as well. However, make sure to keep safety in mind when fishing these areas.
Step 2: Assess the day. If the weather has been consistently warm and stays that way, fish fast. Covering water quickly with a small bucktail, soft plastic, or minnow bait can yield favorable results. If the water is over 55 you can even try top-water. If the weather turns bad and is cold you may need to slow your approach and use more deliberate lures like gliders, jerk baits and soft plastics.
Step 3: Repeat. If you catch a fish or get a follow, try to repeat the success. Muskies (contrary to popular belief) are not loners. Often many fish will be using the same area. When you find an active fish, chances are there will be more of them around. It is very important to do a figure 8 on every cast. Following fish can be convinced to bite with a well-executed figure 8! Do one every cast!
In spring, warmth is a musky angler's best friend. As water temperatures increase, the fish activity level increases. Fishing during the warmest part of the day can be very productive. No need to get up bright and early. The second half of the day tends to be the most productive for me.
If you choose to chase muskies, make sure you have the appropriate gear. At a minimum, have heavy bass gear. Ideally though, traditional musky rods in heavy actions are desired. Reels should be robust and line should be at least 65-pound test to handle the fish and throw the large lures effectively. Tied to the terminal end of the line should be a high-quality steel or fluorocarbon leader.
The easiest way to successfully land a musky is to use a large net. Make sure to leave the fish in the water once collected in that net. It keeps the fish from being injured during hook extraction. No one wants a hook-filled muskellunge flopping around the bottom of the boat! Speaking of unhooking a giant toothy fish...you'll need some plyers to help you dislodge the hooks from the jaw (long-handled needle-nose is best). I also use gloves to protect my hands during this process; any thin glove will do.
When conditions are good and I am fishing fast, I like buck tails, angry dragons, shallow toads, and minnow baits. The only top-water I throw early is a Dr. Evil. If fish are sluggish and slow, I use 6-inch rubber-tailed gliders and weighted jerk baits.
Follow these guidelines and the fish of 10,000 casts can be a reality, quicker than you think!
Where to go
While many musky anglers have their go-to waters, DNR's musky forecast in the 2018 Wisconsin Fishing Report [PDF] can point anglers to good waters to try.
The Wisconsin Muskellunge Waters [PDF] list of musky waters can also help anglers cast a wider net. Find information on location, access and classification according to angling