Midsummer is the best of both the musky fishing and numbers worlds. Fall is the trophy hunt while early summer is for the numbers. Steve Heiting should know that this is what he believes. Former editor of Musky Hunt magazine, Heiting now earns his living as a musky guide and seminar speaker. He also hosts annual University of Esox events in Wisconsin and Canada. Heiting said that Midsummer is “really kind of the perfect thunderstorm.” The water temperatures are high, which means that fish metabolism is high. All fish, young and old, are enjoying the best food they have ever had, whether it’s a large female or a male. They’re also aggressively hitting the baits, which is a great thing.
You need to get out there. These muskies are still muskies and won’t eat as much or as enthusiastically as bluegills. However, if a 40-inch fish smacks your lure, it will be a memory that you will cherish for the rest of the season. How do you make this happen? Follow Heiting’s six top tips for boating with midsummer muskies.
1. Follow the baitfish.
Summer muskies focus on feeding and the best fishermen seek to imitate the baitfish that summer muskies consider their dinner. Heiting states that midsummer is when baitfish such as whitefish, crappie and bluegills are suspended at different water depths. Muskies will follow the schools of fish that aren’t always related to structure or cover. They are more concerned with water temperature than they are at other times of the year. It can be strange to fish in 50 feet of water with no weedbeds or other cover, but this is where you will find fish. Remember that muskys will chase after any bait that grabs their attention when they are hungry. You might have your bait at 5 feet and he is hanging in the water for 15 feet. But if you push his tail hard enough, he will be on your bait in no time.
Lakes with low summer temperatures are the exception to this rule. “Some Canadian and northern lakes where we fish can reach 76 degrees which is quite cool for summer. You will need to be aware that baitfish may be found in shallower waters, which can relate to rocks, weeds and islands. If you have an electronic, use it’s side-imaging to track baitfish. The muskies will be close by.
2. For more muskies, keep your eyes on the moon.
Musky anglers share some similarities with deer hunters (not by accident, Heiting is a dedicated whitetail nut), but the most common thing is following the moon. Heiting states that the best times to catch a bite are when the moon rises and sets, as well as when it is directly overhead or below your feet. I keep track of all this using two apps on my smartphone: iSolunar costs $4.95 and tracks moon, other factors and gives me clues to best times to be on water. The Musky Hunter TV App does the same job, but it’s free.
Heiting emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the basics. Heiting says that muskies, just like deer, are crepuscular so dawn and dusk should always be prime time. Barometric pressure is also important to them. A moving barometer, especially one falling, is always a good sign. A rising barometer indicates that a front has passed and the bite will end soon. Remember that muskies live in their environment. They will bite more if the conditions are favorable, but less if they are under pressure.
3. The Best Summer Muskie Baits
Heiting is open to trying different lures depending on the conditions. However, he has four main lures that he relies on more than any other during summer. He says that the Double Cowgirl lure is his closest to magic musky baits in the past 40 years. “The vibrating twin blades and wiggling flashabou work together to trigger aggressive strikes.” He uses the Mepps Double Blade Musky Flashabou as his secret weapon when bucktail fishing is good. I fish it quickly, with short casts and fast retrieves to cover a lot water. This lure is great to fish with a partner that’s throwing a Double Cowgirl. If he doesn’t get a follow, throw the Mepps at the same fish with the Cowgirl. The Joe Bucher Outdoors Top Rider is synonymous summer muskie fishing. It’s been copied by 20 lure manufacturers, but the original Top Raider remains my favorite. The rear tail hook will catch a fish that is just grabbing the bait. It’s a great lure to fish with a Bucktail.” Heiting also recommends Muskie Innovations Swimmin’ Dawg as a bait for suspended fish that are feeding on ciscoes. It is only 2 to 3 feet from the surface. The lure can be seen by a muskie even if he is a little deeper.
4. Learn how to manage pressure.
Fishing on isolated lakes is not an option, as human activity, such as other fishermen, boaters and jet skiers, can have an impact on where and when muskies bite. Heiting states, “Whenever I see excessive boat traffic I make it a point that I am on the water before dawn or earlier.” That eliminates any pressure from others. Similar to the above, I will go out for the sundown bit and continue fishing for 2 to 3 hours, depending on the weather and moon conditions.
Heiting states that it is always a good idea to fish in the wind. This is especially true when there are fishing pressures on muskies. If I fish into the wind and get followed, I just need to stop the trolling motor until the boat stabilizes for a while and then I can try again. If I fish with the wind at my back and get a follow it is more likely that the breeze is pushing me into the fish and my first cast will be spook.
5. Share the muskie fishing wealth.
Heiting said that besides spending time with other anglers, his University of Esox events have taught him the importance of trading intelligence. We share information throughout the whole experience. While we don’t want to share information about individual fish, we do discuss patterns and the lures that work. I have learned that talking with other fishermen and being open to having a conversation with them has helped me to find better lures and techniques, which has led to greater success wherever I fish.
Heiting’s experience as a guide has also shown that two people can boat more muskies together. You have twice the number of baits available, so you cover twice as much water than you would if you were alone. This allows you to try different retrieves and baits to find what works best. A second technique that you can do with two anglers is pitching a smaller version of the bait to a fish when he follows you. A lot of fish won’t take the initial lure. However, if you present a smaller version of the same bait, they will smash it. This is possible if you fish alone, but it’s much easier to do if there are two people.
6. Keep an eye out for the musky bite.
Heiting’s strategy revolves around paying attention to areas where large fish are caught and raised. The old myth that muskies were ‘territorial’ meant they could defend an area from other fish. This myth has been completely disproved. Although a large fish might be faithful to an area, it doesn’t necessarily mean that other muskies won’t be nearby. The muskies love the area, including the baitfish, structure, water temp and cover. A few years ago, I was able to catch 12 muskies from a single point. We caught at least one fish from that spot every night between dusk to 9:15 p.m.
Although not all musky hangouts will produce multi-fish action Heiting emphasizes the importance of paying attention to areas that produce fish, and returning to those areas. He says that telemetry studies have shown that some lakes can contain a home range of up to 400 acres for muskys. That’s a lot of water. However, the same studies show that fish may have preferred spots within this range as close as 100 yards. This is a lot easier to manage, and your success rates will soar if you find those areas. When the bite is strong, I fish fast and move quickly, exploring new territories and moving between areas I’m familiar with that hold fish. When the fishing is slow, my method involves slowing down and working those hotspots that I found during a hot bite.