Because most bodies of water don’t hold a large population of muskie, it can be quite a challenge to catch a muskie. The good muskie lakes may only have one muskie for every 5 to 10 acres of water, so don’t expect to go out and catch several muskie every time out. On some days, catching 1 fish would be a great day.
In most muskie lakes, there will be a variety of shoreline cover mixed in with some deep water in main part of the lake. Some of the bigger muskie prefer the deeper water, but you can also find muskie around shallow water cover. Muskie will be found along steep drop-offs, near weed lines, around wood and roaming in open water. Muskie prefer wood to other types of cover. Areas that have large fallen trees along a steep-sloping shoreline provide some of the best opportunities for muskie fishermen.
Most hard-core muskie anglers will fish very early in the morning, in the evening and even at night. The middle of the day doesn’t get as much attention, but muskie will definitely eat during the middle of the day even in the middle of the summer. For the most part, you will find more muskie in deeper water during the middle of the day than in the shallows. During low-light conditions, there will still be plenty of fish out in deeper water, but there are usually plenty of muskie looking for an easy meal around some type of shallow water cover. Muskie, unlike pike, are very catchable at night. Seeing a 40 to 50 inch muskie blow up on a topwater lure right next to your boat at night is one of the most exciting things you can experience when fishing in fresh water.
Muskie can be found in many rivers. Deep, slow-moving rivers are more adequate for muskie. You won’t find too many muskie in smaller rivers the way you will with northern pike so your best bet is to target muskies in rivers that offer a good combination of deep water, cover, structure and good numbers of bait fish to help sustain a healthy population of muskie.
While muskies will typically relate to the deeper stretches of the river, it is possible to catch them fairly shallow if there is a reason to be shallow. Muskie love hanging around wood and most rivers have more wood than an angler could fish in a lifetime. Try to pick out the areas that have deep water access close to the wood. Fallen trees are much more productive than smaller pieces of timber and brush. Muskie do like deeper water, but don’t be shocked if you find some muskie holding in only a few feet of water near some type of wood. Spillways and waterfalls will also attract muskies. You can find some big muskies ambushing bait fish in the tailwaters. Since most rivers have slightly stained water, big lures with lots of flash and vibration tend to work much better.
Muskie will relate to weeds the same way that northern pike use them. Weeds concentrate lots of smaller fish making them a prime area to cruise when muskies are looking to grab an easy meal. There are a variety of weeds that produce some big muskie. Broad-leaved species of cabbage will typically hold more fish, but the time of year and depths nearby will dictate what areas of weeds will be better for muskie. Cabbage beds in shallow bays will hold lots of fish during the spring and fall. Jerkbaits, spinners, spoons, shallow crankbaits and topwater lures will catch lots of muskie around the cabbage beds, especially during the spring. In the summer, these shallow cabbage beds will hold mostly smaller fish if any at all. Deep humps with cabbage will hold more muskie during the summer and through fall. Reeds, lily pads and other types of weeds will also hold muskie. As the water temperatures warm during the summer, most anglers fish deeper. Trolling, casting and fishing live bait can be effective. Areas that have weeds with access to deep water can be very productive. The deep side of the weedline will usually hold way more fish during the summer months.
Experienced muskie anglers know how much muskie like to relate to wood. Stumps, fallen trees, sunken logs, timber and brush are important types of cover and they can attract muskie in all types of water. Muskie will relate to wood in shallower water during the spring and fall, but as water temperatures warm up, you are going to find most muskie in deeper water. Steep drop-offs with fish cribs, brush piles or even stump fields are good places to target muskie in the summer.
During even a mild cold front, muskie fishing can become more challenging. After a severe cold front, you may be better off taking the day off from fishing. If you are determined to catch muskie after a cold front, slow down, fish deeper and downsize your lures. Some of the prime spots to fish after a cold front are deep weeds and in open water off of the deep drop-offs. Muskie will often suspend over deeper water after a cold front.
Some muskie anglers like to have a bait rod set up with a big sucker or chub when fishing after a cold front. You can drag it off the back of the boat while you are casting a lure to increase your chances of getting bit and you can also have a bait rod ready for when you get a follow up close to the boat. Following a cold front, you may get more bites by throwing a sucker line out immediately after a follow-up instead of trying the figure 8.