Avoiding Fall Blow-outs

Wind. I hear stories every year about giant muskies caught in a big wind. And I’ve boated several of these myself in such conditions. Sure the wind activates fish in some shallow situations, particularly in summer, but I am just not a fan of big winds, particularly in fall. By big winds, I’m talking about those at 20 to 30 mph or more. These are the winds that might cause 3- to 5-foot waves on big waters and may even cause 1-footers on smaller waters. In either case, they make fishing difficult, and most areas effected almost unfishable. Stronger winds not only make boat control more difficult and muddy previously clear water, but they can also make the conditions dangerous, especially when water splashed on a deck turns the floor to ice. The same is true for water splashing on the gunnels of the boat, windshield, etc.

Freezing temperatures and wind are a painful mix, as you have to be careful not to slip in the boat. Equipment malfunctions such as freezing reels or rod guides or rod tips are the norm in windier times. When trolling, splashing waves can cause trolling reels to seize. I remember one late fall, windy-day trolling where two of my rods froze in the rod holders. The ice was so thick I had to take a screwdriver and a hammer to chip away the ice. Fortunately, that day I didn’t get a strike on one of those rods!

And of course, we don’t want to think about what could happen if you fell into a lake in these cold air temperatures coupled with water temperatures in the 40s or colder. Regardless of what you have heard about wind turning on muskies, it’s important to put safety a little higher up the priority ladder in fall.

Can the wind activate muskies in shallow water in autumn?

Yes. However, if you can’t control the boat effectively in the big wind or the conditions result in your equipment malfunctioning, it’s not worth spending the time in these seasonal gusts. Remember, fall is a time of short feeding windows, which means you may fish for several hours with no action and then suddenly for 30 minutes you might get action from several muskies. Short feeding windows mean you have to spend more time fishing during the day than running between spots. You have to slow down your boat speed when casting a spot, and often, make more casts to the same area to trigger a response from a muskie. If you can’t control your boat on the windy spots you are essentially not fishing, or certainly not catching.

How do you handle these windy situations?

If you fish in this season long enough you are going to encounter these situations. Fishing smaller waters or even searching for river options can help. However, what if there is no other nearby lake to fish, or what if the lake you want to fish is big, holds giant muskies but it is frothed with whitecaps? What I do on those extreme weather days is look at the map and select areas of the lake that are slightly out of the wind, or even calm areas. This is a situation where you may not be able to fish the “best” spots due to conditions, yet spending time on secondary spots may be more productive as your boat control and lure presentations are better. So, maybe rather than fishing the most windblown areas, pick out similar areas that are fishable. Don’t get frustrated with not being able to fish your best spots. Quite often, these “secondary” spots will produce on these days. In fact, on several occasions when casting and/or trolling steep-breaking shorelines in late fall, those shorelines that are actually wind-protected or calm have been great. I don’t know why it is, but often you’ll see bait stacked along calm areas of the basin on these really windy days. I can remember several situations thinking that fishing the calm areas was just a way to spend a day in the boat fishing, rather than to stay in the cabin. Yet, I have learned that the right calm area, such as a potential ciscoe-spawning location, can be the perfect place to fish on a windy day. Another option is fishing the calm side of a large island where the wind is pounding into the other side of the land and the calm side is almost acting like an eddy or slack-water area. The transition from calm to wind-induced current can hold muskies, and sometimes these hold the most fish.

In anticipation of these treacherous fall days, I always try to find a spot or two that is fishable in a strong north or northwest wind. Those are the predominant nasty wind directions this season, and taking the time to find areas protected from these winds during “normal” fishing conditions will pay off big time and provide confidence when those big winds howl. On a normal day, I’ll fish my normal “milk route” of spots, but try a new spot or two that might be protected from a north or northwest wind. Even if you don’t see or catch a muskie there and it looks good, save it for the big-blow days. It more than likely will produce under extreme conditions.

When dealing with this weather, it’s often a reality that only a few spots may be fishable, so again, slow down and plan on spending more time fishing a handful of spots. Sometimes I often wonder if the fact that the weather has reduced the number of available options and forced me to slow down that it actually has made some of these days more productive. Regardless, slow down and pick those areas apart. This isn’t a time to fish 15 spots in one day, but instead, focus on scouring three to five. If you are using live bait that will naturally slow your boat speed down, the same will hold true when you are fishing a jig—it forces you to slow down and try to pick an area apart.

Now, it is more than likely that you’re fishing a spot that has muskies. You just have to wait them out for when they decide to bite. Again, I go back to the concept of short feeding windows: Don’t run around this time of year controlling a boat. Spend more time fishing. If you encounter a fish or two from one particular location, it’s more than likely the muskies in that area are going to feed in that exact spot sometime during the day. You just have to be willing to wait it out to make it happen.

The late-fall weather can often be unpredictable, and the wind is going to howl. Just think about escaping the wind and thoroughly fishing the available areas, and most likely, the day may turn out better than you thought.