Back off in Late Fall


It was only a few weeks previous that we were catching muskies casting to the top of shallow rocks and reefs, but now that was over. There were no muskies on top and we were concentrating trolling the edges of the reefs and the base of the break line. As we made what seemed like our fifth pass around the reef, the rod went off. I grabbed the rod and the battle ensued. After several deep and powerful runs, we landed the late fall giant. It reminded me why we fish this time of the year and what trophy muskie fishing is all about.

Although many consider late fall traditionally the best for muskies, I beg to differ. This may be the best time because the muskies seem to be the heaviest. But this species is more difficult to catch the later you get into fall. The degree of difficulty is a combination of the cold temperatures, low water temperatures—which slows down the muskies’ metabolism—and overall shorter day length and shorter feeding windows. In essence, you really need to keep a lure in the water as much as possible to increase your odds. Whether casting or trolling, I am not fishing a lot of different areas. Pick a handful of spots and spend some time there. My best advice is as the water temperatures drop below 50 and is heading toward freeze-up, is to remember to back away from the cover; move deeper down the break line and don’t be afraid to bounce bottom.

If fishing a clear-water lake with deep green weeds in the fall, you should still move your boat farther from the cover than you would in summer or early autumn. I want my lures to concentrate on the edge of the weeds and a cast length outside of that edge. Often, you will find muskies either along the deep weed edge or on the hard-bottom lip outside of the weeds. On some waters you will have another edge or drop-off slightly deeper than the weeds that break into the basin. The top of this break line can also be very good, so you’ll need to position your boat to have your lures cover this particular break line. When it comes to casting at either the deep weed edge or at the top of a deeper break line, I am fishing a Bull Dawg or a suspending Depth Raider—I need a bait to get down quickly and remain at depth during the majority of the retrieve and these two lures are the best tools. Also, I am using more of a longer pull/pause with the Bull Dawg, and with the Depth Raider, a very slow, but straight crank retrieve. Also, vanilla plain is always good in extremely cold conditions.

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Jim Saric with a big fall muskie caught trolling the edge of a reef.
Jim Saric with a big fall muskie caught trolling the edge of a reef.

As the muskies move down the deeper break line and approach the bottom near the lake’s basin, it’s important to try and bounce bottom. Any little projection along the drop-off will be a natural holding point for a muskie. So trolling a lure along the break line and purposely bouncing or crashing into these projections is a great way to trigger strikes in late fall. When those water temperatures drop into the 40s, try slowing down your trolling speeds to 1.5 to 2.5 mph.

Another deep edge to consider is the base of the drop-off or even the hard- to soft-bottom transition. This is where either trolling deep or vertical jigging with a Rippin’ Dawg can produce. I prefer to troll deep, but if you find the fish concentrated along a particular spot or shoreline, vertical jigging can be more efficient, as you can use your electric motor to constantly keep the lures in the strike zone.

Late fall muskie fishing is a unique experience—there’s something special about the cold air, impending freeze and serenity by being one of the few brave souls on the water during the final days of the season. Whether you set the hook casting or hear the trolling reel scream, you know in the back of your mind the strike might be from the largest muskie you have hooked all season. That, in and of itself makes this time of year special.