Early Fall Muskies – Transition Time

After Labor Day, muskie anglers start thinking about the transition from summer muskie fishing-which often centers around coping with excessive fishing pressure-to the fall peak, which is a good month away. Fish are adjusting to changing conditions. Often, they are on the move. Hold that thought.

"Early fall" … "transition" … "changing conditions" … "on the move" … What you envision and what I envision really depends on where we fish. Lake type, geography, acreage, latitude, forage base-all of these factors come into play when we get down to specifics.

If you are fishing Eagle Lake, Ontario, nighttime frost and rapidly dropping water temperatures are a near certainty. If you are fishing West Okoboji near the Minnesota/Iowa border, you may be dealing with air temperatures in the 90s. If you are fishing Leech Lake in northern Minnesota, your fish may move several miles. If you are fishing a 300-acre pothole lake in northwestern Wisconsin, the fish may move from the inside weed edge out to the breakline … 30 feet. You get the idea. Yes, the theme is one of transition. But the devil is in the details.

Transition means that fishing patterns are changing. Dying weeds and dying algae, falling water temperatures, minnows and prey fish adjusting to their changing environment… All of these factors force muskies to make adjustments. If you had it all figured out in July and August, change is bad. Many of your summer spots seem to have dried up.

But there is a huge upside to post-Labor Day fishing. The tourists are gone. Jet skiers and water skiers are (mostly) gone. The casual anglers and vacationers are gone. It’s just us. Us and the fish. The sudden peace that hits our lakes after Labor Day has a huge affect on muskie fishing. A positive affect. Muskies don’t have to hide in impenetrable slop or hunker down on deep breaks and secondary structure in order to escape the commotion. They can finally come out and play.

So. Pros and cons. Quiet, peaceful lakes with little boat traffic to drive the muskies into hiding. But transition-moving prey and changing conditions-causing the muskies to break the patterns you spent all summer figuring out. Now what?

Now, we have to find the fish. We have to start all over. How much time do you have? No, really. Do you have a day? A week? It matters. But whether you have a day or a week, the strategy is still the same. Devote a percentage of the time to trying everything, to searching. Cover water. Use run and gun tactics.

First make sure the fish HAVE moved. Don’t assume I know your water. Fish your best 5-10 summer spots or patterns. Verify that change has occurred. If you are on fish, forget this article and do your thing. (You didn’t need me to say that.)

But if the transition seems to have begun, then you need to adjust. Are your best weedbeds dying, rotten, or otherwise funky? Fish around them-not just the edges, but adjacent, alternative structure. Try a nearby rocky point or reef, for example. Also fish adjacent open water. It’s really easy. Let’s say your boat is normally positioned on the weedline so you can cast into the weeds. Turn around. Keep your boat on the edge of the now fishless weedline, and simply cast out to open water. It’s weird, but it won’t hurt. It actually works surprisingly often.

If you are really convinced that weeds are still the ticket, then look for healthier weedbeds. You’ll find that open water weedbeds stay healthy much later than dead end back-of-the-bays weedbeds. I call open water weedbeds, found on saddles between islands, for example – "flow-through" weedbeds. Current and wave action flows through them and keeps them fresh. By the way, there’s something about current and healthy weeds and muskies … it really doesn’t matter what lake you’re on. Or what time of year.

If rocky structure is your normal summer pattern, then there isn’t much you need to change. Move a little deeper if the fish are not where you expect them. Move often. Forage movement is still happening. And muskies prefer food to structure every time.

If your lake (or flowage) includes incoming rivers, move toward them. Many forage species do. And you know the math. This suggestion applies all the way to the end of the season.

A few thoughts on presentation: Forget the rules. Use topwaters until it is too cold to cast. If you’re not seeing fish, troll (where legal). Where I fish, trolling just isn’t done until October. In September. Forget the rules.

If my generalizations don’t apply to your water … If your lake is so far south that the summer traffic and fishing patterns are still with you, then just wait a week or two. If your lake is so far north that you are already into the fall peak, then I don’t think you will have time to write a letter of complaint.

Catch a nice one and let it go. Let them ALL go.