Late Summer Strategies for Muskies

Late summer and the transition into early fall mean different things on different lakes. August and early September often represent a period of peak activity – and peak fishing pressure. But if you fish very fertile waters, you may also be looking at matted, mushy, dying weeds, and maybe a thick coat of dead blue-green algae that has all the appeal of an oil-based paint slick.

The August full and new moon phases seem to be at the top of every fishing club’s scheduling priority list. Packs of boats invade our favorite waters every year at this time. It’s fishing club time. Then there is the Labor Day onslaught; followed by the first good moon phase after Labor Day, which brings out all the folks who consider mid-September to be "fall fishing." You get the idea.

On some lakes, thicker weeds and darker water is a good thing. With shady, weedy cover and lower light penetration of the darker water, muskies are less spooky and more aggressive. But on others, as summer progresses, the weeds get thick, matted, and slimy. And on some, the water gets so thick with dead and dying algae that presentation becomes a challenge.

Fishing pressure, algae bloom, and weed conditions raise some strategy questions:
1. What is the best way to get away from fishing pressure and still catch fish?
2. Are there adjustments that you should make due to the algae?
3. How can you fish in the thickest weeds?

First, the fishing pressure question. There really are two choices. Stay on your favorite water, but do things that no one else is doing – or move to another lake for a while.

If you are thinking about an annual, or once-in-a-lifetime fly-in trip to an exotic remote lake, or an exploratory trip to a lake no one has discovered yet, or just a jaunt to a local lake trout lake that has a few giant muskies; late summer is the time to do it.

Remote, northern, colder, sterile lakes will not only have less pressure, but they will be just hitting their warmest water summer peaks.

If you insist on staying on your home water, this would be a good time to finally try planer boards, downriggers (on deep lakes), or one of the other techniques you’ve long considered, but never gotten around to. If you don’t like summer trolling, this would be the time to move away from the heavily pounded shoreline weeds to crank the edges and mid-lake humps. This is obviously the time to try night fishing. The thing about these tactical modifications is that they not only take you away from the crowds, but they have a good chance to put you on muskies that are hiding from the same crowds.

And what about algae bloom? My friend, Pete Maina, has written a few articles about the algae issue. Pete says: "avoid heavy ‘dead bloom’ lakes and/or areas, and remember that a live scattered bloom is often an aid in concentrating fish and making predators less wary." Pete also talks about patterning various bloom-structure-edge-wind conditions, and notes that the intersection of a bloom edge with prime structure, especially under ideal weather conditions produces "exceptionally active" muskies. I couldn’t agree more.

But if your lake is covered with a green oil-based paint slick, you might consider hitting that sterile lake trout lake – the one you thought might be a good place to hide from fishing pressure. A little late summer algae bloom on this gin-clear lake is a very good thing. If you don’t want to switch lakes, pray for wind and fish the edges of the oil slick. The fish are still there. One of the biggest fish I’ve ever seen came off the edge of the "paint." It hit a large black bait – another point that Pete and I agree on – black is a good choice in the bloom. My favorite bait on the deep edges of green bloom is a noisy, wide-wobbling, loud-rattling, black or black-and-hot orange Jake crankbait.

How can you fish in the thickest weeds? There are several things you can do. The first thing that comes to mind is the spinnerbait. A spinnerbait has a built-in weed guard, so it’s a natural. For maximum weedlessness, you want light weight and thick hair so it doesn’t sink fast. And you want tandem blades (Indiana or Colorado) for more lift. And you don’t want treble hooks or downward-pointing hooks that catch weeds.

The next is the jerkbait. A buoyant Suick or Bobbie Bait can be SLOWLY twitched through some amazingly thick weedbeds. And muskies love to clobber a slow, easy target.

Get in tight and make short accurate casts. Long casts make it harder to steer your lure through and around the surface mats. It helps to use at least a seven-foot rod. But the thing that really separates you from the rest is a willingness to get in there and do it, a willingness to reach out and rip weeds off your bait after nearly every cast. That’s the difference between seeing nothing and lighting up a weedbed.

But by late summer, some weedbeds in some lakes are getting too thick, mossy, and slimy. You will never have a better time to try a deep cold sterile lake that supports a few monster fish. Not only are your favorite fertile lakes slimed out, but the deep sterile lakes are as dark and warm as they’re going to get. Likewise, the muskies in these sterile lakes are as active and fearless as they’re going to get. For the third time in this discussion, and for the third reason, this is the time of year to fish deep, cool, sterile, monster lakes.

On the other hand, if switching lakes is not your thing, then you still have options. According to Dick Pearson, among others: "Rocks and big fish go together in September. If you’re not fishing boulder fields – you’re out of it." If the weeds are dead, mushy, slimed out, rotting, and consuming – rather than making – oxygen, then who can argue? Not me. Unless I’m on a sterile lake trout lake, where weeds are healthy, I live on the rocks from mid-August to ice-up.

This time of year can produce "dog days" or a rampage. Those of us who can put it all together, will be there for the rampage.

Catch a nice one and let it go … Let’m All Go.