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The Manta swung wide from side to side in the cool water.  As it neared the boat, a large musky rose in behind it.  Each time the lure swung and paused, the musky would switch side to side rushing the plug as it turned perpendicular to the fish, vulnerable to the perfect predatory attack.  Each time, the musky’s white mouth would open just an inch breaking its camouflage momentarily.  Any closer and the lure would have touched the musky’s snout each time.  I anticipated the musky to commit at any moment; that moment of truth when it would simultaneously lunge forward, open wide as a bucket, flare its gills, and overtake my lure while drawing it in with a reverse rush of water.  I had seen it many times before, but this time, like so many others, it did not happen.  The musky neared the boat in its rhythmic pattern, and as I went into a wide figure eight it spooked and disappeared leaving only a large boil to remember it by.

She Overcame Her Fear Of Commitment

She Overcame Her Fear Of Commitment

Scenarios like the before mentioned are part of what defines a musky.  If they just struck every time, they would be no different than northern pike and those who pursue them relentlessly would not love them like they do.  The difficulty of taking just one strike from a musky makes their pursuit somewhat mythic.  It is what sets musky fishermen apart from all other fresh water anglers.  The phrase “fear of commitment” has been used for years by women to describe men who refuse to commit to long term relationships.  However, I think this phrase more accurately describes the behavior of muskies than the relationship fickleness of men.  Why are they so interested yet so reluctant so much of the time, and what can we do to find muskies that are willing to commit or make the ones we can find more willing to commit?

Scientific theory would state that muskies strike so seldom because they have a very low metabolism and therefore do not need to eat very often at all.  In fact, research has indicated that a five pound northern pike eats more pounds of forage in a year than a fifteen pound musky.  But, why then the high level of activity following prey they never intend to eat.  Such activity would include multiple follows on artificial lures and following rigged suckers for hundreds of yards, behaviors that I have observed many times.  Simple calories taken in to calories expended logic would say that this behavior doesn’t make any sense.  It would seem that a musky with its low metabolism would remain completely inactive until it needs to feed, but obviously such is not the case.  It would seem to me that their inquisitive nature is the cause of this behavior.  Their curiosity has caused them to approach and follow my boat and even approach my body as I have waded rivers.  They did not approach following lures, and in fact spooked when I attempted to figure eight them.  Some even came back once my lure was out of the picture.

Triggering muskies can be very tricky, and often a single fish is worked for months by an angler before it is caught.  The musky mentioned in the outset of the article displayed that same behavior several times during October of 2009, and it measured 49”X23”.  I know it was that big because in November of that year my friend Ryan caught it on a rigged 3 lb. sucker and I put the net under it.  I know it was the same fish because it stuck like glue to the same inside turn on a shallow weedline and because of its unique size, coloration, and jaw scar.  We wanted her in the worst way, and we finally got her.  Musky fishing is chess not checkers.  The successful fisherman thinks many moves in advance.  In the case of that beautiful pig, we knew where she was and that she liked to play, but that she would probably not commit to a strike on an artificial lure.  So we hit her on the full moon in a storm of wind and sleet and put her in check mate with a big tempting live bait.  I worked the spot through first with her favorite glider, then Ryan brought the sucker through.  The sucker was blind sided just as it crossed her spot.  Of course, such conditions are rare, and when the stars align like that things can be gang busters.  We also caught 48” and  43” muskies that evening.  Striking while the iron is hot is critical.

Successful musky fishing is certainly a long term game of commitment.  If big muskies are to commit to one’s lures, one must be committed to that goal.  One big musky may be a fluke, but many large smart adult muskies per season are never a fluke.  It is a result of dedication.  I pattern fish on bodies of water I hit consistently, but I also hit new water all the time to practice keeping my learning curve short.  It may seem counterintuitive, but some of my best days of fishing have been fishing a brand new body of water.  I think musky location is very predictable, so I don’t usually have to look too long to find the fish.  I think my success on new water is due to the fact that the muskies there had never seen my particular tactics, therefore their level of hesitancy was a little lower.  On bodies of water I fish regularly, I notice muskies becoming conditioned to my “old tricks”.  In such cases, I have to give that water a bit of a rest and fish other water, or I change things up a little.  Sometimes, a simple color change on the same effective lure is all it takes.  The color change is a very important tactic for me, because I love and have confidence in a fairly narrow selection of lures, and I think many anglers are the same way.

Another odd trait of muskies is that certain populations of muskies respond differently to angling pressure than others.  For instance, I live west of Minneapolis in MN and the lakes of the west metro area all get pounded all season long.  However, some lakes aren’t affected as much by the pressure.  A few years back, these lakes had much less fishing pressure than they do currently and as such the action on them was much more consistent.  Presently, all of these lakes produce a much less steady bite than they used to.  However, some have not been nearly as turned off by the pressure as others.  Most of the season, the day time bite is non existent, but on some of the waters I can still get a good sun up bite going much of the time.  However, on other waters, being the first one out in the morning is still met with poor results even though it worked well two years prior.  On the same waters, the fall bite doesn’t come on as steady as it used to either.  Good windows can still be found, but they are much less frequent than they used to be.  It is possible that this is due to some internal factor within the aquatic environment, but to me it seems more like a result of relentless pounding by anglers.  In the west metro, some of my best waters are those most heavily hit by musky fishermen.  Admittedly, on a summer day they are all but worthless, but for a few weeks in June there is a good morning bite especially in good weather, in late August through October the morning bite is also good especially in good weather, and in November the bite can be excellent all day every day.

I am not sure why some populations of muskies respond better to an abundance of pressure than others.  However, I am certain that heavy and even low to moderate pressure causes fear of commitment within muskies.  I am also certain that time on pressured waters will reveal which ones produce better in spite of said pressure.  Times when feeding windows should occur (i.e. low light, good weather, good moon phases, etc.) are very indicative.  If bites occur at a good rate during window conducive conditions, then that lake responds in a not so negative manner to pressure.  Conversely, under the same conditions, a lake that gives steadily poor results probably responds poorly to angling pressure.

In modern musky fishing, angling pressure is one of the largest road blocks to success.  Hitting the right fish at the right time, using unique presentations, and finding muskies that aren’t as pressured or finding muskies that respond well to pressure are major keys to success.

 

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