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When deciding on a body of water to fish it is important to take into account the real time productivity of the water and not just the amount of fish it is putting out.  Often, the amount of muskies a lake or river puts out is highly dependant on the amount of angler effort on the water body as well as the quality of the fishery contained within.  Therefore, real time productivity is actually the measure of angler hours needed to capture a certain size, quantity, and specie of fish.

True Productivity Is Huge

True Productivity Is Huge

For instance, a large popular easily accessible lake may get 1,000 musky anglers per season averaging 40 hours per angler for a total of 40,000 angler hours during said season.  During the same season, a medium size river that is difficult to access may get 20 musky anglers averaging 50 hours each for a total of 1,000 angler hours.  If the lake produces 200 50” plus muskies and the river produces 10 50” plus muskies to their respective anglers during that season, at first glance it may seem that the lake gives an angler the best chance at a 50” plus musky.  However, the lake gives up a 50” plus musky to its anglers every 200 hours of angler effort, while the river gives up a 50” plus musky to its anglers every 100 hours; which means that the river is actually twice as productive as the lake at producing 50” plus muskies.  These statistics are reached by dividing total angler hours by the number of target fish caught during those angler hours.

Of course, fish statistics are much more readily available than angler effort statistics, so accurate estimations and educated guesses become very important to an angler who wants to examine which waters are the most productive.  Case in point:  Well known lakes that put out lots of big muskies almost always get a large amount of fishing pressure.  This in turn attracts more anglers who plan trips to these destinations.  They often arrive to find very crowded water and tough days of fishing.  However, muskies are steadily being caught on that water because odds are that no matter how slow the fishing is, some fish will be caught due to the sheer numbers of anglers making presentations at all times.  Said lake produces lots of fish, though the individual experience is less than desirable more often than not.

On the other end of the spectrum, I used to shy away from waters that I heard nothing about and that my research indicated put out few fish and/or fish lacking in size.  However, I have come to learn that many such waters have lots of muskies and often big fish as well.  They just don’t seem to be productive because they receive little angler effort.  The people who do fish these waters often find muskies that are much more willing to bite, and generally have more good days on the water.  Of course, the popular waters are often popular because they harbor the biggest, often potentially record breaking fish.  Overlooked waters often have some amazing fish, but most will not have the same top end potential of the popular trophy and/or record class waters.

Anglers planning a trip should take into account exactly and realistically what return they want on their invested resources.  The few true record class waters out there are often very expensive to get to and/or very highly pressured.  Investing huge amounts of money is not possible for most anglers.  The accessible record class waters are so heavily pressured that good action is usually limited to brief windows of action created occasionally by season, moon phase, weather, and low light.  The majority of the time, resistant muskies will be the norm; so much so that most on the water experiences will be disappointing for most anglers.  Many waters with slightly less top end potential still have excellent trophy potential and provide steadier action day in and day out.  These are in fact some of my favorite waters.  At this point in my fishing career, I am not ready to sacrifice steady action to target solely record class fish on a regular basis.  Going for it is cool once in a while, but I love catching any musky.  I love experiencing the fish and their behaviors in a wide range of environments more than anything else, so the size of the fish isn’t always a top priority for me.  Waters with good trophy potential suffice for me most of the time, and I still like fishing waters with very little trophy potential as well.

I examine my goals and I do what is best for my fishing.  My goals are not what they were ten years ago, and ten years from now they may not be what they are at present.  Sometimes my goals change daily, but regardless of what my goal is, I research and plan in order to put the odds of achieving it in my favor as much as possible.  Depending on my angling goals for an individual outing, the decisions I make will all have many different pros and cons.  Here are some examples:

If I fish locally on my west metro home waters in MN I have excellent trophy potential just minutes from my house.  However, they are highly pressured waters and success is often very elusive for many reasons.  Also, the setting of these waters is much less picturesque than those in the north-woods, and recreational traffic gets disgusting much of the time.  During cooler water periods of the season, I get good early morning windows, but they are very short most of the time, only in late fall do they start to last longer than 1-2 hours.  I don’t waste my time fishing outside of these windows, but this means that I spend preparation time, travel time, and money for a small amount of fishing.  During certain months however, this type of fishing allows me excellent productivity for both numbers and size of muskies.

Sometimes, I like to get away from it all and go to northern WI and MN to fish waters in gorgeous settings that receive very little pressure.  I enjoy this, because even on a summer weekend I can fish all day and see very few if any other anglers and deal with no recreational traffic.  Often, these waters don’t have the biggest fish, it takes at least a few hours of travel time to get there, and accesses are often more difficult than a standard launch.  On the upside, the numbers of fish are often good and they are much more willing to bite than more pressured muskies.

During the winter, if I have the time and money, I like to travel south to fish muskies.  It is a great change of pace from the nasty winter weather of the upper mid-west and it feels great just to be casting to open water again.  However, winter muskies in the south can be very tough even if water and weather conditions seem right.  Action can be very good, but in my experience it is either feast or famine.  The problem with this is that it is almost impossible to make sure they are on before I leave, and it is an expensive trip to take to get very little action.

If I had unlimited resources, the only problem I would have is deciding which options to take advantage of.  No matter how wealthy an angler becomes, time is always a finite resource.  There are more musky fisheries than any one angler could ever even partially take advantage of in a lifetime.  Unfortunately for me, I am bound by both time and resources, and it seems that the harder I work the more tightly bound I become.  I am well aware that I am not alone in this crunch, and the one piece of advice I can offer to those caught in the ever tightening noose with me is to take into consideration exactly how much time and resources are available, examine goals carefully, and invest available time and resources as wisely as possible.



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