Although any time on the water chasing muskies is a great time, thinking of fishing during the months of October and November is what keeps me up at night. The crisp air and beautiful fall colors coupled with being one of only a few people on the lake with a chance at catching the biggest and heaviest fish of the year is what excites me. As October begins, water temperatures start to slowly decline and the deeper lakes begin the slow process of turning over. The fish are also in transition from their late summer shallow water locations to their fall break line hunting grounds getting ready to ambush the migration of open water fish before they reach their spawning grounds.
Key locations to look for in the fall are a combination of rock and gravel along shorelines, points and on isolated mid-lake humps. As the water temperatures begin to drop after turnover from the low 50’s into the 40 degree range, whitefish begin to stage off of these structures. As temperatures continue to drop into the low 40s to upper 30s tullibee’s stage on these same structures. During these times is your best chance at contacting fish that typically don’t use structure or have not seen an artificial lure all year.
My approach to fishing at these times is all bait-fish related. If I’m not marking bait along the break lines in the locations discussed I set my boat location out deeper searching for their staging areas. It can be a difference of just 5 feet in depth. Location also determines how I use my lures in hopes of connecting with an active fish.
The greatest success I’ve had at fishing during this time has come on large rubber baits, crankbaits, and live bait. When throwing rubber baits I believe it is imperative that you be versatile to come into contact with fish. For example, if you haven’t made contact with any fish or the bait fish are not along the break line then fish deeper and count down your bait. When using crankbaits the same concept applies except changing to a deep diving bait is needed when fishing deeper water. Finally, fishing with large suckers is a great alternative when artificials are not presenting fish, and they can be extremely useful when air temperatures are too uncomfortable for casting.
As we approach these cold water temperatures, keeping these approaches in mind while finishing out your fishing season will lead to higher muskie catch success.