Too Cold For Muskies? NEVER!

By Dennis Radloff - November 1, 2001
If your fingers have feeling, and your line isn't frozen on the reel, and your feet are toasty warm then chances are good that you're sitting in front of the TV watching the football game? There's only 30 days left before our Wisconsin musky season closes, and November possess the final, no, the ultimate chance of catching the biggest muskies of the year. However, it's also a tough time to be on the water with freezing cold temperatures, line freezing on the reel, hands painfully cold, feet numb, snow, sleet, rain, wind, hail, and big fish! Funny how you can take some of the most undesirable elements, just ad musky fishing, and it doesn't matter.

What I am going to do in this article is cover some of the main points to November fishing, and share some tactics that will help put fish in the boat. Let's get started.

GEAR
I look at this point of the season almost as a "second" season opener for muskies, therefore applying some of the same preparation. Before I get serious I like to re-group with my gear, and do any maintenance necessary. Clean and oil reels, check guides on the rods for any cracks, chips, or other flaws that could lead to disaster, and most importantly, check the line. Fellow "Linker" and guide Steve Huber did an excellent article a few months ago on lines, which if you haven't already, I recommend reading it. In his article he makes an excellent point right of the bat and it is this, "the only thing connecting you to the fish is your line". What I'm getting at here is don't let your line fail you now. You're going to freeze your 'arse off all day, battle the elements, finally get bit, and have your line snap??? I'm not saying you need to run out and get brand new line on everything, but do check it over, maybe even strip 10 or 20 yards to get down to fresher line. If you have already done that several times this season, then get new line. I have watched some anglers over the last few seasons go from smiling to frowning in .02 seconds because their line failed. Another good change to make is switch over to your fiberglass rods if you have them. Bitter cold and graphite rods do not co-exist well together, and there's a good chance you will snap your prized musky rod into two pieces on that eight degree day when you go to set hooks into that fish you froze all day for. Do I have to get all fiberglass rods to fall musky fish? No. Is there a chance of snapping a graphite rod? Yes. Perhaps a happy medium is using rods you could "live without" just in case. With all that in mind, here's my preference in gear. I like a good stiff, heavy action rod with good hook setting ability, especially when using quick strike rigs. I use 80# test Berkley Whiplash, which is a no stretch super braid low diameter line. I like at least a 10" wire leader, 100# test, for jerk baits and crank baits. And for reels I like the Abu Garcia 6500-C3 which is a durable reel, with a "clicker" which is great for your sucker rods to alert you if line is going out.

PRESENTATION
Weighted Suicks, Burts, and Jakes are my top producers. Work them slow over the dying vegetation, points, humps, bars, and breaks. At the same time you work these areas it's always a good idea to have some suckers in the water on quick strike rigs to increase your chances of catching some of those reluctant follows you'll see coming on your artificial lures. Two of the fish you see in this article were caught on sucker rods, and were fish that initially followed a Suick up to the boat grabbing the sucker on the way out. Both fish came on the same day for this client while fishing with Gregg Laffin who is one of Sterling Guide Services top Musky guides.

Another important place to look is the deep break, and I like to target them with Ernie's, and/or Bulldawgs. When it gets too cold to cast, I then work the break with the trolling motor, and work your suckers right on the bottom by putting a one (1) ounce piece of rubber core on your leader to keep that sucker down there. You can still use a quick strike rig, which is what I prefer, but there's another option here as wellÂ…the circle hook. Circle hooks are taking the place of the old single hook rigs of which you need to allow the fish to swallow the hook with the sucker, and almost always kill the fish when you set that hook in it's stomach. The circle hook rig consists of a single circle hook on a seven-strand leader, and then attaching the hook to the sucker by way of rubber band through the nasal passage, or even a safety pin. When the musky takes your sucker on a circle hook you need to let the fish swallow the whole thing. How do I know if the fish has swallowed my sucker? Generally what will happen is the musky will grab the sucker and run with it, and it may require some prompt trolling motor response on your part to follow the fish. When the fish stops, you wait, and wait, and waitÂ….this is when the fish is eating your sucker. When the fish starts it's second run, it's safe to assume it is done eating and has swallowed the sucker. Here's the critical part with circle hooks, DO NOT THROW A MOBY DICK HOOK SET!!! You WILL lose the fish if you do this. Close your bail, and begin to reel the line in slowly at a steady pace. I'm telling you right now this can be a challenge to do, especially if you saw how big that fish was who swam off with your sucker. What you're doing is bringing the circle hook back up, and out of the fish's stomach, and the circle hook is designed to catch on the corner of the mouth when it gets there, you'll know when it's there cause you'll feel a distinct "bump", "pull", or "tug", and that's when you set the hook. A premature hook set will pull the circle hook all the way out, so as you can see here, PATIENCE is the key.

Working your suckers in this manner is a good way to still be on the water when it's brutally cold, and yet effectively target big muskies while staying somewhat warm. If you can find a good piece of structure, it's even effective to drop anchor, get your suckers down, bundle up, and wait.

CLOTHING
While we all want to catch a true giant in our lives the final key here is COMMON SENSE! I for one have pushed that line a few times, and even proudly muttered "Oh yeah" when people shook their head in disbelief asking, "you were fishing in that weather?" No fish is worth risking our lives and health over.

Dress in layers, you can always take it off, but you cannot put on what you don't have. Hand warmers are great, especially if you're the designated sucker to rig the suckers; the fingers go numb quickly once they're wet and freezing. Good rain gear, cold weather gear, and boots will increase your comfort.

Be safe out there friends and CPR that fish!

Author Dennis Radloff
Dennis Radloff
Dennis Radloff is the owner and operator of Sterling Guide Service which specializes in Walleye and Musky Fishing. Dennis has helped run and coordinate many of the Lake-Link.com Youth Tournaments. He is also a PMTT angler, Dave's Turf & Marine/Princecraft Pro Staff, and a Mepp's Field Staffer.