The Right Time, Place, and Gear for Early Fall's Primetime MuskiesBy Josh Lantz - September 14, 2021
"The pre-turnover period that occurs from the last week or so of August and continues pretty much throughout September has become my favorite time of the whole musky season," says Minocqua, Wisconsin-based musky hunter, outdoor communicator, and fishing promoter, Steve Heiting - During this time, we will see and catch many of the biggest muskies of the entire year. It generally starts when water temperatures cool to below 70 degrees, but really ramps up between 65 to about 58 degrees. After that, turnover is on the verge of happening and this particular bite is mostly over. I've succeeded fishing this pattern throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ontario, and understand it also works just fine in southern reservoirs - just a little later in the year."
Heiting says it's important to cover water to hunt active fish. "Big bucktails with double 10 or double 9 blades like those offered by Musky Mayhem Tackle, and topwaters like the Bucher TopRaider or Lake X Fat Bastard, are staples at this time," Heiting advises. "A big minnowbait such as a 10-inch Slammer Minnow or a jerkbait like a 10-inch Suick Muskie Thriller will come into play when the muskies don't want to chase bucktails or topwaters."
Because Heiting is exclusively using big baits for big fish right now, almost every rod in his boat is rated heavy power, and since figure 8's are so important, these rods are all 8'6" or longer. "Let the longer, heavy power rod do the work of casting the big baits, and it will also do a better job of taming big muskies," he advises. "St. Croix's Mojo Musky 8'6" heavy power, fast action model is terrific for this application, but any 8'6" or 9' heavy power St. Croix rod will work great."
Heiting most often uses reels with a more powerful 5.3:1 retrieve ratio at this time of year. "High-speed retrieves are less important now than in summer, and a mid-range reel allows you to fish slowly or fast, depending on what the muskies want," he says. "Load your reel with 80- or 100-pound braided line to provide insurance when fishing around heavy shallow cover or structure."
Professional fishing guide, Rob Manthei, has been plying the fabled musky waters of Northern Wisconsin's Vilas, Oneida, and Iron Counties his entire life. He agrees that the month of September is a magical time. Like Heiting, Manthei targets big fish in shallow weeds. "September for me is all shallow weeds, weed edges, and flats," he says. "I pattern muskies around particular lakes that are 'blooming hard' prior to the fall turnover and key in on water between five and 12 feet deep. Water temps start dropping with the cooler nights, which brings fish that have been spending most of their time out deeper into the shallows."
Manthei says the shallow weed bite lasts until water temperatures dip to 60 or 62 degrees. "Once that happens, we pray for wind to mix the lakes and complete the turnover quickly so we can move into the next phase of fall musky fishing."
Kleczewski shares Manthei's affinity for the Mojo Musky 9'6" MHFT (telescopic) rod. "I personally like to bulge my blades over the weeds with some speed at this time of year, and this rod is perfect for 7's, 8's and even 9's," he says. "That extra length not only helps increase casting distance, but excels in executing effective, long, and deep figure 8's."
Whether you're a hardcore musky hunter or a more casual angler looking to increase your chances at connecting with more or larger Esox masquinongy, all of our experts agree that right now is among the best possible times to be on the water. If your fishing time is limited, plan to hit the lake during gloomy, overcast days around the full or new moon, and gear up with the specific lures and rods necessary to fish shallow, green weeds and other shallow cover and structure. When asked about the best windows to be on the water this month, Heiting says: "Give me a still, humid, slightly-foggy morning when I can still wear shorts but need a hoodie for comfort, water temperatures around 62, and a full moon which will set in the early morning, and it won't be long before my net smells like a musky."