I live to fish for muskies. It all started many years ago growing up inWestern Pennsylvania. I caught my first muskie at age 13 on a bass oreno onLakeTionestainNortheastern Pennsylvania. I grew up close to five lakes and two rivers that had muskies in them. It was not hard to get hooked on this mighty fish.
The only draw back at that time was the tackle choice. Rods were short 4 ½ feet to 5 foot in length. Reels were not made like the reels of today. Lines were limited in pound test and material. Lure choice was very small and they were hard to find. .The main crank baits at the time were Creek Chub Pike Minnows, Cisco Kids, Smity divers and Heden Vamps. The main top water baits were Muskie Jitterbugs and a creeper. The jerk bait was the Suick and bucktails fromSouth Bendand Mepps. That was it. Today we have such a wide Varity of lures, rods, reels and lines that choosing the right combination for the condition is probably the hardest thing for a muskie fisherman to do.
I have since moved toSouthern Illinoisand call Kinkaid my home waters. Kinkaid along with other Southern waters like Cave Run, Green River, Shelbyville and Pomme De Terre are all popular lakes her in the South. We do not have any closed seasons for muskies but do have a problem with very high water temperatures in the summer. With that said, let’s talk about fishing for muskies in early season.
Ice is not always the problem when fishing on Southern reservoirs in the winter and early spring. The biggest factor in all these reservoirs and lakes is water levels and color. Water levels might be low or might be as high as 15 to 20 feet above summer pool. Water color from clear to mud is the norm. You never know what it will be until you get there and it can change very quickly.
Lure choice at this time is very critical and the presentation can vary from lake to lake. Shelbyville and Pomme De Terre are trolling lakes in the spring. Kinkaid, Cave Run andGreen Rivercan be trolled or cast but casting is probably more popular and productive. This is also the time of year that you will catch the largest fish in weight than any other time or the year.
All these lakes have one thing in common and that is bait fish. All have shad and carp along with other fish that can fill their bellies. The carp and shad are the preferred food because they are easy to swallow, high in fat and easy pray. Lures that imitate the carp and shad in size and color are very good lure choices.
Southern lakes usually have both the thin fin shad and gizzard shad present in their systems. Thin fin shad get to about 6 inches and the gizzard shad can get to 15 inches. Carp can be of any size. You might be asking what does this have to do with lure choice.
Lure size can vary from day to day. In the spring, the bait fish are at their largest size. The larger lures should be a good choice. The cold water along with the lower metabolism of the fish should mean a muskie will want to eat a big bait to save energy for the spawn. In the spring the water temperatures in the shallows can change 5 to 10 degrees in ether direction on any given day. Your lure selection should be determined by the conditions at the time. If you are fishing during a warming period, larger lures and faster speeds should be used. This includes both crank baits and glide baits. If a cold front come in and water temperatures drop, you should choose smaller baits and slow down.
Water color is also important during spring. If the water color is clear or slightly colored, your natural colors in white, gray and browns should be used. If it is stained to very muddy, bright colors in orange, red, pink, chartreuse, clown and gold should be your choice. These guide lines are my guide lines from fishing over 50 years and can be used as a starting point. Your choices might differ from mine but it is a start.
In the past five or six years the rattle trap or rattle type lures has taken the Southern waters by storm. It started on Cave run and has been very successful on all the Southern lakes. The ¾ to 1 once sizes have been the most productive but it seems to only last a couple of weeks.
When fishing for muskies in the Southern lakes in spring and you happen to be following behind other boats using rattle type baits, I have a trick that has put a lot of muskies in the net. It is to use 6 and 8 inch Jakes. I use them just like the rattle baits by casting and reeling them in fast. The 6 inch runs shallow 2 to 3 feet and can be used in the very shallow water. The rattles and vibration of the Jake are a little different that the rattle baits and can trigger fish that will not hit the rattle baits. The 8 inch Jake can be very use full when fishing a little deeper and can be deadly twitched in murky to muddy water. The muskies have no problem picking up the rattles and vibration of these baits.
If you get a chance to fish Southern waters this spring, try the rattle baits but consider giving the 6 and 8 inch Jakes a try. They can really make a good day into a great day. They have saved the day many times for my clients and in the early spring tournaments.
I am a guide on Kinkaid and fish the Illinois Muskie Tournament Trail.