Muskie Opener On Georgian Bay 2023
Muskie fishing is unlike any other species of fishing. Sure the techniques are similar or can be used for other species but the mindset and overall approach is completely different. Muskie fishing is much more like hunting than fishing in the sense that you are often trying to find fish (similar to using trail cams to identify travel routes, bedding area, etc) and return when they are likely to bite (similar to setting up your watch) to give yourself the best chance at an encounter. Sure you can catch one as you explore but often all you will get is a follow unless the conditions are right; but that's their first mistake!
What is going on with the water.
We started fishing thinking that muskies will be up in the warm shallows as they are warm water fish and that is where the warm water should be. However, as we made our way in we noticed the shallows were colder than the main lake; and by a lot in some cases! One bay we know holds ski's from past experience in the area was even 49 degrees. This is colder than it was in May when we were in the area pike fishing. Using our tricks for locating warmer water in the spring we found a spot that was warm but not as warm as we wanted to know they were here for sure.
We had one muskie follow and one big pike once we came back through the area with a suick. Pike and particularly big pike are a cool water species so having them in the area is a good sign you're fishing water too far ahead of the seasonal muskie movements! Pike are also more aggressive than muskie and will put up with competitors in the area where as muskie tend to prefer their own area they can dominate.
After this catch we decided to leave the area and moved to another very protected section of lake. We found more warm water and ended up scoring a 43" ski! This fish came on a custom designed bucktail by the New Wave Fishing Academy team & manufactured by team member Colin. This bait was designed specifically for early season muskie fishing and is paying off already.
What a start to the season.
It's getting hot in here.
Yesterday was hot, sunny, and there wasn't much wind. Even though a lot of the water we fished was cold we hoped one of the proven bays from past will have warmed enough throughout the day to start holding muskie. Driving in we notice it is 3-4 degrees warmer than the day previous which has our hopes high.
And It doesn't take long to get our first follow.
A low 40" class ski comes off of shore to chase the custom early season bucktail. It follows lazily one more time on the bucktail and turns to look at a suick before slipping away. No problem, we will come back during the major and get it. Not even 100 ft away we get another follow from a low to mid 40" ski. We were in the middle of telling a story and weren't watching behind our lure as it came in and just caught a glimpse as we took the lure out of the water; rookie mistake. Sometimes no matter the mistakes you make opportunity is all around. A dozen casts later Colin hooks up and the fish takes off across the surface. Full of energy we battle and get the 40.5" into the net. This fish came on another custom bucktail of his own making. It doesn't get much better than that!
We move around the bay and catch up with team member Les in his boat. He's already had 2 follows. We finish up the bay and have one more ski swipe at a bait boatside but doesn't show themselves again. Again this one was in the mid 40" range.
Given there are 2 hours until the major we decide to leave the fish alone and cover some new water with the plan to come back in the peak feeding window. We don't run into any more fish but eliminate some unproductive waters. Moving back into the bay with 6 different fish in it we couldn't be any more confident. Unfortunately, the muskie had other plans. Not a single spot in the bay had any fish still around. This makes no sense.
After working the bay for most of the major Les goes into the extreme shallows, a small cove with a little over 1.5 ft of water, and starts bulging a bucktail just under the surface. Out of nowhere an absolute giant (45-50") lunges at his bait but somehow misses. Despite working the area thoroughly with both boats it was not seen again.
Some afternoon trolling helps us locate some more prime areas to target during the summer but does not produce any bites or help us locate any forage. The fish are still shallow like we have been witnessing but why were they not there during the major? We are tired and the sun is hot; we will need to sleep on it.
Before dark we return to see if the fish have decided to come back. After working the entire bay we are idling back into the extreme shallows where the monster made waves and Colin has his bucktail trailing just behind the boat. Out of nowhere the water erupts but it doesn't grab the bait. A few casts and one more follow is all this fish would give us.
Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me
With the morning success of yesterday Les starts day 3 in the same spot. While we go out to new waters. He hooks one but isn't able to land it and gets another follow shortly after. So the fish are using the shallows (warmer water) but not during peak feeding windows. This must mean they are feeding on deep water forage outside of the bays and returning to digest in the warmer waters. This is common behaviour of spring pike. While they are digesting they will rarely move or bite anything. However, if we are able to intercept these fish just as they arrive in the shallows before they reduce activity to focus on digestion or just after they have finished digesting on the way back out to feeding grounds this is our best bet at catching them shallow.
At the same time the other boat makes its way to a new area. As we stop at the first spot we immediately see a ski swimming around the rocks lazily. It has no interest in any baits we through at it but it is a big one. Add this spot to the list. We move on to continue fishing some warm shallow weeds before returning to the spot. Another boat drives by and decides to start fishing the same small shoal; we can't believe it. All this water with nobody in it and they fish right here. We move off to try something else and they fish for all of 10 minutes before packing up and leaving the area entirely. What a strange move.
After exploring some good looking waters with no success we make the move to return to a bay we encountered a ski while pike fishing the day before the season opened. Les is also here when we arrive. Fishing a few weed beds he calls us over as there is a big one around and it chased. This fish is going to eat we know it. After throwing some bucktails, swimbaits, and glide baits int he area Colin puts on a suick and tosses it out. The fish hits hard on the pause and he sets the hook hard. Before we know it the water boils and the lure is flying back at us in the boat. Somehow it missed the hooks.
With the major approaching and the strange behaviour of the shallow muskie leaving during peak feeding windows we plan our strategy to do a quick run of the spots we saw fish in shallow and if no sightings move to the deeper water outside the bay for the rest of it. After covering a ton of water both casting and trolling we can't find any deeper water forage or fish immediately outside the shallows they were using despite targeting prime ambush locations. Now we are really confused.
After a late lunch break we decide its time to break out the trolling rods. One reason is to try and get these deep water feeders and the other is because we are sore from burning bucktails for 3 days. It takes a while but we eventually find some bait in 20-25 ft of water and eventually some big marks on the side imaging. Changing baits, depth of lure, speed, direction of approach & eventually trying jigging for these big marks doesn't lead to any success; but we found the deep water bait and found a few fish so thats a good sign.
It's the last day of the trip and we are only going to get half a day to fish. This means hitting the milk run of spots we have seen fish to try and score one last bite. Starting out where we saw the first ski of the trip and where one was missed yesterday the bay seems empty. We are doubting our choice when we get a massive follow on a slow moving suick. The fish is in the 45-50" class and barely interested in the bait but one of the biggest fish of the trip. As if we spotted each other at the same time it disappears back into the weeds. We decide to change up our approach and cycle this spot with new areas in the bay returning every 20 minutes or so with new baits and techniques to try and draw a strike. Unfortunately, this fish never shows itself again before we need to leave but we do manage to see one small ski cruising amongst the pockets in the deep weedbeds. This one will have to wait until next year but now we know where it lives, and that's its first mistake.
Considering the conditions we faced and absolutely wild water temperatures this years muskie opener was a big success. Although we only managed 2 ski's in 3.5 days we ended up seeing 15 in total with most being in the high 30 to low 40" class and a few in the 45-50" class. In addition to the 2 that were caught we had 4 strikes that were missed and hooked one the day prior to the season opening while pike fishing in the low 40" class that got off boatside. Adapting to the conditions and putting the pieces together we learned a lot more about this area and how the fish operate which will aid in our future adventures. The quest for a 50 is still on but I don't think we are too far away!
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