Ontario muskie anglers generally face two choices: chase rarer trophies that
sometimes exceed 40 pounds (18 kg) or concentrate on quantities of smaller
fish, a relative term when you consider that the average size is about 10
pounds (4.5 kg). It’s a tough decision. A world-record exceeding 70 pounds
(31.8 kg) is almost certainly lurking somewhere in the province for those
who would take up the challenge of the hunt. Peak pay-off periods occur
after the season opens in June and again in September when water
temperatures begin to cool. July and August, however, produce substantial
numbers of small to medium-sized muskie. October
and November, when two important prey species, whitefish and cisco, move to
shallow water to spawn in deeper muskie lakes, are well known for giving up
the biggest fish of the year.
Key fishing times during the day include morning and evening when bait-fish activity peaks, and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. In many lakes, muskie are also active for a few hours after midnight. Good muskie habitat varies from lake to lake and from river to river, but the basics usually remain the same. Sunken islands, points, saddles between visible islands, neckdowns in current flows, or weedbeds all hold promise if they’re within casting distance of deeper water. Look for muskie to hold in transition zones at dropoffs.
Work each location top to bottom. Big, noisy surface baits often produce spectacular results if muskie are in shallow water. Try black and yellow top-water plugs when light conditions are low. One-ounce or heavier in-line spinners or spin-nerbaits, dressed with red and black buck-tail, and jerkbaits are good choices for covering water down to 10 feet (3 m). Past that depth, switch to beefy trolling plugs that work well at a fast clip. In summer, running one lure as close as 6 feet (1.8 m) to the prop-wash often picks up fearless muskie attracted to the turbulence.
Whether you’re trolling or casting, use tackle that can subdue a muskie in a reasonable time, since they fight to the point of exhaustion and are extremely susceptible to stress and delayed mortality if you plan to release them. A stout 6 1/2-foot casting rod and a reel designed for 20- pound-test line will work for most casting situations. A stiffer 5 1/2-foot rod and a casting or trolling reel and 30-pound-test line will handle trolling needs. Quality line is a must, as are 12- to 18-inch wire leaders with rugged snaps and swivels.
Don’t forget landing and release equipment. Muskie are powerful fish with razor-sharp teeth. Care must be used when handling them to avoid injuries to the angler and the fish. Large minimum size limits are the rule and most muskie anglers usually release all but an occasional wall hanger anyway, so successful survival of released muskie is important to the future of the fisheries. Large, soft-meshed standard landing nets are okay, but a special mesh landing cradle is even better, so the fish can be kept in the water for unhooking and until recuperated enough to release. Have strong pliers to remove hooks or side-cutters for deeply imbedded barbs. Just snip them off, rather than taking too long trying to remove them. Hooks can be easily replaced on lures. Muskie cannot.