This article originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Musky Hunter. To see more classic articles like this, subscribe to the Musky Hunter Digital Collection: https://simplecirc.com/subscribe/musky-hunter-collection
By Gregg Thomas, Editor
On southern reservoirs, the late spring, post-spawn period from mid April to mid May can be a tough and unusual time to fish. Typically, water temperatures will range from the mid 50s to the mid 60s, the spawn will have just ended, and muskies will be migrating to their summer haunts — in short, it’s a challenging time for fishermen.
The good thing is muskies can still be caught. Remember, they have just finished spawning, so they have expended a lot of energy. Two keys I have found to success at this time of year are keeping lures close to structure and adding extra triggers to your the retrieve.
In Their Face
Whether one prefers trolling or casting, it is during this season above all others I have found that getting the lure closer to the structure or hitting the structure is extremely important to putting muskies in the boat. Muskies don’t want to travel far to eat. Whether trolling newly emergent weeds, wood, or bottom, try to get your lures within a foot of the cover or structure. This means a fisherman has to keep a watchful eye on his rods, because getting the lures fouled happens much more often. Whether it is the water temperature or stress of spawning, the mood of the fish can be very sluggish, so small variables can really add up.
A fisherman must trust his electronics and know the running depths of all the lures in his spread given the lengths of line out. To best accomplish this, take a few lures to an area where the bottom is flat and a consistent depth. Then start letting line out and watch the rod tip and the amount of line out, and note when the lure consistently hits bottom. Make a note of line length and diameter, and repeat for all the baits you typically troll. Once finished, an angler will a clear idea of the depth his baits are running.
Jigging has also become a big part of catching fish in the late spring. I have found that water temperatures warmer than 60 degrees have been the best. During this period, muskies that spawned early are already establishing their summer home range. Jigging is a deep water pattern that often produces bigger fish, but not as many numbers. Like trolling, keeping the baits close to structure whether it be the bottom or timber can be the key to successful jigging. An angler can move throughout a bay watching his electronics, looking for any type of structure that reaches from shore, or can fish mid bay.
Southern reservoirs are littered with lay-down and standing timber. Lay-downs coming off shore are stopping points for fish moving in and out of the coves following the shoreline. The mid bay areas are often overlooked but many of them have standing timber which are popular hangouts for muskies that are done spawning or waiting to move in. These areas tend to hold a lot of baitfish. By slowly weaving through the bay and jigging at varying depths, a fisherman can cover multiple depths of waters and areas. An important key when jigging is using electronics properly.
A lot of anglers are using the newer down-scan technology (which it great), but for jigging, traditional sonar seems to be best because its sonar cone is much larger than that used by the down-scan system. The down-scan system uses a cone that is more focused and smaller in diameter, thus making it harder to get the jig in the cone. By using traditional sonar, an angler can see his/her jig on the graph, easily see baitfish, and know when a fish comes near it. Finding baitfish is important.
Like the muskies, shad will be somewhere in the process of spawning in the bays. Before they spawn, shad hold in the deeper sections of the bay — usually in that mid bay area — until the water temperatures reach the upper 60s. At this point they move to the back of the bay or the edges to start their spawn. Vertical jigging is very effective at this time because it keeps the lure in front of the muskies, and making contact with the structure is pretty easy. I use Bondys, Rippin Dawgs and Eco Tails. All have their time and place, but the constant between the three of them is their hook placement. With hooks back from the head, the bait can bang into wood and cause a disturbance without getting hung up.
Casting during this time of year can be very effective, and a non-aggressive, consistent pull-and-stop retrieve seems most effective. The muskies seem to want a slow-and-nothing-fancy retrieve. When fishing around weed growth, soft plastics like BullDawgs, Medussas and Red October Tubes have been very productive in my boat. The key is making the lure bump into the weeds.
But it doesn’t have to be soft plastics, as anything that makes contact can be good. This is when deep-diving crankbaits banged into the weeds, brush and lay-downs are deadly — allowing the lure to hit the cover and come free is the key to the whole retrieve. When bumping cover, there are a few things that will help out. First, the longer the rod the angler is using, the easier it is to get the lure to work free of cover. Pop up on the rod tip with a quick snap as the lure hits. The longer rod makes the snap more vertical, thus more likely to clear debris, whereas a shorter rod tends to drag the bait through the cover, causing it to become fouled. Of course, a longer rod also helps by making larger and deeper figure-8’s. I personally like St. Croix’s 9-foot Big Nasty for all my “rubber” and crankbait fishing.
When choosing a crankbait, choose those that are buoyant so they float free of cover. Sinking or suspending baits are hard to clear of weeds or wood. The buoyant crankbait must also have a large lip so that as it comes in contact with the cover or structure, it protects the bait’s hooks. DepthRaiders, Bill Normans, Lil Ernies and Tuff Shads work well for this.
The post-spawn period in the South can be tough, but it can also be a great time to catch some big fish. Pay attention to details because coming in contact with structure and cover, and muskies, goes hand in hand. Don’t worry about your bait becoming fouled or snagged — at this time of year, the extra work will be worth it.
For more about Field Editor Gregg Thomas, visit battlethebeast.com
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