Active Trolling Summer Muskies
Fall is recognized as the best time for catching muskies, but don’t let that keep you off the water in the coming months as summer produces plenty of muskies, too.
Yes, summer has its challenges because muskies are spread throughout a water system, and the fish are less mobile than they are in cooler-water months. Also, summer’s abundance and consistent fish patterns allow muskies to easily find prey and establish a regular feeding routine. The recreational boating traffic also challenges anglers as do the long hours of daylight.
Despite these challenges, I sometimes catch more muskies in July and August than I do in October and November. In truth, I often spend more hours pursing muskies in the summer because fall finds me occupied with such activities as performing seasonal chores in preparation for winter, pursuing walleyes to put some fillets in the freezer, attending Syracuse University and Buffalo Bills football games, and hunting whitetails.
Even though my higher summer catches can be attributed to more time on the water, the point is that anglers can catch muskies at this time of the year.
Active Trolling Tactics
Anglers who set their boat speed, place their rods in holders, and troll along a given structure can catch muskies, but a better option is for both the boat operator and angler to be active in their trolling.
An active operator should vary boat speed occasionally as this will change lure action by altering a lure’s speed and depth. An increase in boat speed will dart the lure forward and cause it to rise while putting the boat in neutral will slow or even stop lure movement and cause the lure to rise or fall depending on whether the lure is a sinking or buoyant one. Such lure action is a more realistic presentation than that given by a steadily swimming lure.
An active operator will maneuver the boat so lures periodically bump into the structure and periodically swim over deep water. A slight “s” pattern is effective in performing this tactic. The very best trolling maneuver is to manage the boat so that lures swing into the structure, particularly into the proverbial “spot on the spot.” Too, an effective operator will constantly communicate with other anglers regarding water depth, approaching humps, fish marked on electronics, and more.
The stereotype of trolling portrays the angler as someone sitting motionlessly and holding a rod. This image contrasts sharply with an active angler who occasionally makes sharp pulls of the rod to dart the lure forward or who makes sweeping pulls and drop backs of the rod which results in a lure swimming faster on the pull and then stopping for a second or two on the drop back.
Too, an active angler should raise and lower his rod tip to adjust to varying depths. For example, when approaching a hump or structural edge where the lure might hang up, an angler can lift the rod tip overhead; and when dropping into deeper water, the angler can stick the rod tip into the water to achieve greater lure depth.
My last two muskies measuring over 50 inches actually hit when I lifted the rod high into the air as we approached shallower structure. The first catch occurred when my son, Luke, and I were fishing a narrow cut between two shoals, and I got too far to the left and into 12-feet of water. I lifted the rod directly overhead in hopes of keeping the lure from hitting bottom, but the lure stopped dead. I put the boat in reverse to go back and free the lure, but the bottom moved.
The second incident was a similar one. We were trolling along a structural edge and approaching a 16-foot hump when I again lifted the rod high overhead and the lure stopped dead. I put the boat in reverse to free the lure when that musky began shaking its head. I took considerable ribbing from Luke for not being able to distinguish between getting caught on bottom and hooking a musky. In reality, though, when a big musky hits, the lure stops in its tracks just as if it were snagged on bottom.
An angler can also vary lure depth by reeling in and letting out line. Not only does reeling in line raise a lure in the water column, the action also speeds up the lure. Likewise, letting out line will neutralize lure speed and eventually cause the lure to run deeper once the swimming action begins. An active angler can also influence how close to a structure his lure swims by reaching his rod far out to the side or swinging the rod over the stern. Even when a trolling run ends and the boat is put in neutral, an active angler will not simply reel in the lure. Instead, he will retrieve the lure in an erratic fashion much the way a caster would.
Perhaps the most significant step an angler can take is to monitor lure action. This begins by running the lure at boat side to verify the lure is running true and not kicking out to one side or the other. Too, an angler wants to develop a feel that the lure is working properly, and he wants to watch the rod tip for visual clues that the lure maintains proper action. After all, trolling structural edges means the lure will invariably contact bottom from time to time, and summer means submerged and floating weeds that can work their way down the line and foul the lure. If there is the slightest suspicion a lure is fouled, an active angler will reel in the lure, check it, and reset.
In essence, catching muskies at any time of year is a matter of persistence and patience, but I am confident that an angler who employs active trolling tactics will enjoy more success than an angler who utilizes that stereotypical approach.
Captain Mike Seymour is a licensed Coast Guard Captain and NYS guide who guided extensively on the St. Lawrence River, Black Lake, and western Alaska. He is a member and former president of the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Association and is an active writer for several publications. In addition to fishing the St. Lawrence River, he is actively fishing Lake Ontario, the Adirondacks, and the other waters of the state. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Despite his busy schedule he makes certain to set plenty of time for deer hunting.
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