Try Vermilion For Springtime Muskies

Bill Rosner’s family has been chasing fish of one kind or another in the North Woods for decades. Rosner is the fourth generation guide of the clan.

Walleyes get the call most often from his clients. But, the choice changes for several weeks in spring when post-spawn muskies cruise the shallows looking for a meal.

Rosner guides on Lake Vermilion, Minn., arguably one of the best if not the best muskie lake in America right now. His personal best is a 53-inch beast with a 27-inch girth.

He travels in the company of fisheries biologists when they do their annual surveys. Not only does he get to see huge muskies in the nets, he gets to see where those fish live.

“Fifteen percent (of the muskies in Lake Vermilion) are over 50 inches. If you are fishing Vermilion, you have a legitimate shot at a ’50!’ The average muskie is 46 inches. That’s right out of the DNR’s mouth,” said Rosner, who lives in Cook, Minn.

Bill Rosner with a Lake Vermilion muskie.

“Muskie fishing here is so good, even with a 54-inch fish, the diehards don’t get too excited,” Rosner continued. “It used to be a ’50’ was big news. I’m blessed to be guiding on Lake Vermilion right now. I like to say it’s a Canadian experience without crossing the border.”

Muskie season in Minnesota opens the first Saturday in June.

“I don’t know if you really pattern them. It’s an event,” he said.

Still he’s got some firm ideas about where to seek out muskies on natural lakes during the post-spawn period.

Find The Warm Water
The water is still in the 50- to 60-degree range. Finding warmer water near spawning areas is key. He looks for bays with a sand/mud mix on the bottom. If a stream is emptying warm water in the lake in the vicinity, that’s all to the good.

“It’s nice to have warming trends and stable weather, but you don’t always get that,” he said.

Wind direction and the tendency of anglers to search warmer water on the north side of the lake doesn’t come into play much.

“They aren’t covering a lot of water,” he said.

He’ll be targeting ‘skies in 3- to 6 feet, but even that shallow, it takes a while for the sun to work its magic and turn fish on that far north. His muskie time is usually in the afternoon. He’ll keep guests busy catching walleyes in the morning.

About 2 p.m., that’s the time to be on his primary muskie spots. He tells the story of how a client boated a near 50-inch ‘skie off a beaver house at 3 p.m. He was afraid the bottom of the boat was going to scrape bottom that fish was so shallow.

“The water might warm up two- to four degrees. That’s all it takes,” Rosner said. “It’s the same thing with the pike. You can’t catch one in the morning, but by afternoon, fish in some of those areas are active and aggressive”

Did we mention Lake Vermilion has great pike fishing, too? Expect 38-inch pike in the net while you search for the bigger cousins.

Some of Rosner’s favorite post-spawn bays has shoreline a half-mile long. Probably a dozen or so muskies use it to spawn.

“Just get in there and work it,” Rosner said.

If casting is your deal, great. Just keep the baits small. He likes to keep everything less than 6- to 7 inches, such as Buchertails, #4 or #5 Mepps, half-ounce spinners. On a dark day, use dark colors, on a bright day, bright colors.    

He uses a 7-foot, 3-inch St. Croix Legend Downsizer, 40-pound Power Pro on a bass-style reel and a 12-inch fluorocarbon leader.

Shallow Water: Make Long Casts
The water is stained, but even in stained water the muskies are spooky in the shallows. Make long casts. The Minn Kota Talon anchoring system makes it easy to deploy the anchor, cast, retrieve the Talon, and move to the next spot.

Minnesota allows one rod a person when trolling, the perfect way for Rosner to cover water looking for active fish. He switches to 7- or 8 foot St. Croix rods with Daiwa line-counter reels and (wait for it, it’s a surprise) just 12-pound monofilament and a leader! The goal here is to keep the baits from sinking too far in shallow water with 30- to 80-feet of line out.

His favorite trolling baits are Lindy Shandlings and Bomber Long A’s, Rebels and Smithwick #5. Speeds of 2.5- to 3.5 mph are perfect to search big bays.

The light line doesn’t pamper things. The muskies don’t seem to know they’re hooked until they are close enough to see the boat, then all Hades breaks loose! The key is to keep the rod tip down. Trolling in “skinny” water 6- to 8-feet deep means these fish will jump if given the chance.

“That’s when the chaos starts,” Rosner said laughing.


“Last year, a friend drove from Fargo, him and his dad. In less than two hours, we caught three muskies up to 48 inches and lost a fourth one. It is a blast.”

As always when fishing muskies, be prepared. The net needs a fin-saver bag. Net the water around the fish, not the fish. If you look at the muskie while slipping the net under it, you could hit the fish and knock it off. Leave the muskie in the net while you gather the Lindy glove and camera. Have long-nosed pliers and wire cutters handy in case. Check out the background for the photo. Make sure the shirt and hat look good. Take off the sunglasses. Then unhook the fish, pull the fish up out of the net, snap a few pictures, and get the beast returned to the water ASAP.

Rosner operates Wild Country Guide Service.  Visit or phone 218-666-2880.

Discover a fine assortment of fishing gear at Sportsman’s Guide.

Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson write a weekly column for Ted has many fishing achievements, including a victory at the FLW Walleye Tour event on the Mississippi River at Red Wing, Minn., May 6-9, 2009, the 1993 Mercury Nationals and the 1995 Professional Walleye Trail Top Gun award. He reached the pinnacle of both angling and business when he was named PWT Champion in 1998 and president of Lindy Little Joe, Inc., of Brainerd, Minn., a year later. (Ted’s sponsors include Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Pinnacle Rods and Reels, Bottom Line Electronics, Minn Kota, Stren, Normark, Flambeau, Master Lock, Gamakatsu, Aqua Vu and Nautamatic TR 1.)

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