Muskie Fishing Strategies

Minnesota’s Jack Gavin started fishing muskies at the ripe age of 10. And in Gavin’s own words, he was “pretty serious” right out of the gate. Of course, that statement begs the question of just how serious, and some 16 years later, we have the quantifiable answer. Since his humble beginnings Gavin has boated just over 300 muskies, and today he’s only 26. Do the math and you see Gavin has boated just under 18 muskies a year for the 17 years—and that’s a seriously healthy total for a guy who made his way through college and has held down a day job since graduation.

Gavin’s largest muskies include a 54-inch submarine from Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka, and a fish he tabs as his heaviest, a 51½-inch brute from the state’s sprawling Lac Mille Lacs. That fish sported a 24-plus-inch girth and an estimated weight of some 40 pounds, before its careful release.

From spring through late fall, Gavin fishes muskies about 50 to 60 days per year—both Minneapolis metro area muskie lakes and several of the state’s storied northcountry waters, particularly Leech and Vermillion Lakes. Through it all, he’s developed a consistently deadly system other aspiring muskie anglers would do well to emulate. Here are Gavin’s muskie-hunting strategies for the bulk of the muskie fishing season, the early and mid-summer periods.

Spring/Early Season (From Opener To Mid-July)

“During the spring months, from the [early June] opener to July 4, or maybe mid-July, typically I’m doing one of two things,” Gavin explained. “I’ll either be fishing fairly shallow in or around [muskie] spawning bays, or, if I’m fishing a lake such as Vermillion, I might be fishing stretches of open water, kind of out in the middle of nowhere, in deep water where muskies recovering from the spawn will be hanging near large schools of tullibees.”

Gavin explained that his shallow-water pattern will include fishing smaller bucktails, or smaller glide baits or jerk baits, lures with a relative slow side-to-side action to match a cold-water muskie’s slower metabolism. Slower retrieves during this time period can be critical.

“For spring bucktails I really like the Musky Mayhem Showgirl, and the Bigtooth Tackle Juice, and those are very similar, ‘newer-age’ 6- to 8-inch, double-blade bucktails,” Gavin explained. “I like to run those over the tops of those young emergent weeds, and I’ll do the same with smaller jerkbaits.  Great examples are Phantoms with their slow, side-to-side action that really seem to trigger strikes when the muskies are not quite active enough to chase bucktails.

“Topwaters can be great early too,” Gavin admits, especially lures like the Giant Jackpot, and Musky Buster Phat Boy, both of which produce a muskie-attracting, spook-style walk-the-dog action.

Most early season muskie fisherman would not think to fish deep but Gavin says this somewhat newer strategy can be killer when muskies are targeting protein-rich tullibee, also called ciscoes.

“The time-honored idea is that after muskies are done spawning they’re recovering in the shallows, but if you’ve got the right lake, with ciscoes suspended out over deep water, muskies can hang out there relatively unbothered, and that’s a great place for them to recover from the spawn as well.

“Vermillion is a good cisco lake, and you want to focus in on those open-water basin areas—and that’s literally going out into those 35- to 50-foot depths and looking for schools of ciscoes on your depth finder,” Gavin explained. “The muskies will be hanging right there with the baitfish. Probably the most-popular way to fish these areas is to troll, but you can also cast to them. You should be throwing big stuff: Musky Innovations Bulldawgs and Pounders, and Chaos Medussas.”


Mid-Season (Mid-July To Late September/October)

“In general this is my favorite time to fish muskies; July and August, especially, for me is a great time to be fishing structure, especially reefs and islands,” Gavin said. It’s also a great time for Gavin to be fishing his undisputed favorite muskie lure: The bucktail.

“During this time you’ll usually find me throwing some type of bucktail,” Gavin said. “Muskie fishing can be so difficult, and you really need to put all the odds in your favor, and as a lure you can’t find one that’s more efficient. A bucktail will be hitting the water a lot, you’re making a lot of casts, and you’re not wearing yourself out ripping and jerking like with some other lures. They’re also simple for fish to catch, and you’re going to have more-solid hookups. You can reel them as fast or as slow as you want, and a really big thing that many people take for granted, there is no better bait to “Figure- 8” with than a bucktail.

And if you’re not making a “Figure-8” with your lure at the end of each cast, Gavin says you are missing many, if not your only, opportunity to hook a muskie on any given day.

“Every year I catch less and less fish on the cast, and more on the Figure-8,” Gavin says, explaining the phenomenon on increased muskie fishing pressure. The fish have simply become more wary.

Gavin’s favorite mid-summer bucktails include large double-bladed Cowgirls, and large double-bladed (Nos. 9 and 10) bucktails by Musky Mayhem, Bigtooth, and Ghosttail.

Gavin’s favorite mid-season structure in “up-north” lakes is typically rocks— shallow rock reefs, rocky points, and “really shallow” rocks being hit with some wind. Conversely, Gavin finds the highest percentage of hookups on Minneapolis metro lakes during this time period coming during low-light periods from inside weedlines, that final 75 to 50 feet between the weedline and shoreline. A key ingredient is most often a harder sandy bottom, especially near points. Often, the fish are up quite shallow.

“In general, I like to fish those lower-light, cloudy days during the summer, with a little to quite a bit of wind. I much prefer a cloudy dreary day; you certainly can catch a lot of fish on sunny days but it’ll usually be early and late. On cloudy days fish can hit all day, at virtually any time.”

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