Shallow-Water Techniques For Muskies & Pike: Part 1

Most anglers instinctively pull a topwater lure out of their tackle box when hot, muggy, calm, low-light conditions exist. Even though this is indeed a good time for topwater baits, other conditions are equally as good. In fact, there are times when they are far more productive than you could imagine.

A classic, favorite topwater scenario is a warm, misty day with no wind. Most professionals prefer this kind of weather as one of the top all-around situations. When calm, misty conditions are proceeded by warm, stable weather, there’s even more potential.

Heavy, low-pressure conditions of any kind are high on the list. Tornado or severe thunderstorm warnings usually accompany the very best low pressure systems for big muskies. Obviously, it is not recommended that you go out on the lake and play “Russian Roulette” with bad weather, but lunkers are most susceptible to surface baits during this time.

An overcast day with a light drizzle and a slight chop on the water is also an excellent time, especially when it’s backed up by a period of hot, flat days. When the wind is coming from the south and a storm is approaching, it’s all the better.

Even though midday can provide some occasional surface bait opportunities, late evening is generally the prime time to fish topwater baits. There is far more surface feeding activity than at any other time during a typical 24-hour period. It’s just natural that muskies and pike will be more apt to take a topwater plug during this time than at other times of the day.

Twitchin’ is one of the most unique big pike and muskie triggering tactics developed lately. The shallow-running plug is manipulated with a twitch-like wrist action.

Many anglers wait too long before trying surface baits. They think pike and muskies will show interest in this presentation only during the heat of midsummer. Most seasoned topwater anglers, however, are pitching their noisy surface favorites as soon as surface water temperatures climb to around 60 degrees. Once this happens, surface-feeding activity really takes off. The initial appearance of baby ducklings is yet another sign. As soon as baby mallards are seen following mama around, surface bait action gets hot. Creeper and Jitterbug-style lures are particularly deadly at this time. They, no doubt, look very much like a baby duckling fleeing for its life.

Slow is the magic topwater word for big-fish success. When it comes to catching numbers of pike and muskies, just about any retrieve speed will catch some, but slow is the best answer for bigger fish. In addition, pike and muskies like steady retrieves. Unlike bass, which often prefer a pause or even a dead, still surface lure, pike and muskies prefer constant movement. Some professionals add a small twitch to the steady retrieve by manipulating the reel handle, hoping to trigger a big follower into striking. It’s also important to pay more attention to where casts are placed. Try to spread casts out more when a big fish is present. Never cast your lure near another angler’s lure. It will either confuse or turn off a big pike or muskie.

Try “Trigger Baits” When They Get Lockjaw
When pike and muskies follow but won’t strike, usually a stronger “triggering” method is in order. These fish simply need something more than a basic spoon or bucktail spinner cranked through the water with a straight retrieve. Here, twitchin’ floating minnow baits is usually the answer. This is not to say that spoons and spinners aren’t good baits. These lures have taken thousands of big pike and muskies. However, experience suggests that once pike and muskies have been exposed to spoons and spinners for a few years, these lures tend to lose some of their effectiveness. Here’s where something with an erratic, stop-and-go action will trigger more strikes.

Twitchin’ is one of the most unique big pike and muskie triggering tactics developed lately. Twitchin’ was coined by northern Wisconsin muskie guides and is appropriately named because the lure, a 5-inch to 7-inch, minnow-shaped, shallow-running plug, is manipulated with a twitch-like wrist action.

Nearly all minnow plugs in the 5-inch to 7-inch range will work with this twitchin’ method, but some perform better than others. Flat-sided lures have superior flash and action, attracting more strikes. The vast majority of minnow plugs available today are either wood or plastic. Wood models surely take plenty of fish, but they don’t hold up under punishment. Plastic models usually produce equally well and definitely hold up a lot better.

Twitchin’ a minnow plug in windy areas with a small amount of slack line enables the bait to stay in place for a long time. This is deadly for finicky, cold-front pike and muskies. Wind and wave action complement this system by washing the lure right back into the fish’s lair. The lure can be twitched a few times and then paused to allow time for it to drift back over the hotspot. Sometimes, several attempts have to be made over the same spot in order to draw a strike.

Minnow bait colors should have a lot of flash. Dull colors rarely work as well. Silver, chartreuse, pearl and white patterns are all good. The “fire tiger” finish, which is a combination of chartreuse, lime and orange, is particularly good in stained waters. Flashy pearl, white or silver, which imitate shiners, ciscoes and suckers, are great in clearer lakes. Avoid using real heavy wire leaders with bulky snaps and swivels in front of any minnow bait because they severely restrict the bait’s movement.

Please read more about shallow-water techniques in Part 2.

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