Water Temperature Key To Fall Muskies, Pike

Once the waters cool below 50 degrees, all fish congregate around deep holes. Both pike and muskies feed aggressively, but rarely go in water shallower than 18 feet.

Pike and muskies move several times during autumn, because of three distinctly different periods that occur during the fall. These periods are pre-turnover (late August through mid-September), early post-turnover (mid-September through early October), and the late fall/cold-water period (mid-October through ice-up). Each period provides a different set of variables for these big predators. Therefore, each period must be dealt with separately.

A subtle drop in the amount of daylight along with cooler nights signals the arrival of the pre-turnover period. It has a strong effect on all fish including pike and muskies. Lighter, warmer surface waters begin to slowly mix with heavier, cooler waters beneath. A pronounced thermocline — a layer of water 18 feet to 35 feet deep separating warm, oxygen-rich upper layers from cold, stagnant deep-water layers — still exists, but it’s starting to weaken. Eventually, it will dissolve during the constant daily mixing action. And, thus, the annual fall turnover will have begun.

All fish, sensing this seasonal adjustment, begin a migration to the shallows in part to avoid the suddenly unstable depths. Pike and muskies react exactly the same, following the vast majority of open-water fish into the shallows. Anglers who are alert to this annual occurrence can take advantage of the unequalled big-fish action that exists in shallow water.

Midday Magic
The same thick-weeded shallows that began producing in mid-August start to really load up with pike or muskies now. And, as nights become cooler, midday fishing really comes alive. Even inactive pike and muskies remain shallow, clinging tightly to thick weed clumps. Shallow boulders on points and isolated humps become great pike and muskie magnets on warm, sunny afternoons. Pike and muskies gorge themselves on crayfish, as well as on any other baitfish and smaller gamefish that big, shallow boulder areas harbor at this time.

By mid- to late September, the constant increasing cycle of cooling nights and shortening days takes its toll on the thermocline and it eventually breaks down. Feeding activity is often severely reduced during this part of the actual turnover. It appears that this turnover either stresses the fish, or simply spooks and confuses them. Some anglers and biologists theorize that the sudden upheaval of stagnant bottom silt lowers the lake’s pH level dramatically. However, once the lake stabilizes after the turnover, a comfortable pH level returns and feeding resumes. Once this happens, a whole different set of location options takes shape. The cold, stagnant depths are now enriched with oxygen, and are the same relative temperature as the shallower depths.

Baitfish begin bunching up in tightly-grouped schools, often shifting positions daily. Wind direction and the movements of certain types of plankton play a big role in this daily positional shift. Pike and muskies will closely follow these tight little schools of migrating baitfish. Wherever the baitfish end up on any given day, pike and muskies are sure to be nearby. As the mid-fall, post-turnover period progresses, these daily baitfish and gamefish migrations increase.

Points and bottleneck areas that funnel current from strong wave action become key pike and muskie holding areas by mid-fall.

Points And Bottlenecks
Points and bottleneck areas that funnel current from strong wave action become key pike and muskie holding areas by mid-fall. By the time main lake water temperatures move down into the 50-degree to 59-degree range, these two areas are the best overall choices. They provide migrating pike and muskies with excellent ambush opportunities, plus points and bottlenecks disorient baitfish making them more vulnerable. Steep, rocky banks and bluffs near a point or bottleneck can be equally good. Any irregular chunk of rock, single big boulder, downed tree or a small underwater point could be a producer. Pike and muskies can be taken both shallow and deep along such spots. Trolling is probably the best way to catch them.

Once the waters cool below 50 degrees, migrations of both baitfish and predators in natural lakes shorten, and all fish congregate around deep holes. These will be wintering areas for many fish. Both pike and muskies continue to feed aggressively, but migrations shallower than 18 feet are less common. One of the biggest mistakes anglers make at this time is fishing too shallow. Late fall pike and muskies might be catchable in numbers on a few select natural lakes in waters less than 18 feet deep, but far more waters contain them at depths greater than this in the late fall. Deep-trolling crankbaits and live bait are the best ways to take them during this time.

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One Response to “Water Temperature Key To Fall Muskies, Pike”

  1. T. Markham

    Thanks Joe that’s great information that I’ll put to use next week hopefully if the landing is good to use.