The Northern Zone musky season in Wisconsin, a veritable holiday to esox hunters statewide, will open Saturday. With fishable populations of muskies found in 667 lakes and 100 rivers throughout 48 Wisconsin counties, anglers have plenty of options. As the final hooks are sharpened and leaders re-tied, the only question remaining now is, “Where do I go?!”
Legendary Hayward-area guide and Chippewa Flowage expert Dave Dorazio indicates there are a lot of crappies in the shallows on the Chippewa Flowage.
“While fishing crappies, we've seen several muskies, usually pairs, cruising the shallows,” he notes, “Most of the muskies are pretty beat up, indicating that the spawn is nearly over.” For the opener, Dorazio advises keying on the north shores of shallow bays. “The water will be warmer on the north shores, hopefully making the fish more active,” he points out.
As will be the case for many northern Wisconsin lakes come Saturday, due to the late ice-out, weed growth may be spotty to non-existent. According to Dorazio, muskies will be using wood for cover and he recommends anglers fish stumps, downed trees, and brush.
For anglers able to find newly emerging weed growth he adds, “Be sure to thoroughly work any green weeds that you do find!” Dave’s favorite baits for this style of fishing are 6" Slammers twitched near cover. If the fish seem active, he’ll throw smaller (5 to 8 inch) bucktails. Dave’s final suggestion for this year’s opener, “Due to the fact that the fish are shallow, be sure to try a topwater bait.” For more information visit http://www.davedorazio.com.
Fibber’s Resort owner and Northwoods guide Rob Manthei says the muskies in Vilas County will be a little behind schedule. He notes that water temps are slowly rising, weed growth is way behind, and spawning is just starting. Booked solid for guiding for other species, Manthei says what little musky fishing he’ll be doing will involve sight fishing the shallows. According to Rob, his first choice when targeting muskies under late-spring conditions such as we have this year is a Bait Rigs Esox Cobra Jighead and large plastic trailer. “These late springs really don't get me fired up for muskies and I don't believe in harassing these fish while they spawn,” he states, “My recommendation is to wait another week.” For anglers venturing onto Vilas County lakes, especially shallower warmer bodies of water where the muskies have hopefully finished spawning, smaller twitchbaits like the 6” Jake and down-sized bucktails such as #5 Mepps Aglias and Musky Killers should produce good action. For more information visit http://www.robmanthei.com.
It will be an interesting opening weekend in the greater Wausau area – the musky spawn is complete although water temperatures are much cooler than recent openers due to the late spring, recent rainfall, and below-average air temperatures. There has been consistent flow on the Wisconsin River meaning that numbers of fish should be set-up in relatively predictable areas such as in proximity to current breaks and below area dams.
ERC’s Jig-A-Beast is a terrific early-season presentation on the river and often produces some trophy bonus walleyes and pike as well; in addition, plastic offerings like the Regular Double Dawg from Musky Innovations are springtime musky magnets. With ample forage such as bluegills and crappies currently spawning, shallow wood and weed growth will be important areas to explore for muskies come Saturday.
The Hell Puppy and 4” Phantom Soft Tail are perfect baits for this scenario as their erratic side-to-side glide perfectly mimics a wounded fish, and thus an easy meal for opportunistic muskies.
Crankbaits like the Stalker and 6” Jake, worked with a twitching or stop-and-go action, are early season staples for working over and around submerged cover. Mepps #5 Double Blade Aglia or Aglia Tandem, with orange or chartreuse blades and matching bucktail, are great tools for covering larger sections of water and expediting contact with aggressive fish.
For more information visit http://www.wisconsinanglingadventures.com.
Regardless of where you plan to fish this weekend, one constant remains – proper catch and release is imperative to sustaining the fishery for generations to come.
The Wisconsin DNR, according to their website, states that, “Catch-and-release, protective regulations and DNR’s stocking program have helped turn the famed fighter from the ‘fish of 10,000 casts’ into the fish of ‘3,000 casts’ in Wisconsin. It used to take two guys in a boat 25 hours to catch a fish. Now it is closer to 12 hours and 3,000 casts each.”
Catch and release, when done properly, truly does work! Before heading out musky hunting this weekend, make sure you have the right tools for the job; hook cutters, jaw spreaders, and long-nosed pliers are necessities; in addition, a large roomy net, preferably with a knotless bag like the Frabill Big Kahuna, is one of the most vital tools an esox angler can have in the boat.
I’ll see you on the water …
Joel DeBoer is owner of Wisconsin Angling Adventures Guide Service. He can be contacted through his website at www.wisconsinangling adventures.com.