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Created by Scott McKee Oct 31, 2018 at 1:09pm. Last updated by Scott McKee Oct 31, 2018.

Thank you, Jay!

This site is sponsored by NMA Member Jay Nannen.

Hi Team!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything of value on our Web site, so I thought I'd put together a few words on fishing the opener in the harbor, releasing muskies, out-of-the-water pictures and boat snacks.

 

With the season on the River and Lake opening in less than a week, I’ve been busy sharpening hooks, organizing lures and reminiscing about early season fish caught on them.  I literally just sharpened the hooks on all of my hard bodied baits who have made the grade for Trip One of 2015.  I’ve attached my 2015 lure checklist for your viewing pleasure (and to reassure you that I am a way bigger dork than yourself.)  

 

One of my superpowers is remembering musky catches.  I know it’s not much of a superpower, but it does help me on the water from time-to-time.  Where am I going with this?  I’m not too sure myself, but here are a few different techniques that have produced epic days early on:

 

1. Hatchets and gliders: Don’t forget your jerkbaits in the harbor.  These lure types are often out-of-favor with our members on the river (me included), but they have their place in the harbor.  One member caught 5 muskies opening day years back, and they were a staple of one of the better Canadian guides, and my longtime partner.  If hair, cranks and rubber goo isn’t working, think jerk baits.

 

2. Cast, speed troll, repeat: Opening week affords anglers the best chance to pop muskies casting in the Harbor.  Casting the shallows in the Harbor can be a blast.  Think hair, shallow crank baits, the previously mentioned jerk baits, and rubber.  Focus your attention on Gallagher Beach, the rip rap from Freddy’s old place to the Union Ship Canal, the mouth of the Small Boat Harbor to Gallagher Beach, the weeds behind Donnelly’s Wall, the rocks and weeds around the short wall, and outside of the channel in the  Black Rock Canal.

 

Gallagher Beach: Start at the drop off and work your way across, then progressively work your way shallower.

Rip Rap: Set up in 15 feet and cast at shore; really complicated.

Small Boat to Gallagher: Hammer 15 feet and in all the way to the rip rap. 

Donnelly’s: Start at the south end of the wall and work your way down to the sand.  If that doesn’t work carpet bomb all of the green stuff.  Still nothing? Cast from the weeds to the deeper water.

Short Wall: Hit the weeds on the east side and the rocks on the west.  (Don’t actually hit the rocks, just cast your lures towards them.)

Black Rock Canal: Pound either side of the channel from the end of the wall to the Yacht Club bay.  Watch out for the rocks by the green buoy at the south side of the bay.

 

After you can’t chuck another lure or if you’re only getting follows, speed troll the same spots where you just cast or troll a bit deeper just off of the structure you just hammered.  Sometime a little speed gets lazy followers to blast your lures and even if they don’t, trolling affords you a good opportunity to crush a sandwich.

When I mention speed trolling I usually mean shallow water, short line, fast trolling.

 

What is shallow water? Let’s say less than 15’.

 

How short is short?  This depends on the lure and how high the weeds are up.  Try to keep your crank baits just under the surface or just above the weeds.  Heavier (3-ounces or more) spinnerbaits will stay just under the surface with less line out and allow you to hit edges more accurately.  This isn’t to say a spinnerbait way behind the boat won’t catch fish.

Here’s a few 4-rod weed edge starter spreads for you (we’ll say the weed edge is on the port side of the boat):

Port Outside

Heavy spinnerbait back until it just bulges the surface

Port Inside

Wiley Musky King, back until its running a foot or so under the surface

Starboard Inside

10” Believer on the shallow eye back until it stays a 2 to 4 feet under the surface

Starboard Outside

10” Jake back until it dives 4 to 6 feet

 

Port Outside

10” Jake with a foot or so of line out

Port Inside

2 to 3 ounce spinnerbait back 30 to 45 feet

Starboard Inside

Double ten out 3 feet with an 8-ounce Jojo ball

Starboard Outside

Wiley Musky King back 45 to 60 feet

 

How fast is fast?  Start at 4 MPH on your GPS and work your way up to about 7 (or so) MPH.

  • Sometimes the muskies aren’t biting on the weed edges.  You may have to troll a little deeper into the weed beds in shallower water.  Hair off of a Jojo Ball can be fished just under the surface in really tight water.  Let out line until the Jojo is just under the surface (about 3 or feet).  This will keep your lures bulging or occasionally popping the surface.  The larger your blades and the lighter the lure the more lift it will have, and subsequently the more line you’ll have to let out to keep it under the water.
  •  Any crankbait you have can be fished shallow.  Just let out only a tiny bit of line and/or increase the height of your rod tip in relation to the water’s surface.  With equal amounts of line out, the higher your rod tips, the shallower your lures will troll.
  •  Don’t be afraid to pull hatchet jerk baits shallow.  When desperation creeps into my head I will usually put out a Bobbie Bait and jerk and rest it as I troll.  The fish usually hammer the bait just after a pause.
  • Vary your speed until you get slammed.  I usually go faster until my lures are on the edge of running out of control, and then I slowly back off the throttle.
  • Speed trolling is lot easier with at least two anglers on board who know what they’re doing.  One drives and stays on the edge of the weeds and the other cleans lures.  There can be a lot of cleaning involved, so rotate responsibilities to be fair.  I love cleaning lines.  Starring back-and-forth at a spread you can see while hoping a lure gets creamed is my idea of fun, but then again I don’t get out (on the town) much.
  • I don’t keep my drags ratcheted down when I’m trolling.  I can pull out line with a little effort, but when I’m flying around shallow and short, I keep them a bit looser with one exception (I keep my drag a bit tighter on tail-gunned spinnerbaits).  I like to set my drags when I’m going fast to the point where line just doesn’t click out.
  • Speaking of clicks, don’t forget to engage your line-out alarm clickers.
  • Make a lot of really quick course alterations.  This speeds up half of your spread and pauses the others.
  • Keep your lures clean.
  • Short-line trolling hits usually result in a jump or two from the fish.  Get to your rods quickly.  Stop your boat when the screaming combo is in the angler’s hand.

 

Deep

If you plan on sticking to a deep program, stick it out as long as you can.  Low light or darkness is best, but my boat has caught a bunch of fish, including a few big girls under baby blue skies with jet skiers and sail boaters doing their best to read my fish finder. 

Here’s an easy guide to the North Gap deep:

Start at the rip rap by Ice Boom Bay and troll just off the Coast Guard Wall (great place to cast, by the way).  In the corner of the outside of the CG wall is a nice weed bed.  Stay just off the edge of it.  Turn and head into the Buffalo River and out again on either side of the channel or troll across the mouth.  Stay to the left of the red buoy on your way to Donnelly’s Wall.  I usually just about scrape my inside rod on the wall.  Keep in mind there is current here.  Head to the river side of the short wall and troll out to the lighthouse wall.  Troll down the lake side of the lighthouse wall, turn back towards the short wall and pull your lures next to the harbor end of the shorty.  Now it’s back to the end of Donnelly’s and into the Black Rock Canal.  Stay on the edge of the buoys heading in on either side.  Turn when you get past the Buffalo Yacht Club and troll out back to the lake on the opposite side. Hit the end of Donnelly’s again and troll down the harbor side of the short wall to the end of the long wall.  Head out towards the lighthouse wall on the red side of the channel.  Troll again down the outside of the lighthouse wall or make a sweeping turn and troll down the green side of the channel back to the short wall.  Time to go back to the end of Donnelly’s!…. I could keep explaining this troll for the rest of my life.  So here’s the short version.  Hit the ends of the walls and along depth variations.

 

Release them right…

  • Make sure you have the right release tools.  If you don’t have a HUGE coated musky net, Knipex, needle nosed pliers and jaw spreaders, DO NOT FISH FOR MUSKIES.
  •  
  • When cutting and removing hooks from a musky, move decisively and be quick about it.  This is not a time for hesitation.  Don’t get skewered, but don’t be tentative.  With practice you’ll learn when a fish is about to freak out.  I can’t explain how I know they are about to thrash, but I do, and you will too with experience.
  • The less you handle a musky, the better it is for the musky.
  • If you never bring a musky out of the water, they will usually swim away without resuscitation.  Cut the hooks or pop them if they’re only hooked lightly, dip your net and let them go.  They usually take off like they were shot out of a cannon.
  • If you are going to take a picture, take only one or two quick shots.  Make sure the camera is ready before the fish is taken out of the water.  Support the weight of the fish with one hand holding its gill plate and the other under the musky’s belly throughout the whole process.  After the picture set the fish back in the water with its head into the current or waves.  Gently hold its tail, keeping it upright in the water, until it swims away.  Do not rock them back and forth.

A musky is stressed if…

  • It can’t remain upright in the net.
  • Its eyes are glazed over, or if they roll back into its head.
  • Its tail or fins are orange, red or bleeding.
  • If the musky bleeds through its skin, it is in really bad shape.

IF A FISH IS STRESSED DON’T REMOVE IT FROM THE WATER!

IF A HOOK NICKS A GILL OR IF THE FISH IS BLEEDING, DON’T REMOVE IT FROM THE WATER!

The river muskies I’ve caught early in the season never seem to be as beat up from spawning as early season harbor fish do.  Take really good care of both, but be extra careful with the harbor fish.

Keep your ego in check, and keep the interest of the muskies ahead of your own.

Other Tips…

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Put on sunscreen and wear a hat.
  • If you fish on someone else’s boat, offer to pay for gas, bring them boat snacks and DON’T bring a ton of gear.
  • I guess jigging Red October Baits in the river catches a lot of fish.  Hmmm, I’ll have to give that a shot.
  • Winter sucked; spring was short, but seemed to take forever, fish as much as you can if you want to get bit.
  • The All-nighter is a musky angler rite of passage.  All-nighters are good for the soul.  Getting off the water just after the Sun has come up makes you look super-hardcore to other anglers launching and completely insane to pleasure boaters heading out for a morning boat ride.  All-nighters make you feel like a musky badass.  Get some black curtains and you’ll sleep just fine when you get home at 9AM.  A great musky schedule to keep opening week is out at 7PM, fish till just after dawn, go to bed, repeat.  (This is a lot easier schedule to keep the younger, less attached and less employed you are.)
  • Take your dad or father-figure fishing on father’s day (or any day for that matter).

I hope this helps you catch more, or your first musky.  Be good to the muskies after you hook them.  I wish you all the best of luck.  Be careful out there, and never forget the following advice and know that the rest of this post is some of the most important knowledge I’ve accrued over the years while chasing after muskies: Pretzel rods are the best boat snack ever with cookies and trail mix duking it out for second.  Bachmann pretzels are better than Rold Gold, and homemade cookies crush store bought every time.  If you aren’t allowed to use the oven like me, Oreo’s are the greatest mass produced, easily purchased cookie of all-time.  See you on the water and in the funny papers.

 

(The attached file is my 2015 Musky Lure Checklist.  I think this year’s first pull deep belongs to the Mr. Toothy in dark sucker that caught the 49” for me last season and the first hard bodied bait I cast will be a Minotaur in OBP.)

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Excellent pointers, Scott.  Thanks. If it's any indication of what's out there, we went out of Bouquard's last week.  The woman taking the $$ said that there was a scuba diver swimming around outside the South Gap & saw A TON of small perch.  We picked up 5 'eyes in four evenings, two of them 27 inchers right there.  Inside the mid gap my son got a nice 30" northern plus an 11" perch.  The weeds hadn't set up yet but no matter where we fished, saw a LOT of suspended hooks & bait fish.  It should be a good opener, but then again, every day is a good day.

John,Chris Kempf & I have also been catching some good walleye down the 30 ft slot from end of the Long Wall out into the lake at South Gap at night.We are bottom bouncing Bay Rats & small Spin-n-Glow with crawler at 1.3 mph using Terrova 80!

Cap'n...there just seems to be a lot of fish all over the place this year (except for schools of emeralds).  Originally I wasn't even going to fish the opener mainly because I don't like to fish the weekends, but after the Pep Talk, I might have to make an exception. 

I always liked fishing the harbor & there are some good ideas in here.

Scott, awesome read. I love articles that make me want to run out and try something and u just don't find that in musky hunter very often. I'm hitting the road for the opener but will be back mid week to hit our waters hard for a couple weeks. Good luck to all that make it out. Somebody please stick a GIANT out there.

John, I cant devote whole days this weekend but would be willing to fish from as early as you want (4am limit here) to around 11 both days

 

This little blurb is why the NMA rocks!! Thanks scott and good luck to everyone. I was planning to start my year on the Larry until I hit a bunch of rocks on the Susquehannah and am just finishing rebuilding it.

"This is a lot easier schedule to keep the younger, less attached and less employed you are."

Good day and great art Scotty
Happy happy daddy day to all.
Best of luck and care Jerry.
Everyone else wish hard
Be careful
Be nice to the Ladies
Ala bala bala
Jojoout

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