There was a very small splash one second after I lifted the blue Cowgirl out of the water, so I whipped my lure back into the blackness and began doing figure-8s frantically. The ensuing splash two seconds later was anything but small. I set the hook as a muskie blew up on my bait at the surface and thrashed violently. It bolted on top of the surface for several yards before shaking its 48 inches free and returning to the night waters of Mille Lacs Lake.
My friend, guide Steve Scepaniak, consoled me in the darkness and we continued our quest for massive muskies during one of the most productive periods for truly giant fish: The fall full moon phase. Night fishing during this period gives anglers incredible odds at landing the biggest muskies in a particular body of water.
“We have so many nights with three, four or even five muskie strikes night fishing in the fall during the full moon it’s unbelievable,” Scepaniak says. “The September full moon is very good, but October and November are even better.”
My experience was not unusual at all; Scepaniak says the majority of late fall, night strikes come boat-side. “Muskies are active this time of year, but they often move a little slower in the water,” he says. “Slowing down your bait at the boat is crucial. Rather than doing a figure-8, slowly turn your lure in an elongated “L” curve parallel to the boat.”
At night, a figure-8 actually causes your lure to change direction too quickly, making it harder for muskies to track the lure and strike cleanly. By slowing turning your lure at a wider angle, you increase the odds that a following muskie will strike–and strike cleanly.
Large profile baits that create commotion and give off vibration even when worked slowly are often best. Suicks, Cowgirls and Wade’s Wobblers are among Scepaniak’s favorites. Large spinnerbaits that can be slow-grinded through the last remaining weeds also work well. Deep cabbage patches often last late into the fall and hold muskies. When fishing these weeds, cast a spinnerbait and let it sink three to eight seconds before starting your retrieve. Then wind just fast enough to make the blades turn, and pull the spinnerbait through the weeds.
The ideal spot, according to Scepaniak, combines rock and weeds. Search for rock points with nearby weedbeds so muskies have option A and option B. If you know a spot holds fish, or has great potential, fish it extremely thoroughly.
“One of the most common mistakes I see is people leaving a spot too quickly,” Scepaniak says. “People develop this long list of spots in their milk run–which is good–but then they fish it too fast. You hear so much about running-and-gunning and covering all this water, but it pays to make multiple passes through prime spots and cast at different depths and from different directions.”
Scepaniak casts with a 6- to 6-½-foot, heavy action Fig Rig rod when using jerkbaits, a 7-foot, medium action rod for bucktails and crankbaits, and a 7-½-foot, heavy rod when tossing Bull Dawgs.
He uses green, 80-lb-test, Spiderwire Stealth line, with a 14-inch fluorocarbon leader. “I used to use 7-strand braid for my leaders and was hesitant to go with fluoro, but since I switched I’ve seen a huge difference,” says Scepaniak, who goes through 40 to 50 leaders a year. “Sometimes it’s not going to matter–that super aggressive muskie is going to smash your bait no matter what–but most of the time muskies aren’t in that ultra-aggressive mode and then your leader does make a difference.”
Here are another half dozen deadly tricks that make a big difference for fall, full-moon muskies:
1. Modify Your Lure For Extra Flash
Add a small blade to your lure to give it extra flash. Even a lure that naturally causes commotion, such as a Cowgirl, benefits from the vibration created by adding a blade. If you’re tipping a lure with a twisty tail, hook it to the front hook so that even if a fish short-strikes the plastic it runs into a treble.
2. Slow & Steady
Your goal at night is to retrieve your lure at the slowest speed that still gives the lure proper action. Hold your rod still and avoid changing the direction your lure is running so fish can track it easier. Rather than doing a figure-8 at the end of retrievals, slowly pull your lure in an elongated “L” curve parallel to the boat.
3. Jump Through The Window
As soon as you catch a fish, get your bait back in the water immediately. “Night fishing presents short time frames when fish are incredibly active,” says Scepaniak, who often catches multiple 50-inch muskies within 30 minutes of each other. “Make sure you’re on big fish spots during these windows.”
4. Realize A Tap Is A Hit
Watch your line for the slightest twitch–regardless of the species you’re targeting or the lure you’re using. “There’s a common misconception that because fall fish are in feeding mode, every bite is going to be a monster strike,” Scepaniak says. “Even with 50-inch muskies, most bites are just a subtle tap. You need to be ready to set the hook hard on the slightest tap.”
5. Rock ’N Roll
Big fish–bass, walleye, pike, muskies–are attracted to rock points in the late fall. Prominent points with sharp drops and easy access to deep water are best. Cast or troll on the side of the rock point facing the main lake, then move in shallow and cast directly on top of rocks as shallow as 6 inches.
6. Match The Hatch
In late fall, panfish move out from shallow water toward breaklines as the water cools, while whitefish and tullibees move toward the same breaklines to begin staging for their spawning. The result? A lot of food in one area. Identify the primary forage on the lake you’re fishing, then key in on the appropriate color, size and shape of your bait.
Steve Scepaniak operates Predator Guide Service on Mille Lacs. To contact Steve, call 320.333.2941 or visit www.predatorguideservice.com.