Learning New Water for Musky Success
One of the most difficult decisions in the game of musky fishing is, as a good fishing buddy describes it: “leaving fish to find fish”. You have all probably heard that saying and have maybe even experienced the agony of your decision.
Let me tell you where I stand on the matter. As a musky fisherman, I’ve caught my share of big fish with my personal bests (as of the time of this writing) being four 54-inchers in the last 6 years. The heaviest of which was a 51-incher that weighed 41 lbs. Sure, there are larger fish in the area. I’ve seen the pictures. I know the fishermen who caught them. I’ve even missed a few of them at boat-side myself.
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Everybody fishes for their own personal reasons. Some fish for vanity and bragging rights. Some fish out of sheer competition. Some fish for the complete experience of the chase in the great outdoors.
My personal M.O. is revealed through my guiding practice. More than anything in this game, I enjoy sharing the experience with those who may not have had the chance in their life of contacting a musky or trophy pike. I used to fish for reasons of vanity but the older I get, the more philosophical I’m becoming about it all.
I remember when catching a 43-inch musky was actually a disappointment to me. At that time, I was seeking the monsters, and eventually, I found them and realized what it took to target them. Let me tell you, it’s not everyone’s game. Big fish of 40 lbs and higher are a rare prize on nearby water. 50 pounders are ten times the rarity! They all exist here but are you willing to endure the long hours, days, rough weather and uncertainty that it takes to maybe find that one trophy fish?
A popular guide I know will book a boat load of hard-core musky chasers for a full week’s king’s ransom in hopes of hitting a single 5-hour period of intense big fish action. On the other hand, I also know a guy who fished here for the first time – a newbie to musky fishing – who landed a possible live release record in one day!
For the average person who hopes to land a big musky, the equation is as follows:
Single-day booking + informed time-of-the-month + hiring a guide + favourable weather + lack of on-the-water competition + luck = musky success.
Remove any factor in this equation and your success rate decreases exponentially. That doesn’t mean you won’t hit paydirt though. It simply means your chances won’t be quite as favourable.
Now… having said all that… there is one factor that I play in my own game that has increased my client’s odds considerably. I mentioned ‘lack of on-the-water competition’ as a factor to success. The very best guides out there capitalize on this factor as much as possible! Yes, I know some of the very best spots and patterns in the area for big fish. If I thought that all of the factors in the equation could be realized on a particular day, and let’s throw caution to the wind and nix the luck factor, I could just about guarantee you a 40+ pound musky on that day.
Simply put, competition is 40% of the equation and there is now a lot more competition on spots that used to be easy. Furthermore, the fish that used to frequent these spots are becoming conditioned to the sounds of fishermen’s boats and lure vibrations.
Simply put, competition is 40% of the equation.
The only way to stay in the game is to realize the benefits of learning new water; find new areas that don’t see the same impact… and to do this when the fish are active. This means I have to leave fish to find fish. When a prospective client calls to book a charter, I ask a few key questions to see how many factors in the success equation we can secure.
Limiting factors might be: pre-chosen location, time of month and previous experience vs. expectations. To minimize the impact of some of these limitations, I spend at least a day, if not three, to pre-fish the chosen area. In that time, I’ll update myself on the present condition of the structure and surrounding water, locate (but not catch) muskies, and assess their mood to see if they’re catchable or pressured. I’ve fished my waters from one end to the other and I have a good idea what great musky structure looks like when I see it.
Danny Colomby is a professional musky guide and owner of Nipissing Muskies
Photographs by Nipissing Muskies
Seeking less familiar areas has increased my success rate incredibly. Yes, I’ve experienced more fishless pre-fishing days but that’s part of the elimination process.
My own personal numbers might be down but my client’s success rates are way up and that’s what I’m in this game for. Competition isn’t always a bad thing and there is still wiggle room when working around other fishermen. But when push comes to shove, I’m confident in picking up and running out to where few other boats are seen. For me, that’s what guiding is all about.
Does learning new water play into your musky success equation? Why do you fish for muskies? Let us know in the comments below!