Dialing in muskie can be a tough task, especially if you’re searching for the biggest ones. So we sat down with Captain Eric Grajewski a Michigan muskie guide to ask for his best advice to get tight to these apex aquatic predators!
This is probably the most obvious to fishermen. You find structure, you find fish. There is your visual structure which can be rocky or sandy shorelines, weeds or a log sticking out of the water, and shoreline points. These spots are easy to find and are worth fishing but they can get fished a lot because they are so obvious. So let’s talk about structure, that can’t always be seen by the naked eye. This is where electronics are so important. Use your electronics for locating a patch of weeds or a rock pile in deeper water. Structure can be as small as a slight change in the bottom such as changing from sand to rock or even just a six-inch change in the depth of water. Much like reading a river’s water current where you have seams and pockets think of the bottom of the lake in the same way. Those changes can and will hold fish.
Muskies are predators. They will be in areas where there are good amounts of forage. Some lakes have many structure locations discussed earlier and some have very little to none. Having great structure with lots of bait is ideal but what about when you don’t have that. Use your electronics or even visually look for bait. This sometimes can be out in the middle of the lake with no structure but there is lots of bait. Don’t be afraid to try those spots even when they seem like they are in the middle of nowhere. You will be surprised how often these spots hold fish and big fish.
I am a big believer in the ideal that Muskie generally have feeding “windows” most days. Once in a while, you get the great day where fish are active all day. But most of the time you will find that they are really only active during smaller parts of the day. These windows may last an hour or two or can be as short as 20 minutes. These can be brought on by a weather change or moon phase, but many times it is not totally understood why this happens. So keep in mind just because you didn’t move any fish when you fished a specific area in the lake does not mean the fish weren’t there. They may not have been active at that particular time of the day. If you have an area that has really good structure or lots of bait and you didn’t see any fish, revisit that spots multiple times throughout the day. Soon or a later you will hit that spot at the correct time when the fish are active. Unlike some fish, muskie will not always follow or eat every time a fly or bait crosses their face even when presented perfectly. I mostly fish a lake that at any given time I know there can be 50+ fish in that area and I will fish sunup to sundown and may only get two 20 minute windows throughout the whole day where those fish decide to start moving. So keep hitting those higher confidence spots. Soon or later they will pay off!
Daily Moon Phases (Majors and Minors)
Fisherman knows about fishing new and full moons. But let’s talk about everyday moon phases, the moon majors and minors. The major is when the moon is halfway between the rise and set (directly overhead) and halfway between set and rise (directly underfoot). The minors are the moon rise and set. With consistent weather conditions, it is believed that Muskie will be more active during these moon phases. I will say I did take three years of data keeping track of all adult fish hooked. Statistically, I did not find any correlation that the fish were more active during these events than any other time of the day. However, there are a lot of Muskie fishermen that I respect greatly that believe in moon phases. Because of that I will never discount a moon minor or major. If I moved a large fish or know the location of a large fish, you bet I will be hitting that area again around a moon major or minor.
Two characteristics of flies that I want to discuss is movement and color. If I had to pick one that is probably more important I would say most of the time it is fly movement over color. I typically like a fly that glides back and forth with each strip. That’s not to say a fly that rides straight or dives up or down won’t have its day, I just have found that flies that have this glide movement seem to get the most action from Muskie. When it comes to the color choice I try to have one angler fish something dark (usually solid black, black and red, or black and orange) and something light or natural (yellows, whites, tans). If I am going to change color, it is usually going to be a drastic change like going from dark to light or light to dark. Going with a couple of colors you have confidence in and has worked for you in the past is usually better than changing a bunch of times. Much of the time it isn’t going to be the color you have on that isn’t working but more the fish aren’t active at that time.
Fly retrieve. Most of the time anglers are going to use the conventional strip/pause retrieve. This works much of the time but doesn’t be afraid to mix in a two-handed retrieve. This is tucking the rod under your arm and with both hands stripping in the line hand over hand. It doesn’t always have to be a fast burn as sometimes they just want a steady fleeing baitfish versus imitating a wounded/dying baitfish. There are days where this is the only retrieve that will get a Muskie to eat. This is a retrieve that can be successful on rivers too especially ones with slower currents.
Captain Eric Grajewski is a master of Muskie fishing on Lake St. Clair. If you have musky on the brain and want to check this beastly fish off your bucket list, check out his website or check him out on Instagram.