Early Season Dark & Clear Water Tactics
By Al Denninger © 2011


"Water Wolf," "Green Lightning," "Freshwater Barracuda," or just plan Musky; whatever you call him, his time has come. To say that the Musky is an important Wisconsin game fish would be a gross understatement.

Entire economies of some towns in northern Wisconsin rest solidly on the thick back of the Musky. In these towns, the major industry most often is the resort business…a business that prospers with the catch of a large fish or declines with the imposition of poor fishery policy.

This is the fish that has completely changed people’s lives. It has given fortune and glory to some, and to others, financial ruin or the loss of their happy home.

Dark Water Early Season Tactics

Most of the action centers on the dark water lakes, rivers, and flowages due to the fact that they are the first to experience warming. Musky prefer 68-72 degree water temperature. Dark water bodies of water will reach this before deep clear water lakes.

A few of the better bets for early season waters would be Moose Lake, which is excellent in May and early June. In addition, Ghost, Lost Land, and teal turn on fast in the early part of the season. Suggested lures are small bucktails and down sized Rapalas and Crane baits. Surface bait action starts out slow, but if you do throw one, make it a slow moving one like a ZZ Topper, or any of the line of lures from Best American Tackle.

Another early season chain is the Spider Chain. Here you can use larger crank baits as you work the shore line weeds. Fish are very weed oriented in this chain. Even the Walleyes act as though they were bass. Fallen trees are also spots where small bucktails can be very effective.

Of course, the Chippewa Flowage, with its dark water usually starts producing nice fish from opening day. A quick look at the Chip’s track record says it all…look at the Musky charts from Indian Trail Resort for perspective.

There is always a chance that you will tie into a big early season fish, however, most early season fish are males that range from 36 – 41 inches. Places that I would look for early season Musky action are cattail points, stump areas, and floating bogs that are hung up on stumps…you’ll find fish hanging around these spots. Also, if the water is high, shorelines with fallen trees in 12 inches of water are worth a few casts.

Clear Water Tactics

Spawning areas are the key. If you can find shallow bays with remnant vegetation, you’ll be on your way to finding fish.

Musky will spawn in water temperatures from 48-56 degrees. Spawning usually takes place in shallow bays on bottom muck, preferably in an area with sunken logs and stumps. Eggs are dropped in 6-18 inches of water.

My first area to check out would be these bays. Keep moving out to the edge of the bays where drop offs occur. If the fish have vacated the bays, look for them in the nearest green weed patch where the weeds are 24 inches high or more. In all cases, 5-7 inch minnow baits and small to medium bucktails are good lure choices. A good approach is to use Crane, Slammer, or Hi Finn Sidewinder lures twitched on the surface and reeled or jerked 1-2 feet…then let them rise to the surface.

My favorite is the Skimmer bucktail. This bait accounts for some of the most consistent action. Perch color on clear lakes and purple or gray crappie on dark water.

Plan B

If, after trying the shallows with out success, it may be that the fish have moved temporarily to deeper water because of weather of boat traffic. A trick that has saved the guide day for me on more than one occasion is using a feather tailed lure like the Mepps Marabou. I’ll locate fish cribs on my electronics, and using the rip/flutter method, jig this bait around the cribs. Musky hanging around these underwater ‘fast food buffets’ can be triggered into striking by the erratic action of the bait.

Good luck and Tight Lines