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Gearing up for muskies

When fishing muskies early in the season Rob Cadeau finds fish in 5- to 7-feet of water, around fallen trees, logs jams and weed beds. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Gearing up for muskies

Editor's Note: This article was first published in June 2014. Since this time, it is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Rob Cadeau (September 12, 1969 - March 17, 2021). Please keep reading to learn some great techniques for muskie fishing that will live on from Rob.

I had to smile when I saw the image that buddy Rob Cadeau posted on his Facebook page last Wednesday. Rob is one of Ontario's finest muskie guides and the image was of six rods he had just rigged, in anticipation of the Northern Ontario muskie season opening last weekend.

The muskie rods were leaning against the tailgate of Rod's tow vehicle with the appropriate Ontario license plate number LTS FSH.

Rob Cadeau’s license plate, positioned between his rigged and ready-to-go muskie rods, says it all -- Let’s Fish! (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Rob's photo highlights, however, just how easy it can be, with a little careful thought and planning, to gear up successfully to tackle the greatest predator that swims in freshwater. And one that also calls Northern Ontario home in a disproportionate number of lakes and rivers.

"The first place to start planning," says Cadeau, when I asked him how he decides what lures to tie on, "depends on whether I am going to be casting or trolling for the big toothy critters. And while I fish for muskies across all of Ontario, my two favourite locations are Lake St. Clair in Southwestern Ontario and Lake Superior around Sault Ste. Marie. St. Clair tends to be more of a trolling bite while Superior is all about casting."

"On St. Clair, I like to troll 6- to 8- inch jerkbaits like Grandma baits and Shallow Depth Raiders early in the season. I troll bucktails -- Big Dirty double-bladed 10s -- as well. In Lake Superior, around the Soo, on the other hand, it is a casting game to a different breed of fish. The fish are much less pressured in Northern Ontario and they react differently."

How so?

When Cadeau is fishing for muskies in Lake St. Clair, he says the fish typically key in on very specific lure colours, typically hues that match the native perch, carp and walleye.

When he is fishing the rivers around Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario for muskies early in the season, Rob Cadeau says he finds the fish -- like this nice one he caught on the weekend -- in five- to seven feet of water, around fallen trees, logs jams, weed beds and boulders. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"Anytime I am trolling for muskies," says Cadeau, "I've got at least one rod in the prop wash. Usually, it is 8-foot long and medium-heavy action. You want a rod that gives a little, not something that is too stiff and tears up everything. My other trolling rods are 9-foot, heavy action with line counter reels spooled with 50-pound test Power Pro braided line. Salmon and lake trout anglers would identify these as "dipsey rods". As for the lures, anything that mimics the golden bronze hue of carp or walleye works well, so firetiger or a Goldilocks walleye pattern."

By the way, an important tackle trick that Cadeau employs when he is trolling bucktails, especially one of the new Northern Bait Big Dirties which feature a novel spoon trailer he says is deadly for muskies, is to add a 5-ounce inline sinker, attached via a short 4- to 5-foot leader, to counter the lift effect of the blades and to keep the lures down in the water when he is trolling at 4- to 5-miles-an-hour.

When Cadeau and his guests are casting for muskies, on the other hand, as was the case this past weekend when he opened the season in Northern Ontario, fishing the rivers around Sault Ste. Marie, he says it is a slightly different game. The fish respond better to big, bright and flashy baits, often the bigger, brighter and flashier the better.

"They're less pressured and more aggressive," says Cadeau, with a smile that stretches across his face, "and I am happy with that."

Like most early-season muskie pros, Cadeau also prefers casting smaller bucktails and body baits in the 6- and 8-inch range. And not necessarily because he thinks the big toothy critters are keying in on smaller forage fish. Rather, it's because you can retrieve smaller lures much more quickly, triggering many more early-season muskies to strike.

When Rob Cadeau troll bucktails for muskies, he typically positions a 5-ounce inline sinker ahead of the lure to counter the lift effect of the blades and to keep it running below the surface. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"The fish in the rivers have finished spawning and for the most part, they're in shallow five- to seven-foot deep water, around specific ambush spots -- fallen trees, logs jams and boulders. They're drifting back down toward Lake Superior, they're hungry and they're feeding."

When I queried Cadeau about the Water Wolf Shadzilla he had tied on to one of his rods, he replied, "What can you say about big soft plastic swimbaits. They just plain catch fish. For me, however, I typically use them to coax muskies that I've raised and have followed in another lure. I am also especially fond of a Shadzilla in the cisco colour because that is what the muskies in Superior are used to seeing. Plus, the steelhead is up the same rivers, so the cisco colour looks like a natural baitfish."

And the gorgeous Popp-A-Dawg topwater lure, hand-carved by master lure maker Jonathan Taylor of Frantic Baits that's fastened to another beefy stick. What is the story behind that?

"Any time you're fishing for muskies in Northern Ontario, you just have to have a topwater lure tied on," Cadeau chuckles. "I mean, is there anything more exciting in all of fishing, than having a huge muskie or giant northern pike explode on a surface bait? The Big Dawg is second to none. Simply cast it out and let it settle on the surface. Just the noise of the bait landing will often alert and attract muskies. Then, work it back to the boat in a back-and-forth, walk-the-dog fashion, popping and splashing the entire way. The blow-ups are unbelievably exciting."

Cadeau also confirmed something I've always thought and that is that surface baits like the Popp-A-Dawg are great "search baits" when you're looking for active fish. And while the colour of your topwater lure is relatively unimportant -- given the muskies are looking up and can only see the belly -- the practice of using a dark lure for its silhouette benefits in the low light periods of early morning, late afternoon and during overcast or rainy days prevails.

Don’t be surprised if you catch a trophy northern pike, like this 20-pound beauty, Rob Cadeau coaxed to hit a Popp-A-Dawg surface bait while fishing around the “Soo” on the weekend. Talk about a nice “bonus” fish. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

As for the best rod to use to fish a surface bait, Cadeau offers an interesting twist.

"I like a shorter rod in the 7 1/2-foot range," he says, "because I can keep my rod tip pointed down and manipulate the lure properly without the tip hitting the water and interfering with my retrieve."

Cadeau spools his topwater reels with a 65-pound test braided line, tipping it with an 80-pound test fluorocarbon leader for enhanced bait action. He also adds a Wolverine triple split ring to the nose of his surface baits to enhance their action and increase their fish-attracting wobble.

Cadeau's motto, clearly displayed on his Ontario license plate, is LTS FSH and when the name of the game is muskie fishing in Ontario -- especially his beloved Lake Superior region around Sault Ste. Marie -- he clearly walks the talk.

"Jim Saric of The Musky Hunter Television fame is coming up to fish and film with me later on in the season," Cadeau says, "Jim called me recently and said, "if we fish hard for three or four days do you think we can catch three or four muskies?" I said, "Jim, I expect you to catch three or four muskies the first morning."

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