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Homing in on fall muskies

In-Fisherman Editor Doug Stange and Gord Pyzer caught this huge muskie while trolling in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country.

Muskie behaviour changes dramatically in the fall



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Lac Seul, Eagle Lake, Lake of the Woods, Lake Nipissing, Lake Nosbonsing, Georgian Bay, Lake St. Clair and the mighty Winnipeg, Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers are just a few of the world famous muskie haunts found in Ontario.

Indeed, with so many marquee muskie waters at our doorstep, deciding where to go is almost as difficult as what to throw.  And there is no better time to plan a trip to one of these legendary Ontario muskie bastions than right now.

As a matter of fact, from now until the end of the season in late November and early December, depending on where you fish, is arguably the best time of the year.

Ontario muskie guide Jon BondyOntario muskie guide Jon Bondy displays a beautiful muskie he caught in the late fall as it was roaming and "feeding up" for the winter. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

And, for a reason many muskie anglers are unaware. It's because the fish establish summer and winter home ranges, to which they are faithful for life.

In other words, in the summer, every muskie in a Northern Ontario lake or river is locked into a relatively small home territory within which it remains and from which it rarely strays. Obviously, the territories of some fish overlap, but the important point to understand is that in the summer, for all intents and purposes, muskies are homebodies.

They're homebodies in the winter as well, and their winter digs bear no resemblance in terms of location to their summer spots.

Now, I can hear you wondering, it is neither summer nor winter right now, so, why is Ontario fall muskie fishing supreme?

Well, it is because in the fall, a muskies' summer home range breaks down and the fish, instead of being locked into one small area of the lake, are now free to wander about and feed heavily.

It is helpful to understand, as well, that the degree to which a muskie will ramble in the fall appears to be related to the size of the lake and to the availability and size of food. In general, the larger the waterbody the greater the distances the fish will meander.

On the other hand, when copious amounts of food, in the form of large forage fish like suckers, ciscoes or whitefish is available, the more the fish tend to restrict their movements.

Ontario muskie guide Jon Bondy(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Why muskies would suddenly change their behaviour so dramatically in the fall, however, is interesting. Because in some smaller waters, researchers have tracked the fish and discovered they've meandered around the entire lake not once, but as many as three and four times.

Obviously, this sudden autumn wanderlust is related to the fish being able to chase down dinner and gobble up enough nourishment to allow the eggs and milt they carry within them to nearly completely develop.

That way, the mature fish can enter a state of torpor in the winter -- much like bears -- when the water temperature plummets and the surface freezes. Indeed, other than very minimal maintenance feeding, muskies eat little for the months on end they spend under the ice.

Then in the spring, there simply isn’t enough time to find concentrated stores of forage fish to binge feed on before they lay their eggs. So they fatten up in the fall by prowling, marauding and looting around the lake.

Sounds pretty exciting now, doesn't it? If only we had a clue to tell us when those summer home ranges break down and the fall pillaging begins.

Never thought you'd ask.

Brandon BroderickBrandon Broderick broke this "personal best" Ontario muskie in the fall and then went on to better it, three times in the same day! (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Dr. Ed Crossman of the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto fame, was perhaps the most renowned muskie researcher of the Twentieth Century. Ed discovered that water temperature triggers these movements and that in the fall, when surface water temperatures cool below 15˚C or 59˚F, the muskies’ summer home ranges either disintegrate completely or they expand to the point where the fish appear to wander.

And by the way, the muskies will continue wandering around until the water temperature reaches 5˚C or 41˚F at the end of the season, at which point they will scoot to their winter homes.

Now, guess what the water temperature is on the marquee muskie waters of Northern Ontario these days. That is right -- it's almost smack dab on 15˚C or 59˚F.

Whoops -- was that the Northern Ontario muskie alarm clock I just heard go off?

Gord Pyzer fall muskieAuthor Gord Pyzer with a nice Ontario fall muskie. If you watch the weather and pick your days, you can enjoy splendid conditions even into December when this fish was landed. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Follow Gord Pyzer on Twitter or Gord on Facebook.

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