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Jiggin' Up Fall Muskies

A beautiful muskie caught by expert Wally Robins crawling a 3/4-ounce bass jig slowly along the bottom of a favourite Northern Ontario river. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

Don't put your boat away just yet, especially, if you want to catch the muskie of your dreams in Northern Ontario. The Perfect Storm of conditions is brewing -- water temperatures have dropped into the low 50s and even high 40s -- and the best places to fish are setting up perfectly.

By the way, the location of those ideal Ontario muskie haunts may surprise you. They're the myriad of large, small and medium-size rivers that lace the province like exquisite necklaces.

Understandably, the big boys like St. Clair, St. Lawrence, Ottawa, French and Winnipeg rivers get much of the notoriety but don't discount the smaller flowages like the Rideau, Madawaska and Spanish. Indeed, there is a score of magnificent rivers between Sault Ste. Marie and Parry Sound flow into Lake Huron and Georgian Bay offering outstanding muskie fishing opportunities.

And you're not going to believe the best way to catch the legendary critters. It's casting jigs and soft plastics using the same gear you'd employ to nab largemouth bass.

ontario muskie After locating a sunken log lying on the bottom, close to a current break, Wally Robins hooked into this beautiful musky while fishing a river in Northeastern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"I’ve caught over 75 muskies, up to 36 pounds on bass jigs," says Ontario muskie fishing buddy, Wally Robins (pictured above), "and it just may be my favourite way to fish in the fall. I'll tell you something else: the colder the water gets, the better the fishing. And you rarely see another angler, so you have these magnificent, picture-postcard rivers in Northern Ontario all to yourself."

Another reason the technique is so intriguing, of course, is that if you've never fished for muskies before, or you’re just starting out, you don't have to purchase an array of expensive, specialized gear. You likely already own the basic bass tackle.

"My favourite outfit, by a mile," says Robins, "isn’t even a traditional muskie setup. It’s the same Loomis (SWBR 955) rod I use for chucking mega-swimbaits for giant largemouth bass. It’s light by muskie standards, but it's super sensitive and a dream delivery tool for the 3/4- and 1-ounce jigs I like to pitch. I team it up with a standard bass-style Shimano Curado 300 baitcasting reel, spooled with a 30-pound test Big Game monofilament line. I like the little bit of extra stretch monofilament gives me, because most of my hook-ups occur when I have out less than 50 feet of line. And I really hammer the fish when I set the hook."

Talk about a study in contrast. At a time when most muskie anglers are trolling giant baits, in giant Northern Ontario lakes, Robins is enjoying placid conditions in scenic river valleys flipping and pitching bass baits.

"Many days I won't burn five dollars worth of gas in the boat," Robins chuckles. "As the water chills, the muskies' metabolism slows down, the fish become lethargic and very bottom oriented. So, the cold water dovetails perfectly with the jig program."

Robins is bang-on in his assessment, of course. While many anglers are aware of the fact that northern pike and muskies are closely related and both members of the Esox family of fishes, they forget that pike prefers much cooler water temperatures than their warm water-loving muskie cousins. As a result, pike will often scoot after and chase down a fast-moving lure in the late fall, whereas muskies tend to drop down to the bottom and literally, chill out, while they watch the world -- and your lure -- pass by.

Knowing this, Robins slowly, and ever so carefully, picks apart potential muskie structures as skilfully as a scalpel-wielding surgeon.

"I like locating isolated pieces of structure and cover," says Robins. "Things like raggedy deep weed lines, a spot where the bottom transitions from weed to rock, or from rock to gravel. What really gets me excited, though, is when I find a small boulder or sunken log -- anything different -- in the middle of nowhere. And if it's on, or close to a current break, my eyes light up."

When Robins finds one of these likely musky-holding locations he fishes it the same way a bass angler would in the summer. By positioning his boat in 12 to 20 feet of water and then flipping and pitching his jig into tiny pockets in the weeds or alongside the isolated rock or log. And at least 60 percent of the fish hit his lure when it's less than 35 feet away.

ontario muskie Late fall is the perfect time to fish for muskies like beauty that Wally Robins caught in one of the multitudes of small, medium and large rivers crisscrossing Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Talk about explosive and exciting.

"I always tell folks, that doing less with your bait is more when you're putting this late fall muskie technique into practice," says Robins. "I simply flip or pitch out my bait -- my favourite is a 5-inch Bass Magnet Tubezilla pinned to a 3/4-ounce triangular-shaped jig -- and let it fall to the bottom on the slackline. Then, I retrieve it back to the boat with short hops and glides. Six inches is a big lift and 12 inches is a long glide, so I am moving it along slowly. And I am always in contact with the bottom."

Amazingly, crawling his jig along the bottom this way, Robins says even a giant musky feels like a walleye when it picks up your lure. They rarely devour it in the fall. Instead, you simply feel a little tick or the sensation of "spongy nothingness". When you feel it, though, it is time to set the hook hard.

Winnipeg River muskieThe colder the water, the better the fishing gets in the fall, as Ryan Knutson proved with this gorgeous muskie that he landed recently while fishing in the Winnipeg River, in Northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

"When you swim your jig in front of muskie in cold water it sees your lure as an easy meal. So it sneaks over, flares its gills and creates a vacuum. The tick you feel -- even from a 35-pound muskie -- is the jig and leader making contact with its mouth."

Obviously, when you're dealing with such sensitive bites, you need to be alert for the pick-up, which is why Robins places his finger in front of the reel, so the line runs across it, aiding in his sense of touch. And when he feels a bite, he doesn't wait a millisecond before setting the hook. "Hook sets are free," chuckles Ontario's master of muskie rivers. "I've had scud missiles come flying back at me, and I've made bone-jarring hook sets into logs and weeds. But, more often than not, that little tick you feel turns out to be another giant Northern Ontario muskie. Then, it is game on!"

Sound exciting?

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