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the undisputed muskie capital of the world

Guide Darcy Cox landed this mammoth Lake of the Woods muskie. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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the undisputed muskie capital of the world

Fish for the trophy of a lifetime in Northern Ontario

Well, I can say with some authority that the water temperatures in our Northwestern Ontario Sunset Country muskie lakes and rivers - magical haunts like Rainy Lake, Kakagi Lake, Rowan Lake, Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Dinorwic Lake, Lac Seul and the Winnipeg River - have finally plunged below the 60°Fahrenheit or 15° Celsius mark for good. And I think I am on firm ground saying that we won't likely see those warm temperatures again until late next spring or early summer.

By the way, this same drop in water temperatures is occurring right across Northern, Central and Southern Ontario, too, with the steady parade of crisp, cool, cloudless fall evenings we've been enjoying of late.

If you think this sounds sad, because it must mean that winter's on the way, you're clearly not a muskie angler because the water temperature dipping below 60° F / 15° C signals a magical time for catching the big toothy critters in Northern Ontario.

And I think you'll find the reason why to be fascinating.

As many anglers are aware, the mighty muskellunge, for which Northern Ontario is world-famous, establishes well-defined seasonal home ranges in the summer and winter, to which the fish faithfully return throughout their life cycle, which can span as many as 30 or more years.

What could be more exciting than catching the muskie of your dreams in a Northern Ontario lake or river, snapping a couple of quick photos, and then watching the fish swim free? (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

As a result, even though the fish may be living in a massive body of water, like Northwestern Ontario's Lake of the Woods with its unimaginable 14,000 islands and 65,000 miles of shoreline, a summer home range may be as small as a few hundred acres from which the muskie will not move.

But, let the water temperature dip below 60° F (15° C) in the fall and all bets are off. For this is the signal to the fish to begin wandering, moving relentlessly and feeding heavily before they move to their winter stamping grounds.

The degree to which the fish will move around in the fall, by the way, is variable and appears to be related to the size of the lake and the availability and size of food. In general terms, however, the bigger the body of water the greater the muskies roam.

In one study, for instance, a tagged fish meandered around half of the lake not once. . .but four times. . .in the month of October alone.

By the way, because muskies are constantly prowling these days, top gun guides like Lake of the Woods expert Darcy Cox, who has made a big name for himself guiding his guests to mammoth fish, tend to troll more than they cast. Given the likelihood of two moving objects being more likely to cross paths, it is a wise fall strategy.

The late Dr. Ed Crossman of the Royal Ontario Museum was the pioneer in examining how water temperature triggers these movements. In the late spring, once water temperatures reach 15° C (60° F) Ed discovered that most muskies head for their summer homes. In the fall, he found the situation is reversed. Now, when water temperatures cool below 15° C (60° F), the muskies’ summer home ranges either disintegrate or they expand to the point where the fish appear to wander again. And they continue to be nomadic until the water reaches 5° C (41° F), at which point they scoot to their winter hideaways.

Once water temperatures fall below the 60° F / 15° C mark in the fall, a muskies home range disintegrates and the fish wander throughout the lakes and rivers they call home in Northern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

But, here is the question that I am sure is uppermost in many anglers' minds. Why would these hitherto homebodies suddenly become gypsies? Especially, when they are so faithful to their summer and winter ranges?

Researchers believe the fish are chasing down dinner and gobbling up enough nourishment to allow the eggs and milt they carry within them to nearly completely develop. It makes sense when you remember that muskies enter a state of torpor in the winter, just like bears, in the Northern Ontario lakes and rivers that freeze and they call home. Other than minimal maintenance feeding, muskies eat little for months on end under the ice. Then in the spring, there simply isn’t enough time to find concentrated stores of forage fish to binge upon before they lay their eggs.

As a result, they fatten up in the fall, just as you can do to your muskie scorecard when you fish for the trophy of a lifetime in Northern Ontario, the undisputed muskie capital of the world.

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