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Muskies on my mind

Gord Pyzer Shows off a trophy muskie caught in Northern Ontario. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

Turquoise blue skies, ruby red maple trees, sulphur-yellow tamaracks, ice-edged back bays and coves, afternoon breezes laced with smoke from countless village bonfires, lakes and rivers liberated from swimmers, boaters and water-skiers and big, bad, bold, bodacious muskies.

It's autumn and you've got to love it.

Especially, if you're a muskie angler like me, as there is simply no better time of the year to catch a giant Ontario gator. And there is no better place to do it than a lake or river you have never fished.

That is right, pick an Ontario muskie water you've always wanted to explore -- Lake St. Clair, Lake Nipissing, Lake Nosbonsing, one of the Kawarthas, Georgian Bay, Eagle, Lac Seul, Lake of the Woods, or the Ottawa, St. Lawrence, Detroit or Winnipeg River -- and you stand a better chance over the next eight weeks of catching the fish of your dreams than at any other time of the year.

And here is the clincher: You can catch the legendary "fish of ten thousand casts" without making a single cast!

If this all sounds a bit strange let me explain. Despite their impressive dental work and fierce reputations, muskies are mamma's boys. They don't like leaving home. They spawn, take summer vacations and winter in very specific locations. And the big toothy critters are so devoted to these different seasonal home ranges that they faithfully flock to them year after year.

But with one exception -- right now.

It's why autumn levels the playing field in an amazing way.

You see, when the water temperature cools below 150°C (590°F), as it has across all of Ontario, a muskie's summer home range vanishes and the fish becomes a nomad. And it will continue swimming, seemingly randomly, from structure to structure and cover option to cover option until the water plummets in late November and early December to a frigid 50°C (410°F), just prior to freezing up at which point the fish will stop wandering and slide down to its winter home.

The reason these mammoth couch potatoes suddenly become fall gypsies is intriguing. Like black bears and grizzlies, muskies enter a state of hibernation in the winter -- called topor -- when for all intents and purposes, they survive by living off the fat reserves they accumulate during autumn.

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

At the same time, however, mature muskies need to obtain enough nourishment in the fall to nearly ripen the eggs and milt developing inside them. There simply isn't enough time in the spring for the early season spawners to fatten up, so they binge feed in the fall.

This raises the rhetorical question:

Could you ask for more perfect conditions?

Hordes of hungry fish prowling around looking for meals.

Not surprisingly, autumn is also the season when trolling for muskies becomes your best strategy. If for no other reason than two moving objects have a much greater chance of running into one another.

The other key is concentrating your efforts in water that is typically 15- to 30-feet deep. And while almost any shoreline can produce a fish, you'll increase your chances significantly by concentrating your trolling passes in, over and around structures such as long underwater points, sunken rock reefs and constricted, necked-down, channel-type waters where the current is present.

The latter locations, by no mere coincidence, attract fall spawning species of fish like ciscoes and whitefish and also appeal immensely to walleye, white suckers, sauger and perch. All meals-on-wheels that big, bad, bold, bodacious muskies consider fine fall table fare.

It's why I unloaded most of the bass and walleye tackle from my boat yesterday and replaced it with far too many muskie rods, reels and lures. Fortunately, buddy Ben Beattie, who is one of the hottest muskie guides on Ontario's famous Lac Seul validated my thinking by sending me the photo of the magnificent muskie that accompanies this blog that he caught last night trolling a 10-inch Jake, fifteen minutes after sunset.

"The big girl kicked off the fall trolling season in fine fashion," Ben said. "The water temperatures in Lac Seul are in the high 50s and the muskies are bulking up for winter. Covering water by trolling big baits is a great way to intersect the fish of a lifetime."

Indeed, it is! Indeed, it is!

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