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On Top of the Northern Ontario Muskie World

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On Top of the Northern Ontario Muskie World

Ottawa River guide, John Anderson, says you have a better chance catching a giant muskie on a surface lure than anything other bait. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

Try These Tips for Catching These Toothy Beasts



Legendary Ottawa River muskie guide John Anderson is a good friend, but he is also a royal pain in the butt.

How so?

He persists in sending me images along with all of the titillating highlights of the giant fish his clients are catching, on almost a daily basis, from the world-renowned Prescott-Russell Waterway.

But it has grown worse of late, because so many of the big toothy critters are sinking their teeth into the topwater lures that John's guests are casting. And there is nothing more exciting in all of fishing than spotting a huge shark-like wall of water emerging behind your lure and then seeing an frothy volcano-like eruption, moments before a mammoth muskie tries to yank the rod out of your hand. It is the stuff of pleasant heart attacks and dreams come true.

"The best caveat I could give anyone," says Anderson, "is that you have a better chance of catching a giant muskie on a surface lure than anything else. In fact, if you threw only top water lures, you'd catch fewer fish, but they'd be much bigger."

The devil, of course, is in the details, and fortunately for the rest of us, Anderson is more than willing to share them.

"Most muskie anglers have two speeds when it comes to retrieving lures," he chuckles, "fast and really fast. But I have much better results when I fish surface baits slowly. Certainly, far slower than the more conventional muskie lures."

Keep looking behind and below your surface bait to spot a muskie moving in for the kill.  And get ready for the knee-knocking excitement that is about to come(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Keep looking behind and below your surface bait to spot a muskie moving in for the kill. And get ready for the knee-knocking excitement that is about to come.

It is a valuable piece of intelligence because most muskie anglers are so excited when they finally get to launch their boats and push away from the dock on one of Ontario's marquee muskie waters, like Lake of the Woods, Eagle Lake, Lac Seul, Wabigoon Lake, Lake Nipissing, Lake Nosbonsing, Georgian Bay or Anderson's sprawling Ottawa River that they can't calm down, slow down or stop twitching their baits.

"It is not that you can't attract muskies with an erratic topwater presentation," concedes Anderson, "because they do it wonderfully. It is just that day in and day out, I've recorded more strikes on baits that I can retrieve in a straight line, rather than lures that zigzag wildly off to the sides. Muskies don't miss surface baits accidentally. They miss them on purpose. So I am all about the straight and narrow."

They're words of wisdom that remind me about something else that friend Don Pursch, who owns Nielson's Lodge on Northwestern Ontario’s spectacular Rowan Lake, one of the premier fly-in muskie waters on the planet, once told me.

As anglers, Don said, we tend to look out over the miles of pristine, picture-postcard scenery and think that we need to arouse the fish's attention, or somehow let it know that our bait is floating on the surface. But a muskie is so tuned into its environment that it knows instinctively when our lure splashes on the surface.

So there is never a need to overwork your topwater presentation.

As a matter of fact, Anderson, who has a degree in fisheries science, says muskies are so alert, and attentive to what is going on around them, that most anglers would be far more ahead of the game if they spent less time worrying about how to make their surface lures dance like jitterbugs and more time experimenting with different sounds and vibrations.

"A fish can pattern sound much more easily than it can sight," says the owner of the Ottawa River Muskie Factory. "And they can do it in both positive and negative ways."

"A lot of muskies have heard a Top Raider over the years," he says, referring to one of the most popular top water lures of all time. "That is why I typically choose something like a Big Mamma Dirdy B or Twisted Sis'tr. They're bigger profile lures, make more noise, throw more water and offer the fish frequencies they're not likely to have heard before and thus, associate with danger."

You’ll be further ahead if you experiment with sound and vibration, says guide John Anderson, than you will working your muskie surface bait erratically You’ll be further ahead if you experiment with sound and vibration, says guide John Anderson, than you will working your muskie surface bait erratically. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Of course, no amount of homework can prepare you for the moment of judgement, when you spot the Berlin-like wall of water bulging behind your bait, as though it is being followed by a Great White Shark. You just have to keep reminding yourself not to slow down or make it easy for the fish. It is the natural thing to do, but it results in more lost muskies than probably anything else. Far better to speed up your retrieve and try to hurry the bait away from the fish.

And while it is easy -- and spellbinding -- to watch your lure waltz, wiggle and slither across the surface, resist the urge to do it. Instead, fix your gaze on the zone of water immediately behind and below your bait. Doing this will give you an extra second or two to spot any marauding muskie that is planning to pounce on your lure, and prepare you for the hair raising, knee-knocking excitement that is about to come your way, in the muskie kingdom known as Northern Ontario.

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