Just a few short weeks after the musky opener, the excitement of the early season can turn into frustration for many anglers. As the water temperatures start to increase so will the amount of boating traffic. Those peaceful afternoons on the water are quickly gone leaving behind an aquatic hellscape as every imaginable terror of the deep descends on our pristine musky lakes. Morons on jet skis, pontoons loaded with scantily clad geriatrics and pleasure boats with screaming children in tow are just a taste of the horrors that await.
Aside from driving a musky angler to the brink of homicide, these recreational boaters can really screw up an other wise great day on the water. The increased noise in addition to heavy amounts of wake and shoreline pounding waves can give muskies a case of lock jaw. The negative effects of recreational traffic can have an impact on any sized body of water, but these effects can be devastating to a musky bite on small to midsized lakes.
But wait, before you storm the beaches or form boarding parties to curb the negative effects of these nautical nincompoops, there is an easier far less illegal option. It’s time to become a night stalker because the nighttime is the right time.
The first step in becoming a successful musky angler after dark is preparation. I cannot overstate how important it is to have your boat organized and set up before venturing out into the darkness. Be sure to have the decks clear of any tripping hazards or items that might snag your net or fishing line. Prior to night trips, I will have most of the lures which I anticipate using out and ready to go as well as my landing tools organized and readily accessible. I also recommend having the handle of your landing net extended to prevent any fumbling in the dark. Taking a few moments to get organized before you head out will cut down on night fishing follies and help you to avoid catastrophe.
I would be remiss to not mention boating safety after dark. I do not recommend venturing out after dark on new lakes or bodies of water that are only slightly familiar. I have on more than one occasion had to drive back to the docks without the aid of GPS using only visual markers to stay safely away from hazards. Be sure you are comfortable with the body of water you intend to fish before heading out after the sun has set. Please follow all regulations regarding the usage of navigation lights and be sure to have a powerful flashlight on board to use while driving.
My game plan for nighttime muskies is simple, know where you’re going and go where you know. I focus all of my after dark efforts on prime musky locations and familiar structure. Knowing the layouts of spots and being able to land accurate casts is still an important factor even after last light. Boat control can also be tricky so knowing the key features of a location and how to properly navigate them is imperative. GPS and Mapping units can be extremely helpful in these scenarios but constantly looking at a screen in the dark can be annoying and have you seeing spots.
My solution to ensure proper boat control and accurate casts well after the sun has set is utilizing inexpensive glowsticks. By attaching glowsticks to my marker buoys with zip ties I can easily marks weed edges, reefs, and rocks as well as other prime elements on any given location. I also utilize my now glowing markers to direct my trolling motor travel ensuring that each cast is landing on an optimum location.
Having this visual cue relieves a tremendous amount of frustration. On large spots I will at times use multiple colors to define the outlying edges of an area or to differentiate between cover and structural elements. To ensure that my buoys are properly placed I will spend some time setting them just before the sun begins to set. If setting gear out before dark is not an option making a few GPS waypoints to drop you buoys on is highly recommended.
Presentations After Dark
While muskies are keenly adapted to hunting under the moonlight, some changes to your presentation style should be made. Foremost is speed control, under most circumstances the key to triggering strikes is slowing down after the sun has set. Slower retrieval speeds allow muskies to key in on lures with their lateral lines as the lures many not be visible to them until they are just mere inches away.
Another consideration is lure size class, and nighttime is the time to think big. Large blades like Double 10’s, magnum crankbaits like the 9” Shallow Raider and Bulldawgs can produce nighttime strikes. Also, under the cover of darkness is when jointed crankbaits rule supreme. Lures, such as the jointed Depth Raider, worked in a slow fashion, have an enticing wobble that is easy for these night stalkers to find. My rule of thumb for nighttime lure selection is to go one step larger than what has been working during daytime hours. If muskies are targeting Double 8’s in the day, then Double 10’s are probably the ticket after dark; this same principle applies to crankbaits and jerk baits.
Musky fishing after dark can seem a little daunting at first, but with proper preparation and a game plan in place, it can be the best action of the year. So, when the boat traffic becomes more than you and the muskies can bear, it’s time to become a creature of the night.