Time and time again you’ve heard musky experts like Joe Bucher, Chas Martin and others talk about the importance of shallow water and the sun’s thermal effect on muskies during the early part the season. Its undeniable that post spawn muskies will seek refuge in “hot spots” like bays and coves that are at times only slightly warmer than the main lake basins. These “hot spot” muskies rarely venture far from the comfort of the shallow bays until a bit later in the season. But catching these shallow water fish can be frustrating as they are often more finicky than fired up.
Most anglers will focus their efforts in these bays with small bucktails, rattle traps and downsized jerk baits. The downfall of all these small sized lures is gaining the speed necessary to achieve a decent action while keeping them off the bottom of shallow flats.
When I am confronted with shallow water situations that call for slow presentations, my mind quickly turns to top water. Don’t get excited just yet, we’re not talking about July in Canada, aggressive-style, presentations, and vicious strikes. Fishing top water during the early season is more of a finesse game. So, with this in mind let’s look at a few surface lures and how you can use them for early season top water success.
Top Raiders and Other Prop Baits
My personal favorite tail prop top water lure is the Top Raider, but these tactics work with Pacemakers, Tally Whackers, and the rest of the tail prop lures that The Musky Shop offers. Traditionally, tail prop lures are worked in a straight fashion, but during the early season you need to reinvent your presentations.
I have had tremendous success by reeling Top Raiders in painfully slow, just barely enough speed to get the tail to rotate. This slow crawl with its enticing plops can get even sluggish muskies to come and take a look. My primary retrieve with these tail ploppers is a slow surge technique. I simply pull the Top Raider across the surface roughly twelve to eighteen inches so the that a get a few plops out of it. After the slow pull I then twitch the bait causing it bounce in place. The goal is to get the lure to turn side to side in its own wake like a walk the dog style top water without the lure advancing forward. I have also had success by popping my line which forces the lure to bob up and down. This augmented retrieve is intended to call the muskies in with the lure’s plops and pops while keeping a subtle action while not advancing forward. Big, loud action without speed can be tricky to achieve, but with a little practice, it will put a season opener giant in your net.
Creepers are easily the goofiest musky lures out there, but they catch fish. My personal choice is the Bitten Tackle Creeper as they are pre tuned and the metal wings can take crushing strikes. But as with all things top water, I really think what they look like is of little importance. Tackle companies offer creepers that look like bats, ducks, frogs, and a menagerie of other creatures that belong in zoos, not tackle boxes. Regardless of looks if a creeper walks the walk muskies will bite. My trick with creepers during the early season is an extremely slow but steady retrieve. This slow retrieve often results with the lightest of takes that feels more like resistance than a strike. I make sure to add a large grub like a Kalins Mogambo to the rear hook. Nearly all my early season creeper muskies simply put their mouth around this grub before I ever knew they were there. This tactic seems to work well even in the shallowest bays and at times during early season cold fronts. One could even argue that the grub is the main attraction and that the creeper is simply an attractant.
Spooks for Spooky Muskies
Zara Spooks are a classic walk the dog bass lure that can be deadly in the shallows and work well around cover. Zara Spooks come in a variety of sizes, but I tend to use the 4 ½” version during the early season. When using a lure of this size it is often best to break out a bass rod and a reel that has some 55lb Beast Braid spooled up. Also, a smaller leader is advised as a standard sized musky leader will impede the spooks action. Again, I go for a slow retrieve, but I work it in the typical walk the dog fashion.
This presentation is a top consideration if you are seeing minnows and other small fish in the shallows. Muskies that are recovering from the spawn in these shallow water “hot spots” will at times binge on small minnows and bait fish.
Floating crankbaits like Shallow Raiders, Crane Baits, Slammers etc... can be deadly top water-ish lures. I have caught a couple of my biggest muskies in the early season by keeping my rod tip high and reeling just fast enough to get the lure to wobble. Just like my creeper tactic, I will add a grub to the rear of the bait. I usually use a 3” twister tail on the rear hook of my Shallow Raiders and Cranes when I am using them in this fashion. The benefit of using a crankbait as a top water lure quickly becomes clear boat side in the figure eight. I have triggered numerous strikes from muskies that where following a crankbait on the surface by quickly ripping the lure forcing it to hastily dive and rise.
Early season success usually isn’t as simple as throwing a bucktail and doing a decent figure eight. If the muskies are finicky or less than corporative, don’t be afraid to break out your top water, see what’s just below the surface on early season thermal “Hot Spots”.