In musky fishing, October can be the light at the end of the tunnel or the bane of your very existence. For some anglers, a lifetime of knowledge isn’t even enough to guide them through the woes of finding a pattern in October. October can mean so many different things to many different anglers, depending on their relative location to the North or middle of the US as well as the type of waterways they fish. Regardless of where you are located on the map, October is usually a time of transition, so maybe a little information will go a long way to explaining what on earth are Muskies looking for this month.
In the North Woods of Wisconsin and many parts of Minnesota, a heavy transition is taking place in the peak of Fall. October water temperatures can slide from 60 degrees down into the mid 40 to low 40’s toward the latest part. At the same time, many lakes in the region are experiencing “lake turnover” (referenced in a previous article) where the lake water flips from top to bottom, causing a change in oxygen levels and temperature regulation throughout the lake. Many of these same transitions will take place in the Northeast, and Southern parts of the US, but the period where they start might differ.
Outside of turnover lakes, many larger lakes with natural flow and rivers aren’t turning over at all. The surface temperatures are changing, slowly ticking down in the favorite bays, shorelines, and tributaries. When all of these changes are taking place across the spectrum of musky fishing, then what becomes the best way to target these fish during turnover or mid Fall season.
So, there is one overarching fact that anglers must remind themselves during a fall transition: targeting muskies will be difficult. Early fall is great for steamrolling shallow bays, but as we roll further into the season, finding these stealthy predators can be difficult and sometimes making them eat can seem impossible. You have to locate the predator in order to show it the prey.
The best types of baits for finding a moving target are “search baits”. Search baits are no different than other baits, but are just well suited for this task. A musky may never eat a search bait in the fall but they will likely investigate and give up their location. Dive and Rise baits, like Livingston Titans and Suick Musky Lures are great for getting into various depths and causing some commotion in the early fall. Also, using jerkbaits and gliders, like a quick-moving soft-tail Phantom, or using a Windel's Surface Buzzer Bait with an added grub, if you are more of a bucktail loving angler, can be helpful. Using a bait that has some kick to get things rolling in the right direction is never a bad idea to find your target.
Once you’ve dialed in on our gilled friends, it might be time to switch to a bigger slower presentation. Many times, as we progress through fall, muskies are going to be moving away from the shoreline, progressing toward outer deep edges. Many of these toothy critters are longing for rubber. Toothy Tuff, Water Wolf, and Chaos all produce some amazingly versatile rubber for calling up hungry muskies. Slow jerks and long pauses are what seems to work best to give muskies a chance to bite. They don’t want to use up too much energy between meals.
As rubber goes, if all else fails, throw out a tube, Red October makes the perfect set up for any occasion and presentation. They can be weighted for shallow or deep water and come in several sizes. Tubes are one of the ultimate later fall presentations that can help you nail down a trophy musky.
Remember, beginning in October, you want to make sure that if it’s allowed in your area, always help yourself be successful by soaking live bait. As we move later into fall, many anglers will move over to trolling and heavy emphasis on live bait. But while anglers are still able to cast, it doesn’t hurt to soak live bait near the boat to catch a musky that otherwise might not be interested. If you can manage a follow, getting a musky to chomp your live bait is not too tricky. Live bait handling might be foreign if you are a new angler, so check out this demo with Al Frost last season to help you rig your sucker the right way.
Though October is a tricky month to nail down your patterns, it’s not impossible. Patterns will change from day to day, so pay attention to these details. Know if you are on a turnover lake or waterway, and adjust your strategy to follow oxygenated water as it sinks. Some people prefer to skip heavy turnover lakes altogether and shoot for flowing waterways and rivers for better patterning. Use search baits to find muskies holding out for something more. Don’t be afraid to get out the rubber arsenal early, they make shallow rubber for these applications: just work it slow. And always have optional live bait at the ready to help you produce once contact has been made.