Many of you know the importance the moon has on muskie fishing but there’s another natural effect that can determine your muskie fishing success especially during the early season, “The Sun”.
The sun is the largest body in our solar system and some would say exerts the greatest influence in our daily lives, as well as that of wildlife. The primary solar periods that are factored in weather and wildlife charts are dawn, dusk, midday and midnight. Each of these periods is determined based on the exact time of sunrise and sunset for that specific location and date. Even though the solar influence on wildlife within each day is significant, the day-to-day and even the week-to-week change resulting from this solar influence is incremental and not very noticeable. However above and beyond the suns solar influences a key factor in landing early season muskies is the suns direct daily effect, sunlight is a major contributor to fishing success. Understanding how muskies react to sunlight will make you a better early season angler.
Search for Warmth
Most muskie anglers start there pursuit on southern waters in extremely cold water temperatures, sometimes as low as 35 degrees. Late winter climate tends to leave southern waters with volatile weather often which can mean a frustrating day on the lake unless you plan your strategies around waters that warm early and holds the suns warmth the longest. A good game plan makes all the difference, timing your milk run can mean everything. A couple of degrees warmer water may not seem like a big deal but it is, the warmer banks will start to bloom with vegetation quicker and draw the bait fish in and also produce more oxygen into the water. I’ve found water temperatures plays a bigger role in determining muskie location and activity level during March and April than any other time of the year down south as it is as equally important on June waters up north. I always concentrate on locating the warmest water in the system because that is where muskies will usually be shallower, active and in good numbers. I’ve found that many bodies of water will show a 5-to-10 degree water temperature variance from one shoreline or end of the lake to the other during these months, due to seasonal rains, frequent frontal passages and strong winds so common at this time. The most predictable areas to find warmer waters now are on the lake’s north side; in protected coves with murky to muddy water on calm, sunny days; and in the dammed end of a reservoir with some current flow. Search out rock ledges where available, watch the sun as it heats up these areas. Checking those areas near the wall often for significant water temperature changes.
Analyzing Water Clarity
To accurately create a game plan in chasing warmer water during the early season is to know water temps and to help determine which waters will warm faster and which will hold the water temperature the longest, this is especially true on rivers and reservoirs of the south where the water color can be many shades and change frequently. Recent run-off chances the clarity of these waters, determine the water temp of the run off as well as it’s color will prove very valuable in finding the location of active fish. Here again Remember that clearer water warms faster yet the darker water will hold it’s temperature longer. On murky lakes, you’ll want to save some of your best spots until late morning or afternoon, after the sun has had a chance to warm the water a few degrees. Commonly during this early season the morning bite is very slow, muskie action drastically improves once the sun rays hits the water.
Cover the Coves
Coves and creek arms are no doubt my first choices during the early season and I plan to spend a great amount of time on these spots. Keep in mind here that landing cast close together is very important, most strikes seem to be by reaction so the angler who puts the cast closest to a muskies head gets the fish many times. Warmer water can also be found on different sides of the coves, pay attention to these small details and the sun’s angle on the cove. Again knowing your water and where the sun hits at what time is crucial. My clients and I have found that moving closer to shore in the backs of these coves later in the day, where the water can be 10 to 15 degrees warmer by mid afternoon. I’m talking water less than two feet hold an abundance of large pre spawn fish in there hunt for warmth.
Pound the Cuts
The early season and it’s warming sunshine attract me to cuts. A “cut”, is “lick”, a “mini cove” and muskies will move into these seemingly insignificant indentations along the bank to take advantage of warmer waters. These mini structures are a huge attraction for muskies once the water temperatures reach the 50 degree mark, and there a great place to hook into a pre spawn giant. Comb pockets thoroughly with rattle baits and small cranks like the smaller versions of the 4PLAY from Savage gear for pre spawners, then the larger 4Plays and 1 oz spinnerbaits for recovering post spawners. Don’t over look quick moving pull baits like the Sledge, Burt and Leo. Watch your color selection and adjust depending on the water clarity.
Bump the Stumps
Clients and I rarely pass up on a stump during the early season. A shallow stump in these warming bays is often the first place a pre spawn fish heads to when entering these warming coves and bays from deeper winter water. They’ll hold tight to the stump on sunny days and on cloudy days they use it as a home base for short feeding periods. Many times they will use those stumps as recovering spots after the spawn, either way make sure your first cast is to the sunny side of the stump pre spawn and the shaded side during post spawn, either way cover multiple sides and angles. Crank baits both lipped and lipless work well here, try a Fat Belly Rattler or smaller twitch bait like Cranes, Big Games or my new favorite and popular down south the Paul Courtney crank bait allowing the lure to make contact with the stump every time. These Paul Courtney baits run a little deeper than most similar twitch baits with a nice slow rise, that pause and rise seems to make the muskies more eager to commit. During that early warming period don’t overlook lipless rattling cranbaits like Rattlin’Shad and Rat ”L” Trap. My clients and I have found terrific success even when water temps are as cold as 35 degrees.
As our climate has seemed to have changed dramatically over the past decade now our air temperatures are heating up sooner than normal which can create some hot muggy days not long after the season starts. The sun’s shade can provide for some relief for post spawn muskies. knowledge of which areas shade after a warming morning can be a great benefit in late afternoon. Fortunately, many things can provide muskies with a break from the sun. Large boulders or other structure in the water can provide shade that might result in muskies congregating in one area. Shaded water, when present, should always be targeted by fisherman not only as it is a location of low light, but an area of cooler water as well. Even wind can provide lower light levels as the choppy water reflects more light than a glass smooth surface. Of course, fishing in murky or muddy water is a good idea to find muskies as the stain in the water blocks the sun as well. Keep in mind that the midday sun is the worst. Sunlight striking the water at angles is reflected more than sunlight that is beaming straight down on the water. Another great target for late and post spawn muskies on sunny days are docks, boat houses and marina’s. These areas can hold some of the biggest fish in the lake. Casting angles become a significant factor here, the first cast in rarely gets the action. Make multiple cast at a variety of angles with an assortment of baits. Jigging beneath those docks and boat slips around marinas in the upper 15 feet of water, Bondy baits, Red October Tubes, Bulldawgs, Medusa and even super sized Rattlin’ Shads can take a trophy this time of year using a vertical jigging presentation. When working shallower docks try the Sledge, Hellhound and a new attention to my arsenal Anthony Ashby’s Hot Tail Glider with it’s unusual simmering motion.
Sun and Baitfish
Baitfish are also on a quest for warmer water during the early season, this is even more true on southern waters. The sun’s rays are like a magnet to small and giant schools of shad, of course muskies are not far behind. You can notice on warmer days where the water temps are as low as forty degrees within just a few hours the large clearer shallow creeks can warm up to to over fifty degrees, schools of shad find it fast too. The bait usually remains there till a few hours before sunset when they move deeper during these colder periods. During these clear sky days under clear water conditions try shad imitation baits, those with chrome or foil sides my favorites are 4plays, Paul Cortneys, shallow-and depth raiders. As water temperatures continues to warm baitfish react in a different way, the high-noon period, when the sun is at its most direct position overhead. Besides being a half-way point between dawn and dusk , it’s also when the sun’s light and heat energy suddenly penetrate very deeply into the water. This can spark plankton blooms at the medium to lower depths, which induces baitfish to move and feed, and in turn can stimulate muskies to do the same thing. Experienced anglers have found that this high-noon period is often a good time to fish deeper, and this may be why. If the bite seems to slow clients and I tend to move out to do some early season trolling.
Sun Exposure on Anglers
Protection from the sun is on everyone’s minds today, anglers are paying more attention to the sun’s negative effect on our skin. Fisherman get both direct sunlight from space and reflected sunlight from the water, sunlight enters our atmosphere as ultra-violet radiation—even on cloudy days. Too much of this radiation can cause skin cells to mutate and sometimes cause cancer. The sun’s rays can be extremely dangerous so preparation is everything. The natural tanning process can help control this but only to a certain degree but knowledge of different sun protection ideas is important for everyone, but is especially important for fisherman, who are likely to spend much more time outside. The reason for caution is that melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer, is a big concern for those who spend a lot of time in the sun. Being safe doesn’t take much effort, and taking small steps to protect yourself can save your life in the long run.
Applying sunscreen is one of the easiest ways to stay safe and will provide with a good amount of protection. Before you leave for the day check the UV index for the day. Anything higher than a 5 means that you should be especially liberal and diligent when it comes to the application of sunscreen. Please keep in mind that the SPF number on the bottle does not indicate strength—these numbers define the relative length of effectiveness. For example, an SPF of 30 will work twice as long as an SPF of 15. The most effective way to be safe is to apply sunscreen before you put your clothes on. This is important because it ensures that your cover every inch of your body in sunscreen and are protected everywhere. Even more surprising is that sun can reflect off the boat and water and into your shorts and under your chin. Throughout the day reapply, use it liberally to the face, hands, and any other exposed skin.
Every serious muskie angler knows the importance of polarized sunglasses for better views on figure eights, spotting weeds and other structure, however eye protection from the sun is another reason to wear good polarized sunglasses. Recently a study was done on North Korea’s fishing community, it’s aim was to determine whether cataract disease increases with a lifetime exposure to sunlight. The results was higher grades of cataract tended to be more common in subjects with the most sun exposure. Obviously proper sunglasses should be on the boat of every angler. Beware not all polarized sunglasses are of the same quality and many can loose there polarization with time. My favorites are models from WileyX, their Filter 8TM polarized lenses are made for fisherman with eye care first and foremost with awesome into the water visibility. Available in ready to wear and most models are prescription ready.
Many anglers I have fished with almost refuse to use sunscreen, their complaint is that it’s oily, smelly and ends up on everything you touch, these guys now have a safe alternative. Clothing that protects against the sun is becoming more and more common among anglers, southern fisherman have big believers in clothing that fights off the sun’s rays. I’ve even went to using sun protective sleeves from Scudo Sports Wear on my forearm to protect expensive muskie art i’ve had tattooed, very cool and light weight with all the protection you need.. Popular to the muskie angler is products from FISHHARD, their lightweight, breathable Sun Scarves shade your head, face, and neck as those parts of your body will take the hardest beating from the sun, shirts made of tight weaved 100% polyester keep the sun’s rays off your body. These types of clothing has an SPF of 15 or greater (a normal cotton shirt only has an SPF of 5). If you can’t find this clothing, then try and get your hands on Rit Sun Guard. This is a laundry aid that you simply add to your wash to give all your clothing an SPF of 30 that lasts for 20 washes. Pursuing muskies in the early season can always be a testing time for anglers, understanding the sun’s pattern as it makes it’s daily pass will make the difference. One big key to early season success is not only the areas that we fish but the time of day we hit those spots. A good game plan makes all the difference, timing your milk run can mean everything. Knowing what spots warm the earliest then what areas hold the heat longer in the day can be a major factor in early season muskies. Keep in mind even a one degree increase can be the difference in active or docile muskies. Keep yourself safe a think about protection from the sun and have a successful jump start to your muskie season.