West Central Minnesota muskies
Although not as prolific as the Hayward or Minocqua areas of northern Wisconsin, west central Minnesota is becoming increasingly popular for anglers in search of the vaunted muskie.
Certain special lakes located in the Otter Tail, Douglas, and Becker counties of Minnesota boast very healthy numbers and excellent muskie fishing opportunities. That is right, the fish often referred to as the "freshwater shark" can be found right out your back door.
The muskellunge, or 'muskie' as they are referred to by outdoorsmen, is a large fresh water fish that is similar to the northern pike that are commonly caught in Minnesota lakes. In fact, the muskie is the largest member of the pike family. The easiest way to tell the difference between a northern pike and a muskie is that the muskie has dark markings on a light skin background while a pike has the reverse.
Muskies can grow well in excess of 50 inches and 50 pounds. Catching a fish that large is relatively rare because of many factors including, slow reproductive rate, slow growth rate, fishing pressure, and loss of habitat. The Minnesota state record muskie was caught in 1957 on lake Winnibigoshish, which is a large northern Minnesota lake located in Itasca and Cass counties. This record fish measured 56 inches and weighed 54 pounds.
The peak of muskie fishing is either the spring/early summer or early fall seasons. Early in the year, the fish are hungry following the long Minnesota Winter, while during the fall they want to put on the 'feed bag' in anticipation of what is to come. Muskies are increasingly active and aggressive during these periods. While they will bite in mid-Summer, fishing when the fish are naturally the most hungry is best.
Numerous fishing techniques exist for those in search of the lake monster. Muskies love weed cover and ambush habitat where they can hunt baitfish. They often lurk in dense weed beds that can be either found in deeper mid-lake or shallow shoreline areas. The structure provided by rock points or sunken islands also provide potential muskie holding points.
Since muskies are larger game, it is necessary to fish with larger more impact resistant gear. Anglers should use a minimum of 30 pound test line, which is preferably braided because of its ability to better hold up to the razor sharp teeth of the muskie. The unbelievable strength and persistent fight of a muskie makes an extra stiff graphite rod and large bait casting reel a must. A large net or muskie cradle enables handling the fish much easier. If you are lucky enough to tie into one of these trophies, try to take quick pictures and get the fish back in the water as soon as possible.
Muskies can be caught using various methods including trolling rigs over or along the weed beds or rock piles. I prefer casting buck tails, spoons, or top water plugs in specially chosen ambush spots. Buck tails get the bait down near the cover while top water rigs work best on calm water days. With either casting method, it is best to perform what is called a "figure 8" near the boat, which is drawing the number 8 with the bait and tip of your rod just under the water. Occasionally, muskies with follow the bait to the boat and strike in close proximity.
Local lakes such as Big Detroit, Pelican, West Battle, and others offer excellent muskie fishing opportunities. These lakes are located in west central Minnesota and are just as good, if not better, muskie fisheries than the better-known areas of the United States. These waters have the cover and habitat necessary to foster a healthy muskie population. They rank high nationally for the number of larger muskies caught each year.
I compare muskie fishing to hunting big game on land. The experience necessary to know the movement, environment, or habits of the wildlife you seek can only be reached by spending hours in the field or on the lake.
The old muskie wive's tale is that it takes 10,000 casts to catch a muskie. While that may be a stretch, I can write with personal experience that muskie fishing isn't easy. It takes a patient, ambitious, and relentless angler to attack muskie fishing. If you are up for the task, muskie fishing can be one of the most rewarding efforts the outdoors can offer, and the best part is you don't have to travel far to do it.
For more information on muskies in Minnesota, check out the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish/muskellunge/index.html.
Archived articles and other outdoor thoughts from the author can be found at www.backwoodsrevolution.wordpress.com.