Seek out cabbage beds and rock bars to find the fall musky you’ve been waiting for all season
By Kyle Sorensen
The brisk morning air hits my face as I make my way down to the dock, a freshly brewed cup of coffee in one hand, and a sandwich for a late morning snack in the other. I reach the dock to see the daylight slowly beginning to fill the sky.
Walking out on the old, rickety dock, the clunk of the rusty hinges squeak with each step. I have to give them credit though – they have withstood many years of abuse. I reach the end of the dock and gaze upon the northern Wisconsin lake, a lake that certainly holds a special place in my heart.
Looking to the northern portion of the lake, I realize the daylight has unveiled intense vapors of fog. I couldn’t help but notice these formations seemed to be dancing gracefully above the stained waters which sat quiet and calm.
As I take a swig of coffee, my attention is turned to the shoreline where the pines, the birch, the aspen, and various different trees painted a picturesque silhouette around the water’s edge. I couldn’t help but think what these grandfather trees had seen throughout their lives.
The cool touch of the seat hits my back as I sit behind the wheel of the Lund. I turn over the Mercury, and while doing so, take a glance at the dew-covered Humminbird, realizing the water temperature dropped more than five degrees within past 10 hours.
As I head out to the first spot, I notice the amazing contrast the stained water has against the colorful scenery. It’s not just the trees’ colors – not just the pastel-colored sunrise – but the entire view as a whole that puts my fall musky fishing addiction into full swing. Boy, I am stoked.
I have been looking forward to what this fall will bring for the last few months. I love throwing big baits with heavy equipment. There’s nothing better than a violent strike, resulting in me ripping that rod back with every little ounce of power I can muster. I should clarify, this is as long as I’m able to get the fish in the Frabill net. If not, that strike and heavy hookset will torment me. All. Day. Long.
When I put a pattern together for fall fish, there are two main areas on the lakes I like to target most. The first area is the big cabbage beds still showing signs of life. The signs of life I look for are the color of the leaves – are they still active – as well as bait fish and obviously, any past fish sightings. The cabbage is a favorite of mine. Cabbage beds make for great cover, not just for a muskellunge waiting to ambush an unlucky critter, but for the prey trying to hide from musky. I look at each one of these cabbage beds as their own little ecosystems.
Up until a few years ago, I always thought if I turn a musky from within the targeted cabbage bed, there are not going to be any more there due to the musky’s predatory nature. I also believed one fish owned the entire bed – or owner one piece of structure. I’ve proven these beliefs incorrect numerous times.
I’ve also found through trial and error to target beds that hold deeper water around them, at least to start with. If you’ve ever fished a deep cabbage bed, you know how surreal it is to see a big torpedo come out of nowhere and ultimately hammer your lure.
When deciding what to clip on while hitting the cabbage beds, the thought of fall and big plastics come to mind. I love the Bull Dawgs and Medussas. Depending on the weeds themselves, if I can swim a shallow Dawg across the top of them – sometimes letting it dead fall into pockets – you can bet I’ll do it.
If the cover is too thick, I’ve found success aggressively ripping through the beds after fully targeting the outside edges. This can be absolutely exhausting, but can sometimes trigger the strike, especially when the fish are facing a lot of pressure. Not many anglers choose this approach because it can be a lot of work.
To effectively work these big plastics in general – not to mention withstand the abuse the equipment faces when ripping through weeds – one must have gear that can hold up. All of my big plastic rods are various models of St. Croix. They are all extra-heavy power and at least 8 feet, 6 inches. The rods all hold Abu Garcia’s NaCl reels. While this is an older model, I send my reels in to them every year for a complete cleaning and rebuild. For the $300-plus investment I originally made for each one, the $20 a year per reel is a small price to protect my investment.
When the weeds aren’t producing for me or I need a break from weed ripping, the second area I look for are rock bars, especially those positioned mid-lake. A shoreline or island point that contains a rock bar extending from it comes in a close second. While they should be considered two different pieces of structure, I’ll refer to both areas as one here.
As the temperature begins to fall and the water starts to creep closer to turnover, fish can be more prone to slide up and down the bar with less restraint. With their unexpected movements, it’s important to not only target the top, but the entire way down to the bottom, including the immediate area surrounding the rock bar. I like to target this area with the previously mentioned baits as well, but on the rocks, I usually throw in two more options.
The first is crankbait. Casting the cranks up into the rocks and working them back can be an incredible way to put a fish into the boat. I’ve found ticking, or even sometimes pounding, the rocks can be a great triggering mechanism. With hundreds of cranks on the market, pick the type that best suits you. If you plan to create a lot of jerks into your presentation, I recommend tying on a fixed-wire leader to assist in fouls.
The next bait is Red October’s Big Sexy – it’s a huge tube with an amazing glide to it when ripped. This can be worked with various presentations. It can be jigged up and over rocks. It can be ripped hard to mimic an erratic and dying prey simulation. Or it can simply be slowly reeled in while twitching the rod. Just like with other large plastics, the options are endless.
The equipment for these baits is a bit different. My crank rods are again St Croix, but either brandishing a medium-heavy or heavy power, which are 7-feet, 6-inches and 8-feet long, respectively. They also contain Abu Garcia reels. The big tubes are thrown with the previously mentioned gear for the big plastics.
I love fall musky fishing. I enjoy being out on the water on cooler days, working hard for a bite and not sweating quite as much. After the bumper crop of skeeters we had this year, I can’t wait for the cool fall nights, not being engulfed by or inhaling some the hundreds buzzing around my head.
On the other hand, I don’t look forward to stiff, frozen fingers or snow piling up in the boat. These are just a couple small imperfections of our sport. The hunt for muskellunge during late fall may have a few downsides, but those are all forgotten after that one-minute fight, the 20-second hold for a picture, and that successful release.
In October, I will be in northern Wisconsin hunting down esox. I’m not quite sure what may happen, but I’ll certainly have the cameras going and the posts flying on the OB Outdoors Facebook page (facebook.com/oboutdoors).
I hope you all have an amazing fall bite, no matter where you might find yourself. Until next time, Tight Lines. Stay Dry.
Kyle Sorensen grew up all around the United States due to his father being in the military, but ultimately ended up back in his hometown of Oshkosh. Sorensen primarily fishes the Lake Winnebago System, but enjoys sneaking out to various bodies of water in the hunt for a variety of species throughout the year. He enjoys being able to pass on his knowledge and love for the outdoors in the form of online videos and articles. He can be reached through his website at oboutdoors.com.