As waters cool during the fall, toothy critters – musky, pike, and walleye – enter into their annual feeding binge, devouring sufficient baitfish and other aquatic prey to kick-start the maturation of their reproductive tissues and to fortify the energy reserves needed to sustain themselves during the dark winter months. Walleye anglers present live bait in deep water, and head to the shallows under the cover of darkness to troll stickbaits over weeds and rocks in search of fall’s bounty. Musky anglers churn the water into a froth with bucktails and enormous soft plastic baits, while towing super-sized suckers on quick-strike rigs in pursuit of the benchmark 50-incher. For those anglers willing to face the wind, rain, sleet and snow that accompanies the transition of fall into winter, the finned rewards can indeed be worthwhile.
Landing the meanest fish to swim in freshwater requires purpose-driven tackle and conscientious attention to detail – and no detail is more important than the singular connection linking angler to fish: your line. Whether you pursue walleye, musky, or any other aggressive fall fish, your choice of line and leader has more potential to determine whether you return to the dock as a hero – or with your head hung in shame – than any other tackle selection you make. Chasing the baddest of the bad requires that our line not fail during bone-piercing hooksets, that our knots remain sound in the midst of drag peeling runs, and that our leader remains robust when pulled across abrasive rocks, wood, and of course, needle-sharp teeth. Seaguar braided lines and 100% fluorocarbon leaders stand ready to make your fall dreams of magnum toothy critters come true.
Pardon the pun, but muskies are suckers for big live baits in the fall. This is a time of the year when no bait is too big for apex predators that are better measured in feet than in inches. While live bait is highly effective, it’s critically important that musky anglers follow contemporary, conservation-minded best practices to ensure that trophy-caliber fish can be released unharmed after a quick measurement and hero shot.
There are two ways to present live suckers to muskies in the fall: suspended beneath a bobber or vertically beneath the boat. In either case, select a medium-heavy, fast action, dedicated musky rod. I like rods that are a bit longer than 7-feet, like the 7’2” St. Croix Mojo Musky MJM72MHF, so that I can move a lot of line on the hookset. Pair the rod with a robust baitcasting reel, one with a bait “clicker” to provide an audible alert when a musky has begun to pull line from the reel. Spool up with 65 lb test Seaguar Smackdown in Stealth Grey, which will provide all the strength you need to manage the lake’s most fearsome predators from hookset to landing net.
If you plan to fish with a float, thread a bobber stop and then a cylindrical slip bobber onto the line; this float style is much more hydrodynamic than the ball-shaped, clip-on floats of yesteryear, reducing the frequency of the bait being dropped after the initial strike. Then, add some weight; big suckers are strong swimmers, and we need to use enough weight to keep them from swimming toward the surface, away from lurking muskies. I use egg sinkers from Bullet Weights in this application, typically 1-2 oz, depending on the size of my bait. Next, tie in a Seaguar AbrazX Musky/Pike 100% fluorocarbon leader. This is a strong, stealthy replacement for wire leaders, which can cause severe damage to muskies that tend to roll and get wrapped up in the line during the battle. Seaguar AbrazX Musky/Pike leader is available in 25-yard spools, so that you customize your leader length to suit your own particular needs. I use 3 feet of 100 lb test AbrazX for my sucker leaders.
The business end of the presentation is a quick-strike rig: a multi-hook harness that allows you to set the hook quickly after the musky strikes, rather than waiting for the musky to swallow the bait and risk severe damage or even death during or after the catch. Dress the rig with a big sucker minnow. On the overall sucker size scale, you want to fish with big baits early in the fall, bigger baits when the leaves are all off the trees, and the biggest suckers you can find when you’re busting skim ice at the ramp while launching the boat. Present your live offering along remnant green weeds early in the season, and then follow muskies out to rocky reefs and bars as winter approaches.
Let’s also consider the daytime bite for fall walleyes. On most classic walleye waters, anglers will target some of the largest fish in the system by looking to points that project into main lake basins, saddles or depressions between hard-bottomed humps, or even rocky shorelines that drop rapidly into deep water. The technique of choice is frequently a live bait rig dressed with an oversized chub or sucker minnow.
Live bait rigging is the realm of robust spinning tackle, of the same caliber that you might use for drop-shotting big smallmouth or spotted bass. I like to use a 7’6”, medium-light power, extra fast action rod, like the St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye LWS76MLXF, rigged with a 2500-series Diawa spinning reel. I begin loading my reel with 8 lb test monofilament backing, and then spool up with 30 lb test Seaguar Smackdown in the low-visibility Stealth Gray color. This Seaguar braided line has the same diameter as 8 lb test mono, but has a significantly greater tensile strength and absolutely zero stretch, making it incredibly sensitive.
On the business end of the line, thread on a large egg sinker to pin your live offering close to the bottom. I use ½ oz egg sinkers from Bullet Weights in depths of 20-25 feet, and upsize to ¾ oz or a full ounce in deeper waters or when fishing in heavy wind and waves. Add a bead to protect your knot, and then use a Palomar knot to tie in a quality SPRO swivel. To the swivel, add a leader of 8 lb test Seaguar Tatsu – a supple, double structure, 100% fluorocarbon that features exceptional knot strength. I typically use a leader that is 3-4 feet long; I want my chub or sucker close to the bottom, where the big girls cruise. Add a red bead for a splash of color and then tie in a strong, razor-sharp 1/0 or 2/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook. Hook your chub or sucker through its beak and then lower it down to the depths. Use your trolling motor to pull you through fishy areas, or harness the power of the fall wind to drift across deep structure. Active walleyes will absolutely crush big baits at this time of year; be sure to give them a few seconds to attack and then reposition the bait in their mouths to ensure a positive hookset.
Fall is the best time of the year to chase toothy critters in your favorite lake. Pay close attention to your line and leader – the critical connection linking you to your finned quarry – to ensure that more supersize walleye, pike, and musky find their way into your landing net this season!