John Anderson with another big river musky.
John Anderson will tell you that Pennsylvania’s muskies are Ottawa’s muskies.
In the most important ways, at least.
There are differences, to be sure. Almost all of the former are swimming around as a result of being stocked, and they’ll live up to 14 years, he believes. Ottawa muskies are sustained by natural reproduction and live 30 years. The forage available to them can be different, too.
“Otherwise, their behavior is the same,” Anderson said.
That’s important to remember, said the man who operates Ottawa River Musky Factor, a musky guide service on the Ottawa. Muskies – all muskies, everywhere – share common traits, he said. And the angler who understands them can catch more fish.
There are five keys to consider, he said.
First, muskies want to follow familiar annual cycles, he said. They’ll always spawn in the same spots and move to the same summer home ranges if they can.
“So if you see a big fish, you should write that down, then go back and fish that spot a lot. They’re absolutely loyal to those locations,” Anderson said.
They’re a little less predictable in fall, so then he advises following the baitfish. That’s where the muskies will be, he said.
Second, he said telemetry studies reveal muskies spend two-thirds of their lives “inactive.” They hang out on the bottom and won’t chase a bait or lure.
To catch them, he recommends fishing bulldawgs, swimbaits, slow-moving jerkbaits and swim jigs deep, slowly and close to the fish. With each, the idea is the same.
“You’re trying to look vulnerable. You’re trying to look like an easy target,” Anderson said. “You have to go to the fish because the fish is not coming to you.”
Third, Anderson said, different kinds of muskies live in different places.
Some always hang out in the shallows, around weeds.
“I make my living off that as a guide. I hunt shallow fish because I know they are there even if I can’t see them,” he said.
Those aren’t necessarily the biggest muskies, though. The real monsters live deep where they can feed on schools of fish.
Fishermen – as Anderson asks of his clients – need to decide whether they want a shot at one really giant fish, or more consistent action on smaller ones, and target the correspondingly appropriate places.
Fourth, muskies move from periods of activity to inactivity and back in predictable ways.
“If you don’t follow the moon in musky fishing, you’re just missing fish,” he said.
Moon peaks, low light conditions and in advance of impending storms are all times to catch really big muskies, “when their guard is down,” he said.
He also prefers fishing the hours around sunset. He catches two to three times more fish then as compared to any other time.
“If I have a choice, I want to be out the second half of the day. That’s when fish are most active. And active fish hunt things,” Anderson said.
Fifth, male and female muskies, and big and small muskies, “lead different lives,” Anderson said. A 50-incher will eat a 30-incher, for example.
“Small muskies find out that hanging out with big muskies is a bad idea. You learn that or you disappear,” he said.
If you want to catch a big one, you’ve got to hunt where they live, fishing deep. And if you get one from a spot, keep going back.
“Once you find a big fish somewhere one time, you know that’s a good big fish spot. The conditions are right for big fish,” he said.