Hunting a Hunter : Understanding the Predatory Nature of Muskie
Contrary to popular belief muskies are not indiscriminate killers that aimlessly prowl our Tennessee watersheds devouring every available aquatic creature, but are quite choosy when it comes to their dinner fare. Despite their adaptive tastes for various prey, their skills as apex predators are always sharply tuned.
If your goal is to put more trophies in the net, it's important to realize that muskies are not the rampaging juggernauts of fishing legend and lore. They are more akin to a cold and calculating serial killer with a modus operandi that can be identified and used to lure them out of hiding. Gaining a deeper understanding into this aspect of a muskie's nature will help you begin to develop your own hunting strategy. A good starting point is finding out where this predator must go to meet his dietary requirements.
Where : Finding Active Muskies
First we must realize that the majority of the day, muskies are in a negative or neutral state, unwilling to pursue or react to lures that are not in their immediate proximity. Though many statistics can precede the interpretation of the best time to fish, it is commonly understood that predatory fish in a waterway will make a move into "shallow" water to feed at some point during the day.
Knowing where actively feeding muskies will be during these "windows of opportunity" can be assumed with relative certainty by having an understanding of any waterways' structural elements and "prime musky real estate". These prime locations are most often found where multiple structures converge. For the sake of clarity we will omit cover from the discussion, as weeds and other vegetation are seasonal and are merely a bonus if found in conjunction with prime structural elements.
Flats Adjacent to Deep Water
Flats in conjunction with access to deeper water are a prime location for active predators to stage. These shallower areas adjacent to deep water allow multiple options for feeding muskies.
A break-line leading into a shallow flat allows muskies to target incoming forage. Typically these staging muskies will be found facing toward the deeper water, waiting to strike bait fish transitioning into the shallows. Lures like a Depth Raider are a great option near break lines as deeper running lures make an easy meal for a musky staged on this type of structure.
Muskies on the hunt will also suspend over holes and channels found on these flats. Any irregularity found on a flat can be a prime feeding location. These trenches and holes are highway markers that all fish will follow as they make their way across open areas. Paying attention to these elements on a flat will put your lure in the strike zone more often than blindly casting across vast shallow areas.
A point / land mass sticking out into a lake or bay is a rather obvious place for a predator to lurk and is not missed by many fishermen. However, when it comes to Secondary Points most musky anglers are oblivious to their very existence. Locating these structural elements is easy with modern electronics and topographical fishing maps or phone apps such as Anglr. Fishing them, however, takes a little more finesse and some good timing.
I find that more often than not muskies using secondary points will be actively feeding fish that have moved in from deeper water for a brief period of time. Low light conditions, weather or lunar events can be the trigger to pull muskies into these secondary points, but the clock is always running as these fish make brief appearances and then retreat back to deep water.
Finding the "Sweet Spot" on these secondary points is critical as it is often tied to an adjacent structural element or break that can lead to further successful ventures.
Proper presentation on these secondary points is solely dictated by the depth and presence of bait fish. The depth of your lure should be relatively inline with the activity of bait fish. Muskies that move into these areas have a preconceived notion of what forage will be present and where it should be.
Secondary points can be effectively fished by drop shotting spinner baits like JBO Slop Masters and deeper cranking Depth Raiders. If you are confronted with a point that is on the deeper end of the spectrum with deeper bait fish or walleye present, a Count Down Depth Raider or Bull Dawg may be a far more productive presentation. Keep in mind, some fish relating to these secondary points may be in the higher range of the water column, so the forage movements are key.
Coves & Bays
Coves and bays are obvious places for forage and predator alike to congregate but are rarely fished properly. Regardless of their size most anglers approach coves, cuts and bays in the same manner. Mindlessly fishing the shore line in the hopes that a musky will be laying in shallow weed or timber, completely neglecting the majority of predators lying in wait.
Similar to a deep-water adjacent flat, the mouth of a cove will often be a funnel point for predators to stake out. The obvious location most will gravitate to is the edge of a coves entrance, but regularly muskies will hold suspending in the center of the entrance to these coves and bays. Muskies found suspended here are some of the most active and easiest to catch fish as they are forgoing the element of stealth and relying solely on their speed and power to fill their bellies.
Muskies using this predatory approach are facing outward towards open water at the entrance of the cove with the expectation that their prey will be coming directly at them.
This is conjecture but logic would say that the profile of large muskie sitting sideways would discourage bait fish from entering a cover, but a forward facing muskie is more likely to go unnoticed by potential prey.
With this concept in mind, I approach fishing the mouth of a cove in a way that it emulates the approach of forage. Making long casts in to the open water areas outside of the cove allowing me to retrieve in a manner that mimics a bait fish making its way in.
This same approach can be used over saddles and implemented at the mouths of creeks, or anywhere direct forage movements can be assessed. Bait fish / forage in any given fresh water system are highly structure oriented and muskies know how to exploit this.
Muskies have evolved to be the apex predators in fresh water solely based on their instincts: being completely tuned to the movement of their prey.
Speed, strength and sharp teeth do not guarantee the success of any species.
Knowing where the forage will be when its time to feed is what has procured muskies a position as one of natures greatest hunters. As anglers, knowing where a hunter hunts his prey, is the most logical way to hunt a hunter.
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Tennessee Musky Fishing
Tennessee Muskie Fishing Melton Hill