Tennessee Musky Fishing Cold Water
The pursuit of winter muskies in the Southern habitat range is an endeavor of feast or famine
for many anglers. When status quo patterns crumble as a result of climactic irregularities, the
winter bite becomes difficult at best. Interject the hand of man into the equation in the form of
draw downs and sporadic damn releases and a difficult situation now becomes an insane
As our beloved muskies are opportunistic creatures that crave stability, finding success requires
anglers to overcome the wild mood swings of a Southern winter often taking some adjustments
not only in our presentations but in our overall perspective and willingness try something
Falling water is a difficult scenario regardless of season, I often prep clients with the rather silly
hypothetical question: “If your living room started magically shrinking would you run in terror
or stick around to see if it crushed you”. I use this anecdote to drive home how shocking a hard
drawn down can be for the entire lake’s food chain.
Our stability dependent muskellunge inevitability follows the food chain during drawdowns but
can become finicky to say the least. In these falling water scenarios, it is imperative to have a
firm grasp on your electronics to locate not only bait fish but what I would consider to be active
schools. Garmin Panoptix makes this scenario far easier as bait fish can be viewed in real time.
Finding active schools of baitfish will often mean a muskie is nearby or will be soon, drawn to
the commotion of moving prey. Continually scanning these active schools with a Rite Hite
Turret allows you to not only keep a keen eye on the bait school as it moves, but to also keep
scan for our desired target.
As for presentations in this scenario, big rubber is hard to beat. Swimmin Dawgs and Medussas
seem to shine as they allow for so much flexibility in depth of presentation. The controllability
of the depth of presentation is imperative as these school adjacent muskies often shift quickly.
However, I find the most important aspect of my rubber is in the jigging nature of these lures.
Bait school adjacent follows are often sluggish at best and boat side jigging is at times the only
way to elicit a strike.
The impact of winter cold fronts can often be difficult to gauge as they may have little to no
effect on surface temperatures etc. However, making an assessment to the degree of negative
impact can often be gauged on the level of light penetration. Reading and playing to the level
of light penetration is a proven tactic through the year but can be a game changer during winter
in Southern waters. The deeper that light is able to penetrate the water column the deeper
muskies will be. This can be influenced by wind, water color, and conversely the lack of either.
Taking this thought process into consideration during winter cold fronts allows me to establish
a hypothetical edge, a cut off line in the water column, to narrow our search parameters.
Simply put, if muskies are no higher than the level of light penetration and they are no deeper
than the bottom and they didn’t crawl up into the woods last night, it seems like we’ve got
them pinned down. Looking at what is generally perceived as the “negative” impact of a winter
cold front in a positive perspective opens leads you to capitalize on this cold front opportunity.
Finding desired presentations for these “pinned down” winter muskies is at times tricky but
with biological inevitability of the spawn looming, lock jaw is rarely the case. Weighted dive
and rise baits, like the Livingston Lures Titan, has worked for me when used in a painfully slow
and methodical manner to get toothy commitments from what are generally perceived as
If you find that light penetration is sending muskies beyond the reach of cranks and dive and
rise, offering big rubber in conjunction with bottom contact is king. A personal favorite winter
cold front presentation is a Lake X Toad “top-rigged”: a quick and easy modification that allows
for continual bottom contact in the most snag free configuration. This “top-rigged” toad
hopped slowly with deliberate stoppages and ample hang time has resulted in some bone
jarring strikes during severe cold front conditions. This slow yet disruptive bottom bouncing
presentation is a great casting alternative to jigging, allowing for a little more “search and
destroy” to keep the blood flowing during those bitter winter cold fronts.
While there are an incalculable number of scenarios we face during our time on the water,
making daily, hourly, and minute-to-minute adjustments to keep yourself in position for success
is going to put more muskies in your net regardless of your latitude. Allotting time prior to cast
to locate the bait school, pin down the depths, and stage your tackle arsenal will be worth it
when you find yourself hooking up with a monster.
Originally Published in Musky Hunter Magazine 2022