Rich Belanger with his moon eclipse giant.

2017 Solar Eclipse & Muskies: Did It Affect Musky Activity?

This article originally appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Musky Hunter. To see more classic articles like this, subscribe to the Musky Hunter Digital Collection:

By Joe Bucher, Editor Emeritus

On August 21, 2017, all of North America was treated to an amazing total eclipse of the sun. Truly, one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights and a chance to witness a very rare once-in-a-lifetime celestial event. In fact, the last time a total eclipse occurred was in 1979 — 38 years ago. A solar eclipse is essentially when the moon passes between the sun and earth and blocks all or part of the sun for a brief period of time. When I say brief, the actual complete total eclipse is actually less than three minutes. But the duration of the event, when all or parts of the sun are blocked, lasts up to about three hours.

According to NASA, the effects of a total eclipse are many which can cause changes in nature as well as impact communication systems. In contrast to the global changes in light that occur every day at dawn and dusk, a solar eclipse changes illumination during midday even though it occurs at different spots and times on earth at various regions. Scientists also claim that a solar eclipse induces stark changes in the ionosphere which is an electrically charged outer shell of the earth’s atmosphere.

Without getting overly technical, these disturbances in the ionosphere can trigger odd atmospheric gravity waves. In other words, a solar eclipse doesn’t just change the amount of light available, but it also creates all kinds of other energy dynamics to occur. This also includes a dramatic decrease in the total amount of radiation that reaches the earth surface.

Rich Belanger with his moon eclipse giant.

Many anglers were anxious as well as curious to see how this incredibly rare event would affect fish activity at that given time, and I was one of them. It just so happened that Rich Belanger from St. Croix Rods and I were on our annual August musky trip when the solar eclipse occurred. Even days before the eclipse was to happen, we were excitedly optimistic about our chances to catch big muskies in and around the eclipse. Of course, being on Lake of the Woods gave us a fabulous opportunity to take full advantage of any possible musky movements triggered by cosmic forces. Not surprisingly, we experienced some incredible musky behavior during the entire eclipse, including the strike of a lifetime.

Admittedly, Rich and I were very disappointed when we woke up to overcast skies the morning of August 21 along with an extended forecast for periods of rain throughout the entire day. Our initial hunch was that the overcast along with rain would essentially negate any possible effects of the solar eclipse, or at the very least diminish them greatly. However, we were still going to keep tabs on the timing of the eclipse no matter the cloud conditions, and try to be on the very best spots during the predicted period of its occurrence. Since moonrise, moonset, sunrise and sunset likely trigger musky movement on any given day no matter the weather and cloud conditions, we were hopeful that a midday eclipse would have a similar effect.

What unfolded near lunch time as the eclipse began to occur is still exciting to recount. At our location near Kenora, Ontario, the duration of the 2017 solar eclipse was to be a total of 2 hours, 35 minutes and 13 seconds beginning at 11:44 a.m., with the maximum at 1:01 p.m. and ending at approximately 2:19 p.m. Periodic rain added to this scenario, yet the entire day was essentially overcast.

The morning started out uneventful with no musky activity up through 10 a.m. or so, but it all began to pick up suddenly as the eclipse approached. We were just beginning to cast over a historically-productive small weed patch situated in a corner inside of a major point that had yielded multiple good muskies for us in the past, including one of Rich’s biggest-ever on a previous August trip. Thick tobacco cabbage weeds with emergent tassels made working any subsurface lure a challenge. Pigtail and other grassy vegetation further challenged our efficiency.

I opted for a large, buoyant, walk-the-dawg lure, since the pronounced zig-zag movement combined with sharp rod snaps helped clear the bait from weed clingers and increased strike triggering potential. Rich opted for his tried-and-true TopRaider. August has its challenges when it comes to muskies in weed cover since growth is at its peak, but we have learned over time that edge casting thick slop rarely gets results. Instead, one must bomb baits over the entire weed patch and work the lure right through the thick clumps in order to draw out a lurking ’lunge.

The clock was just after 11:30 a.m. when I launched my Walkin’ Raider completely over the center of the weedbed containing some of the thickest cabbage clumps. I kept my 7-foot-6 extra-heavy action St. Croix Legend Elite at a slight downward angle while snapping it sharply with a bit of slack line in order to initiate strong, lateral, zig-zag surface motion from the lure as it slithered through the tassels. About four to five hops into this motion the water’s surface erupted and a wild thrashing musky engulfed almost the entire bait! After a terrific battle, Rich slipped the net around a male musky in the upper 40-inch class. After a few quick photos and a healthy release, we checked the time and were fully aware that we were now right inside the beginning of the solar eclipse.

Musky action continued on the next few spots with multiple follows and several near misses, but we didn’t connect with any of them. Yet the peak of the eclipse was yet to occur as we approached what most would consider a well-known community spot. In fact, few musky rigs travel by this area without stopping to fling a few casts over this weedbed. At the very least, nearly everyone who fishes this section of the lake knows about this spot. It is no secret. The muskies that inhabit this weedbed see lots of lures nearly every day. Most of us who have fished muskies in pressured spots know that it can be very difficult to trigger strikes from any resident musky. More often than not, a follow is all you get.

Rich and I were very aware of a local lunker that made this weedy bay its summer home and we had raised the big behemoth on several occasions. In fact, we are both convinced we’ve watched this fish grow from a mid to upper 40-inch class fish a few years back to a true trophy well over 50 inches. It would surely take something special to make a fish like this hit since it likely sees a lot of lures on any given day, month and season.

Daylight began to darken significantly around 1 p.m. and a strong drizzle ensued as Rich launched his TopRaider with an extra long cast over the entire weed bay with his new prototype 10-foot Legend Tournament musky stick, which allowed Rich to make longer casts than normal while eliminating water-line drag common to an extra- long cast. In fact, on this particular effort Rich’s cast was arguably way too far inside the weedy jungle. Generally, shorter casts are preferred when casting over heavy cover of any sort in order to maintain lure control as well as battle a beast inside dense, tangled vegetation.

Facing forward, I cast my zig-zag bait more discreetly with short casts in pockets, lanes and patches. Unlike the previous spots, the vastness of this spot didn’t allow me to attempt such long bombs with the tackle I was using. Plus, this approach allowed us both to cover the water differently. I was just finishing up a retrieve and glanced to my left, attracted by the rhythmic plopping tone of Rich’s TopRaider when we both noticed the huge bulge closing on the bait. Almost simultaneously, we exclaimed “Here comes one!”

The words were barely out of our mouths when the lure disappeared inside a huge set of jaws that appeared to crush the bait. Instinctively, Rich lifted upward, producing a prominent deep bend in the new 10-foot prototype rod. The additional rod length here really paid big dividends as Rich was able to actually control the huge fish quite easily and steer it out of the thick weedy masses. Within no time, it was near boatside. However, due the additional rod length, Rich opted to stand steadfast on the rear deck and not attempt to move toward the bow where we usually stand together to land any lunker. As it turned out, this made landing the fish relatively easy for me as Rich simply maneuvered the extra long rod toward my position, putting the lunker right below me for an easy scoop with the net.

Victoriously, I looked down at the captured giant and then up at Rich and realized this was an event of a lifetime. For one, we had just scored on a terrific trophy — all captured on camera. Secondly, this was clearly Rich’s biggest musky pushing the 54-inch mark; even though he had taken several over the 50 mark with me on past trips. Thirdly, we had finally triggered a legend of sorts from a community spot. Finally, it all happened right during the peak of the eclipse.

But the eclipse wasn’t finished. I hooked and lost yet a third big musky at about 2 p.m., with the effects of the eclipse to be over at 2:15. So, three big muskies hit inside the solar eclipse on August 21. Rich’s giant was no doubt the most significant, since it was going to take a special set of conditions to make a lunker on a heavily-pressured community spot to commit. A midday solar eclipse combined with a heavy drizzle was exactly what we needed to trigger the titan!

Editor Emeritus Joe Bucher is the host of the “Fishing With Joe Bucher” TV show.

Gregg Thomas

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