Deep or Shallow in Early Season?

By Jim Saric:  When you think about early season muskies, what are the first few thoughts that come to mind?   I bet many of you thought shallow water, warm water, cover and baitfish.   Those are all correct answers.   Shallow water warms the fastest, usually has remnant cover or newly emergent cover and therefore is a secure area for baitfish.   Therefore, it is a natural area to hold early season muskies.     And it is.     One of the first key areas to check in early season is shallow bays, and shallow channels.     Another thing I have learned about these areas is not to get too precise.   The muskies can be roaming anywhere on these large flats, bays or channels.   So you are better off systematically drifting these areas.     You’ll find pockets of weed growth, maybe a subtle depth depression or rise, or just maybe a spot holding a pack of muskies.     In either case, mark the spot with your GPS and work it thoroughly.     Try different casting angles and different lures.   Those fish won’t move far, they just will feed at infrequent times throughout the day.   So, the angler that camps on these spots most of the day is often rewarded.

Having just told you the merits of shallow muskies in early season, than why are so many muskies also caught suspended over open-water during the same time?     Again, muskies are individuals.   Also, some muskies once they finish spawning quickly return to the security of the basin, as the shallow cover isn’t as developed at this time.   So, the open water basin is a natural safe-haven for muskies.   Of course, don’t forget that suspended forage exists in many waters, so the muskies don’t need to feed on shallow water forage, particular when there is an abundance of open-water forage such as ciscoes or shad.     Don’t forget that you can also concentrate on the basins in early season and catch muskies.     Try and locate muskies suspended a couple casts from the largest structural element or potential spawning area.     Also, use your electronics to locate large schools of bait. At this time the bait is shallow and so are the muskies.   So, using lures that run in the top 10 feet of the water column are usually best.

When your start the day, remember the muskies may be in the shallow bays or channels, but they may be equally suspended.   So, make an educated guess.     I’ll base my decision on the weather the evening before and that morning.     Cold nights and cold mornings will have me focusing on the basin as those muskies tend to be less affected by the drop in surface temperatures associated with cool nights and mornings.     If the basins aren’t working, I’ll check the channels later that morning or early afternoon when the surface temperatures start to rise.     On the contrary, if the morning is warm and possibly overcast, I’ll check the shallows as those fish could be going crazy from the start.     One thing is for sure; if there is a group of musky anglers in the same area and no one is catching anything in an hour or so, it’s time to leave.   Keep your options open, checking both the shallow water and surrounding basins, and you’ll stay on the muskies all spring.

Jim Saric

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