The challenge of nighttime Muskie fishing
There's nothing more primal in our human psyche than fear - or at least a healthy level of cautious respect - for that which we cannot see when the light of day has faded. The haunting cry of a loon at sunset is quickly replaced by the hoot of an owl, filling the late summer night with mystery and trepidation. Another creature stirs as the evening air cools, and some hardy anglers cast their fear of the dark aside to be drawn out of the comfort and security of a well-lit home in hopes of coming face-to-face with a monster.
The phenomenon of night fishing for muskies is becoming more commonplace, as anglers focus on periods of decreased angling pressure and water use by recreational boaters. Muskies never stop feeding, but are more apt to attack prey - and lures - under the calm and cover of night. And right now, big baits with lots of buzz and vibration are the key to hooking a true monster in the dark.
Muskies find their prey based primarily on sight and their ability to detect other fish with the sensory cells located in the lateral line. This special row of cells allows fish to orient themselves, detect predators and prey, and to sense changes in the environment. Scientists have proven that the lateral line picks up both the slight electromagnetic energy that all life forms give off and mechanical energy, such as physical vibrations in the water. The latter stimulus is what anglers attempt to mimic in the dead of night while hunting for trophy muskellunge.
For this reason, the popularity of big-bladed muskie spinners is on the rise. With the increased vibration of large-bladed baits such as the new #13-blade, Super Double Cowgirl by Musky Mayhem tackle, anglers can effectively increase the range of vibration emitted on each retrieve in hopes of hooking up with the fish of a thousand casts. Other popular nighttime lures include boisterous top-water offerings, such as oversized buzzbaits, walk-the-dog style stickbaits like Poe's Jackpots, and surface-disturbing prop-tailed plugs akin to Salmo's Turbo Jack. All of these lures offer outstanding resonance in the water, giving big predators a target to attack even if they cannot see it all that well. On lakes with substrates composed primarily of rock, and to a lesser extent sand, baits that give off a lot of vibration are aided by the echoing effect of boulders and hard bottoms.
Work baits quickly and methodically to maximize vibration over key summer muskie haunts such as transitional shelves, sunken islands and reefs. Using a seven-to-eight-foot long, heavy-action casting rod and a powerful and reliable baitcasting reel, such as the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500 or 7000 series will minimize fatigue and help cover water swiftly.
Of special concern to nighttime anglers is illumination. Besides the standard navigation lights, it would be wise to work with battery-powered lanterns and headlamps to keep an eye on the action, to know where a co-angler's treble hooks are heading and to assist in a quick release when a fish is caught. A GPS will aid in navigation, allowing safer travel to and from favorite muskie hot spots. Keep an eye out for lit channel buoys and hazard markers when on the move, and reduce speed to match visibility.
Have catch-and-release tools ready and stored together, including needlenose pliers, a compact bolt cutter for deeply-imbedded hooks, jaw-spreaders and a measuring tape to verify length. Make sure the flash is enabled on the camera used to photograph the event and minimize the time a muskie is kept out of the water. While the night air may be cool, August lake temperatures are still very warm, resulting in increased stress which may hinder a successful release of large fish. Be certain the muskie is resuscitated after the battle before releasing it.
The excitement of a follow at boatside in the white light of a headlamp is an experience that will send a chill up your spine; and though it may be an unfamiliar experience at first, after a few night fishing trips it will seem like the monsters are hiding from you...in our outdoors.