An important season will be opening up Saturday, May 27 that doesn’t receive as much fanfare around angling circles … but it should. For the last couple of years, New York has opened up an Inland Muskellunge Season that allows for musky fin-atics to get an early jump on the Great Lakes action that still opens up the third Saturday in June (June 17).
Muskellunge are a different kind of fish. These toothy critters are often referred to as the fish of 10,000 casts. Musky hunters sometimes get as excited by a “follow” as they do a catch (under certain circumstances). At least 13 lakes and 19 rivers have musky populations in the Empire State. Here in Western New York, muskellunge can be found in the Allegheny River drainage, in small lakes like Bear, Waneta-Lamoka and Cassadaga. However, arguably the top inland body of water for musky in the state is Chautauqua Lake.
“The special early-season for muskies has been exciting for anglers,” says Craig Robbins, a local guide from Jamestown who has been fishing several decades for these elusive fish (www.wnyguideservice.net; 499-2179). “During the 2016 season on Chautauqua Lake alone, there were dozens of 50-plus-inch musky caught and released.
“An early ice off here on Chautauqua Lake and other inland bodies of water have found vegetation growth above the norm for this time of year. This means targeting vegetation and rocky points should be a good starting point for casters. Trollers will find muskies hanging just outside the weed edges with deep drop-offs close by, producing some of the larger fish of the season.”
One of the biggest keys to remember when fishing early-season muskies no matter where in the state is matching your bait presentation to the forage base. Robbins likes using jerk baits and oversized crankbaits on Chautauqua Lake. Over the past few years, Mepps Muskie Killers have been producing good numbers of fish early and throughout the summer.
Mike Sperry is another full-time musky chaser when the seasons are on, and he is looking forward to the season opener on Saturday.
“Casters should target the weed lines which are around 8-foot deep in the south basin and 12-foot in the north basin. Six- to 9-inch jerkbaits in perch or black colors will work best. Also, single-bladed bucktails thrown near and over weed patches will get bit. Copper blades are great, as well as a black-and-orange combo blade patterns.
“Trollers should target the weedlines out to 15 feet in the south basin and over open water in the north basin. Trolling between 4 and 5 mph is the ticket. Again, perch and fire tiger shad baits and smaller jointed lures will work.”
Sperry operates Chautauqua Reel Outdoors in Lakewood. He can be reached at 763-2947; (www.chautauquareeloutdoors.com).
If musky are referred to as the fish of 10,000 casts, there is a certain segment of the fishing fraternity that is looking to make it even more of a challenge – try fly fishing for a muskellunge! A recent book by local angling expert and author Rick Kustich of Getzville is entitled “Hunting Musky with a Fly” (Stackpole Books). He caught his first musky on the fly in 1990 when he lived on the Upper Niagara River’s Grand Island. It became a passion that resulted in this particular book. He covers it all, from casting techniques to presenting the fly, from talking to other musky pros to profiling some of the essential musky flies that can be used in the hunt. Check out www.rickkustich.com for details.
This is a perfect segue into Justin Damude of Buffalo, who has always looked up to Kustich through the years. Damude is as intense as they come when it relates to fishing and fly fishing is at the top of his list. He had this to say about the upcoming inland musky season.
“With the new moon falling three days prior to the opener (and it also looking like it will be the third day past a cold front), I will be focusing my morning and mid-day attention on fishing shallow weed flats with medium-sized baits,” says Damude, who was hooking bass as deep as 30 feet last week in Lake Erie … on the fly. “I will be retrieving faster around the lunar events and go towards a more traditional slower retrieve with in-between pauses. In low light scenarios top-water could be deadly. Perch- or sucker-colored flies around 7-inches long are always my go to. It would be the same with conventional gear. I'll be just throwing double-bladed spinners.”
Damude works with and through Thumbs Up Guide Service (438-2366).
Here are a few other tips from musky anglers who prefer to be nameless but are winning to share their knowledge for the betterment of the sport:
* The season opener is always on Memorial Day weekend. With the lakes being busy through the holiday weekend, try to get to the boat launches early.
* The best part of the opener is having a chance to try out all of the new baits you purchased during the offseason. This is a great time to check out some of those new lures.
* The waters are still on the cooler side. Try weed edges in the shallows (they warm up quicker with the sun) as well as deeper water where bait is stacking up. Downsize from your fall baits, but do not hesitate to try a larger bait or two.
* If you are fishing a body of water you normally fish throughout the year, look for new spots to try out that are normally inaccessible throughout the summer. Boaters, weeds and shoreline structure can be less dense around the opener, which may open your chances at finding a new honey hole!
* Another great way to learn about musky fishing is to join an organization like the Niagara Musky Association. They meet the first Tuesday of the month at the Eldredge Club, 17 Broad St., Tonawanda, starting at 7 p.m.
* Promote catch and release at all times. No need to keep a musky. Handle it with care, take a quick picture and release it as soon as possible. It’s best not to even take it out of the water.