trophy-sized muskie
In the fall, trophy-sized muskie begin thinking about feeding in preparation for winter, so follow the bait, and you'll find big fish. Joe Cermele

Every seasoned muskie angler lives for fall. After turnover, when water temps drop into the lower 50’s and 40’s, muskellunge begin to heavily feed in preparation for the long winter and ensuing spawn. Gorging on large baitfish like crappies, perch, ciscoes and herring, muskies will achieve their largest girths of the year, giving you a shot at a heavy, eye-popping fish. Despite the binging, fishing can be unpredictable. Some days feeding windows will be short and intense, and you’ll need to put in long hours to get your opportunity. Other days, muskies will chew virtually all day. Then there are those times when it feels like all the muskie simply got up and left the lake. Regardless, a few simple rules will help you spend your time in the right place, doing what you need to do. Here’s your game plan for scoring a trophy muskie this fall.

Break Out The Big Guns

Muskie fishing requires heavy tackle to begin with, but you’ll want to take it up a notch in the fall. Extra-heavy action, 9-foot muskie rods are the standard in the industry these days, and will handle the one-pound lures you’re going to be throwing. You’ll want to go heavier than your normal 65- to 80-pound braid and spool with 100-pound. Cortland Master Braid or TUF Line XP. Leaders should be a minimum of 130-pound test. Stealth Tackle fluorocarbon 150- our 180-pound casting leaders will handle anything a fat fall muskie can dish out. Don’t skimp on a reel either. Throwing huge baits for long hours in potentially icy conditions will break a lot of otherwise reliable gear. They’re not cheap, but a Shimano Tranx 500 or Abu Garcia Revo Toro Beast will provide the high level of toughness you’ll need to fish for muskies in cold weather.

Find the Bait, Find the Muskies

In the fall and early winter, all conventional muskie wisdom goes out the window. Fishing flats, vegetation and weed edges will almost certainly get you nowhere. Instead, turn the boat away from shore and head to open water. Using your electronics, find steep breaks and any underwater structure. Scan these areas to look for large schools of bait. Wherever there are big schools of bait in the fall, you can bet the muskies are not far behind.

Related: The 7 Best Waters to Catch a Trophy Muskie

Start Heaving, and Keep Heaving

After finding the schools of bait, it’s time to start casting, and keep casting. You’ll want to clip-on a Musky Innovations Supermag Bulldawg, aka “The Pounder,” or a Chaos Tackle Husky Medussa. Fan your casts above and around the bait schools. If the fish are deep in the water column, let your bait sink a few seconds before starting your retrieve. Keep in mind this is a game of persistence and patience, and today might not be your day. Anxiously waiting for a bite is the most surefire way to develop a loathing of muskie fishing. Staying the course and paying attention to your mechanics will make you much less prone to a mistake when you get your chance.