Knapp 2-23

River muskies seem to become active earlier in their lake-dwelling counterparts.

Unlike the sluggish “just there” take of the several large smallmouth bass caught earlier in the day, this fish telegraphed a strong “tick” when it clamped down on the four-inch tube jig. In response, a quick hookset followed.

Soon afterward, a short but chunky muskie began its fight, which included a few aerial acrobatics that showed disregard for the frigid 40 degree water. The spirited tussle complete, the feisty lunge was quickly photographed and released. The picture serves as evidence that in the early spring, going small is often the best way at duping muskies.

River muskies seem to become active earlier in their lake-dwelling counterparts. Or maybe it’s because they are more accessible, not hidden beneath a layer of ice for multiple months. During mild winters river muskies are common catches throughout the winter months.

Interestingly, during the late fall, muskies like big baits, slow moving jerkbaits like the Manta and Reef Hawg in particular. But during the spring, when the water temperatures are in the same 40 to 50 degree range, scaling down in size often pays the best dividends.

I’ve found tube jigs to be excellent early spring muskie baits. When targeting muskies specifically, it’s wise to incorporate a short leader, such as a foot-long piece of 60-pound test fluorocarbon line. But in reality, at this time of year muskies tend to be lipped hooked, so bite-offs aren’t nearly as common as they are during warmer times.

Other good early season muskie baits include bucktail jigs. Bucktails in the three to four-inch range, ones weighing a quarter to half-ounce are appropriate for most river situations.

River muskies -- and this applies to fish living in large creeks too -- hold in the slow pools and holes when the water is cold. And while they probably spend much of their time in the depths of these pools, when they become active enough to eat, they slide into the shallows rimming the pool. The fish I described at the outset, taken last weekend, was holding in about two feet of water.

Certain lakes too provide excellent early spring muskie action, particularly shallow lakes that warm up quickly. The best example in Pennsylvania might be Pymatuning Lake.

While muskie season is now open year ’round in Pennsylvania, up until three years ago it was about the only muskie-fishing option prior to early May, when the season opener occurred. As a border water shared with Ohio, Pymatuning has no closed seasons. So the massive 13,000 acre lake has a track record for early season muskie action. And that record indicates muskies become a viable angling target soon after the ice leaves the lake.

Though it covers thousands of acres, Pymatuning is quite shallow. And it is fertile, with dark colored water that heats up quickly with spring’s intense sun rays.

Pursuing early season muskies on Pymy is a fairly simple affair. Short-line trolling takes most of the fish. Trollers target areas in the four to eight-foot range, keeping the amount of line out short, as in 20 feet or less. Some of the most successful early season trollers on Pymatuning have little more than the leader in the water.

Warm, sunny days are usually the best for this pattern. The surface water warms first; the wind will push the heated surface water against the shore. So if the wind is coming from the west, which is the prevailing breeze there, the warmer water will be on the eastern side of the lake.