An Inside Look at Southern Musky Fishing with Pro Guide Steven Paul
With the majority of musky anglers firmly in winters grasp fortunate few southern states are blessed with not only open water but also open seasons. While the southern musky waters of Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee may not come to mind when planning a summer musky expedition, they should top your list as a way to scratch that winter musky fishing itch. However Northern musky aficionados should take heed, the name of the game might be the same but the pursuit of muskies down south is a unique endeavor that brings its own challenges. But don’t fear, with a little guidance and some minor adjustments you can quickly be set for southern musky success. Let’s take a look at a few of the factors that anglers new to southern musky fishing might encounter.
As someone who grew up fishing the backwaters and streams of West Virginia and has referred to himself as a "creeker" on more than one occasion, I can understand why the majority of anglers think southern musky waters are tiny little mud puddles. But I can assure that this is not the case.
Many of the premier southern musky waters are jumbo sized reservoirs with countless miles of shoreline. Some of these reservoirs regularly reach depths of 60 to 80 feet while a few push well past the 100 foot mark. These jumbo-sized bodies of water can leave musky anglers scratching their heads as success is often reliant on factors such as structure fishing and detailed knowledge of one’s electronics for gaining a quick and accurate picture of bait fish…but more on that later.
There is no doubt that the south has plenty of small musky water, but the best opportunities for those with monster muskies on their minds are the reservoirs. Anglers new to the south should prepare for long runs on their big motors, intensive structural and forge interpretation and a myriad of other uniquely southern factors.
Forage, Forage, and MORE Forage
A hungry musky is a musky that’s easy to catch. When a musky has its mind made up to eat something it takes nothing short of a miracle to stop it, but when food / forage is abundant finding actively feeding muskies is the stuff that keeps a musky angler awake at night.
On many of the premier south musky waters the amount and diversity of forage available too muskies is staggering. Most large southern musky waters have, walleye, crappie, sunfish, perch, bass, catfish, suckers, carp, and trout present. However, keep in mind the aforementioned species are generally side dishes as the major forage base for southern muskies is often shad.
Anglers unfamiliar with fishing shad-based reservoirs should take note that shad often run-in schools that number in the thousands. The whereabouts of these massive bait schools are the key to locating muskies in southern reservoirs. However, is should be noted that when forage is present in such great quantities it can often be an up-hill battle. The old saying is “its hard to compete with meat” and this holds especially true when shad and other species are tightly congregated presenting a veritable buffet for muskies. The key to capitalizing on these baits schools is recognizing bait concentrations that are good and hold possibilities verse schools that are far to large to fish effectively. Doing this effectively entails mastering your chosen brand of electronics to understand what is actually taking place in the subsurface environment.
Bigger isn't Always Better!
In general musky fishing follows a consistent arch regarding lure size, we start small in the spring and end the season throwing and trolling the biggest lures possible. However, this is rarely case south of the Mason Dixon. Southern muskies tend to focus on mid-size presentations post spawn and throughout the year. While there is no question that large natural forage is available to them the overwhelming abundance of mid-size offerings makes size selection an easy process. Lures like the Titan from Livingston lures, Shallow Invaders and Phantoms all fit the bill for mid-sized muskie offering.
It would be incorrect to think that larger lures are ineffective, they definitely have their time and place but lures in the 5” – 10” are undoubtedly dominant on Southern musky waters.
Standing, submerged, lay downs, log jams and the like are a staple of Southern musky fishing. The vast majority of south musky waters have timber in some form or fashion and during winter months when vegetation is lacking timber is king. Fishing effectively around a singular lay-down shouldn’t be an issue for many musky anglers but fishing dozens of tangled fallen trees can be a sticky proposition for some casters.
Keep in mind fishing timber is not as simple as throwing near a downed tree during the winter months. Southern muskies will hold tight to trunks and major branches so precision casting is imperative. However precise your cast maybe it is of the utmost importance to have a feel for your lure as your working through the maze of branches to maximize its action while minimizing snags to prevent “blowing the spot.” It should be noted that some lures are better than others when it comes to effectively fishing in timber. Lures like the Big Fork Avatar and other coffin lipped crank baits dive at a sharp angle making the proposition an easier one. Deeper running cranks like the Livingston Lures Pounder excels at backing out of snags slowly with the hang time needed to get bit.
Reservoirs are dynamic fisheries, some more than others. With the single push of a button at a damn
southern reservoir can change instantly. Water depth, temperature and clarity can take a sideways turn in a matter of minutes sweeping away any pattern you though you had dialed in on. Understanding how factors related to reservoir fluctuations effect forage and musky movements and behavior can more important than making a cast. The key to southern musky fishing success is being observant at all times to identifying changes early and adapting to them quickly. Being prepared and comfortable with deeper presentation and trolling tactics are often necessary when major changes take place on these southern musky waters as rarely are two days the same.
Steve is the Co-Owner of Musky 360 with his partner Joe Bucher.