Aug 6th, 2009 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Aug 6th, 2009 at 12:00 AM
Ever fished a flowage system and had trouble making up your mindwhether to fish the lake or river? This is a debate that has thepotential to teeter-tot a fisherman’s confidence, and we all know howmuch fun that can be. “Confidence is key”, a phrase heard by nearlyeveryone and repeated by nearly as many. Such a cliche phrase, yetmeaningful, especially in the way of a musky hunter. Understanding ourquarry and the reasons we do what we do while on the hunt can mean thedifference between success and luck, success and defeat or luck againstthe odds. Let’s look at some of the components that can waiver yourdecision one way or the other.
“Scrappers”, a name generally applied to the description of a smallerentity whose aggression can be ferocious and uncanny to one of suchstature, yet I relate this name to river muskies with a little twist ofirony. River fish are hardly small, or at least that’s how it’s been inmy experience, yet they are scrappers none the less because of theirferocious behavior. I believe this aggressiveness is simply a conditionrelative to survival of the fittest in the nature of their home, muchlike the lifestyles of slum life versus suburban living. I’m not sayingthat rivers are dirty polluted bodies of water with residents actinglike a dozen convicts locked up in a tiny cell together, I’m simplyimplying where resources are scarcer, survival instincts preside actionover thought process.
What makes up the disposition of a river? Forget about the clarity ofthe St. Lawrence or St. Claire River just south of Sarnia, Ontario.When you think of a river, do you think of the muddy waters of theMississippi or Wisconsin River, or do you think of the ridiculouslyclear waters of the Collins River in Tennessee or the Tygart of WestVirginia, all of which hold sustainable musky populations? Hopefully,for the sake of making use of this article you can relate to the moreestablished or rampantly conceived aesthetics of a river; One that hasthe Secchi Disk reading of no more than a couple feet and is litteredwith snags, stump fields, cut banks and sandbars.
While musky are native river fish, they are still lazy and prefer tolie in wait for convenient prey, which means less than ampleopportunities. Using their acclimated hunting skills, their ability tohone in on their prey should be considered a step ahead of theircousins swimming in the flooded lake down river. Consider theheartiness of a wolf or coyote and compare to that of a house dog thatran away and is now left to fend for itself in the wild. I’m not tryingto discount the predator behind lake muskies; I’m simply drawing apicture to show how different living conditions can mean the differenceof one entity to next.
In my experience, window shoppers have not been a burden to my salespitch when I throw for muskies on a river. If they follow, their hungryand trying to eat, sealing the deal is up to you, althoughunderstandably their can be unavoidable obstacles that can certainlybreak the deal, too. While not necessarily clear or small, lakes arefar different in disposition than rivers. A lake, usually consisting ofa basin, is surrounded by a breakline and may contain sunken islands orweed flats, but these characteristics change little to not at all, andlife within a lake, more often than not, relate to certain niche’s.Migratory patterns of baitfish and other species in lakes can bepredictive and recognizable in timing and location by us humans, so onewould have to assume that fish can too, especially those who depend onit.
A common misconception is that flowage fish often migrate from theriver to the lake once summer peaks, then back to the river when theAugust cools off the overheated river water. Sure, rivers are shallowerthan many lakes and of course, cloudy water absorbs more heat from thesun than that of crystal clear waters like the middle Alleghany Riverin Pennsylvania, but moving water has the uncanny ability to distortthis warm up, and so do the thousands of springs within Rivers. Ifmusky had a hard time living in rivers throughout the summer months,rest assured musky populations in lakes now-a-days would be slim toalmost eliminated. Remember, rivers offer the best of all livingconditions, all except easy meals. Sometimes I think of lake muskieslike they are sitting in a drive-through line at a fast-food joint,their only discomfort is having to make a decision what and when theywant to eat. River muskies, however, will unlikely turn down a freemeal. Put them in a ring with other hungry muskies and you have theepitome of a scrapper.
So you’ve made up your mind, you’re going to spend your time settinghooks into submerged stumps and take the risk of driving your boat uponto a black sand bar inches under the surface that came out of nowherebecause these fish should be easier to catch, right? Wrong. Whilehungry and aggressive, these fish are by no means easy to catch, theysimply improve the odds of turning a follow into a strike in my humbleopinion. Rivers are huge bodies of water, if not wide, then long, andthe fish can be anywhere. It’s up to you to learn the dynamics of arivers structure and how fish relate to it, but bare in mind that fishtend to face upstream, given the current is flowing in the area you arefishing. I’ve yet to see an abundance of musky chase down a lure thatcame ripping past them from behind. Although difficult, with the rightbaits it is possible to cast upstream and bring it down, usually acreature jig of some sort works well for this. More often than not,you’ll find the most strategic way to fish a river is a parallel. Thisallows the current to push the lure slightly down stream on theretrieve, hopefully past the nose of a hungry resident, as well as easeof the retrieve at the speed you want it to proceed.
Fishing muskies isn’t easy, whether you fish lakes or rivers, but manyhave their preference. If you have the luxury of being on water withthe best of both worlds, do what suits you and your style of fishing. Ilove fishing rivers, I think hotspots are easier to identify as I’mmore of a visual fisherman then an open water kind of guy. You canassume where I’ll be fishing when I’m faced with decision time, wherewill you be?