J-Man’s 2016 Muskie Trolling Report: Lake of the Woods; Sabaskong Bay & Area

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 

If you still care about the 2016 trolling season in the Pooh Boat, here is the better late than never summary of action and adventure.

Muskies Landed: 68
Days Fished: 22 full days, 2 half days

Fish lost during the fight & fish that hooked up and fell right off: 13

Fish that didn’t hook up: 9

We assume all fish that hit, but don’t hook-up and all fish that fall off during the fight are muskies because pike NEVER fall off!! 

Pike Landed: 51 (2 less than 2015.  Largest measured: 41”, 40”, 40”)

Total Strikes 2016: 141 (down 8 from 2015)

% of Muskies Landed of Total Strikes: 68/141 = 48.2% (up 2% from 2015)
% of Muskies Landed minus Confirmed Pike: 68/90 = 75.9% (up 3.7% from 2015)

Previous Years Totals

2015: 69 fish in 20 days
2014: 90 fish in 22 days
2013: 87 fish in 20 days
2012: 53 fish in 20 days
2011: 48 fish in 16 full days & 6 half days
2010: 57 fish in 14 full days & 5 half days
2009: 71 fish in 22 days

Thoughts on Numbers
We missed our target average of 3 fish per day by 1 fish, so of course it feels a little disappointing.   However, based on the conditions we faced during our time on the water, I feel like we did well all things considered.  Having half of the fish that hooked up and fell off pretty quick might have made for a very different feel to the total numbers.

Size Distribution
The muskies and pike fisheries on Lake of the Woods continue to trend healthy.   Average size and thickness of fall fish have been excellent and that was the case again this past fall.   Catching 4+ footers with girth is, of course, what we dream about.  However, when you get a couple of 44s, a 45 and a 46 that are super slobs, you can’t help but be in awe of what this lake is capable of producing.
Sub 30”: 1
30” – < 35”: 6
35” – < 40”: 19
40” – < 45”: 27

45” – < 48”: 11 (45”, 45”, 45”, 45.5”, 46”, 46”, 46.5”, 46.75”, 47.5”, 47.5”, 47.5”)
48” – < 50”: 2 (48”, 48.5”)

50”+: 2 (50”, 50.5”)

In the interest of full disclosure, please note I am not measuring each and every fish anymore.  We will often dump them at boatside without netting or measuring in the interest of less time out of water or less time with our baits out of water when things are happening.  We feel like we have enough experience to gauge whether a fish is within a 5” range.  Anything that looks big enough to go 45” was put on the board for a quick verification of its size.  Some smaller fish were measured as well, but not each and every fish.

Percentage of Fish 45+

2016: 15 of 68 = 22.06%
2015: 11 of 69 = 15.94%
2014: 17 of 90 = 18.9%
2013: 15 of 87 = 17.2%
2012: 8 of 53 = 15.1%
2011: 10 of 48 = 20.8%
2010: 13 of 57 = 22.8%
2009: 8 of 71 = 11.3%

Thoughts on Size
Despite a couple less fish in the 48” and above category, the numbers of 45” and bigger were up significantly from last year.  Especially during the Epic, which saw only 23 fish for the week, but 10 of them were 45” and larger.  This gave us a 43.5% rate.  When almost half of the fish you catch are 45” or above, you can say you had a good week even when you don’t hit your numbers target.

Lures/Colours

9.5” Kraves: 17
10” Jakes: 16
13” Grandmas: 8
Slammers: 3
9” Grandmas: 2
Myers: 1

Supernatural Big Baits

10” Headlocks: 7
12” Headlocks: 3
Mattlocks: 2

Wick Onez “Kingpinz”: 6
Blue Water Baits: 2 (12” Herring, 9” Cisco)
DK Fifty Finder: 1

Thoughts on Baits
Smaller baits seemed to be the meal of choice again, despite offering them bigger stuff on a regular basis.  This pattern seems to hold true whenever there isn’t a lot of bait fish spawning in process.

Supernaturals landed the biggest share of fish over 45” again so that is definitely a pattern now with 3 years in a row having similar results.  Again, we used a variety of colours and only 1 of them that I can remember did not get bit.   The action of this bait just seems to get better the more I beat them up.  Especially, some of the baits I have had for multiple seasons.   The only one I have had to retire is the original Perchy.  The others are all going strong with fresh hooks and occasional lip pin replacements.

The Kinpinz from Wick Ones came through late with the biggest fish of the year and had its share of nice fish as well.   The big Grandma proved it will always have a place in the line-up with a strong showing for the big bait family.   I am still looking forward to more Bluewater Baits in the boat and giving them a chance when baitfish are up and bring in the basin fish.

Jakes and Kraves were reliable and steady.   These 2 baits just seem to work. Period.

Colour patterns didn’t really stand out over the course of the 20+ day trolling season in the Pooh boat.   One thing that did seem to shine was holographic type patterns.   The flash these types of patterns give off was the ticket, especially on days with bright sunshine and improved water clarity.   Contrasting colours had good results as well as natural colours, but the flash of reflective tape or holographic patterns definitely led the way.

Rod Position Related to Structure
Outside Rod: 34
Inside Rod: 27
Middle Rod: 7

This is the lowest number for middle rod fish I can remember.   There were a few more days of 2 rods only, but even when 3 rods were running, the middle rod seemed stone cold.   There was only a couple 45”+ fish that hit the middle rod despite mixing up the bait offerings and line lengths from start to finish.

Depth/Structure
Nothing much new here as far as results go.   With a lack of bait on a regular basis, we spent more time on deeper runs than normal, but it did not produce anything significant in terms of results.   The majority of our big fish came from typical fall patterns and depths.   I am not one to force feed something over and over when it is not working.  Trying something new when the fish aren’t co-operating ensures we aren’t missing them if they are close by, but not in our normal patterns.   We did land a few more fish on large reef complexes after working a few of them harder than in the past.   I expect to do more of this in future fall seasons and suggest you do as well.

Highlights

BEST EPIC EVER.   Many of you will know that the week that Dean and Brady join me has become known as “The Epic.”   Now if you aren’t aware of the events in the several months leading up to the fall, you will wonder how the lowest number of fish caught in an Epic trip can be the best.  When news came of Deano having a heart attack, and then a second one that resulted in a fall and traumatic brain injury, the Epic was in severe danger of never being the same again.    Brady and I spoke more than once in the following weeks after about what we should do in case Deano would not be able to join us.   However, in true Deano fashion, he came through better than anyone could ever have hoped for and was back to work even before the Epic began.   The amount of rehab and hard work he had to put in to get his life back to normal would have broken many of us.   For me, the entire week was made the moment he arrived with Brady and all members of Team Epic were present.  The fact that Dean put on a clinic was an incredible bonus.   The results were not pretty for Brady and I, but I know I can speak for both of us when I say we couldn’t have been more thrilled to get our asses handed to us.  When Deano put 3 on the board on Day 1, including a 50″, Brady & I knew we were in trouble.

Not So Cool Stuff

PARKING IT!  I managed to park Pooh on some rocks a couple times last fall.  The first park job was easily the worst position I had ever been in on the water.   Some wind was blowing in and pushed us in and on to a boulder point while releasing a pain-in-the-butt pike.   With a heck of a lot of pushing with paddles, Mitch and I managed to get over and off the edge of the point, but it wasn’t looking good.

new-movie-2-movie_snapshot

The second park job was the following week and made the first look like a walk in the park in comparison.  With an even stronger wind, I was following the Lakemaster contour lines and realized I was in trouble on a reef I hadn’t fished in a long time.   I had it properly marked on my old Lowrance units, but was not able to find my X-25 so I did not have in in the boat.   This reef was very poorly marked and we ended up beached on the center keel with waves crashing over the back of the boat and filling Pooh up with water.  The angle the boat was sitting did not allow water to get pumped out by the bilge so with added weight from water and a full 40 gallons of gas, pushing with paddles was not going well.    It got to the point that we gave up and I made the call for someone to come up and try to pull us off the reef.   Luckily, it was a warm day and we were not that far from home yet.   Eventually, the wind moved us very slightly and the bilge kicked on to get rid of some weight.   I could see a trail of white/silver paint from the keel on the rock which indicated we were moving a little bit at a time.   Eventually we did get off the other end of this big, mostly flat rock, but we were parked for well over an hour.   After clearing the reef, we headed for the boat ramp to check for damage to Pooh, but he seemed to come through the ordeal quite well.  UGH.  NOT GOOD.  VERY NOT GOOD.  The Captain screwed up big time on that one.   Just glad it didn’t ruin the day or the trip.

new-movie-3-movie_snapshot

LOOK MA, NO HANDLE!!    Bushings, washers, spacers, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Tiller handle on Pooh gets sloppy on occasion and I tighten it up as needed.  On Day 1 of the Epic, it was feeling quite loose, so I gave it a tighten and the bolt holding it together broke.   Leaving the first spot, the handle literally detached from the engine.  Hmmmmmmmm.   The bolt holding a rail mount Down-East rod holder was the jerry-rigged solution that got us through the day.   That night, we backed Pooh over to the new shop and found enough stuff in the miscellaneous nuts and bolts bin to make it work.  That got us through the week and through another week of the Bonus Round.   I had a similar issue in the past and it ended up costing about $800 bucks in parts to get it fixed.   Looks like it will be about the same to repair it properly for next season.  I may buy double the bushings so they can be replaced before it causes the entire handle set-up to get ruined.

WEATHER!  Yes, once again the weather was too warm for ideal conditions.  Temps were in the 70s for the start of the Epic.  Action was heating up the last week of October as the temps went down steadily, but seemed to stall out when the sun came out and kept things well above normal during daytime and overnight.   When will we have a normal fall weather pattern again?  We can only hope for soon!

WIND!! It was very windy more days than not.  The wind direction often pinned us to particular areas of the lake for multiple days in a row.  I detest fishing in the wind for reasons above (potential park jobs) and still have not seen enough evidence that fishing in high winds and big rollers makes more sense than trying to avoid it when possible.

LOSING BAITS!   Lost a Headlock and Kingpinz this year.  I’m still a little depressed.   As Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say……about that.”

Equipment/Gear

VENTURE CUSTOM RODS!!  Three rods from Paul Amberg made just for trolling turned out awesome.   With upgrades to the reel seats and EVA foam handles, they stand out amongst their peers.  The thread art and guide wrap options are endless to make these one of a kind units.  Action and handling was excellent and all those using the rods loved them.  I will add a couple more of these to the line-up next year and will be set up with a full arsenal of Venture Custom Rods.

Upgraded the net cam GoPro to a Hero 3+ to allow for higher resolution action on the fish coming into the net.   A 3-camera line-up with full 1080p/60 fps should make for some crystal clear HD Video Mondays starting January 9, 2017 so be sure to follow the youtube channel or facebook page for announcements and links to new videos.

Other Observations
As we get busier into late October, I expect to spend less time fishing and more time working as the season winds down.  I fished 4 and a half days in October 2016, but was able to make up for missing out with some extra November days.  When weather patterns return to normal, I foresee a fewer number of days trolling and a resulting drop in overall numbers.  Hopefully, this is not the case, but I always say the best way to catch a lot of fish is to have as many baits in the water as possible for as many hours as possible.

Pumping rods didn’t seem to make nearly as much difference as it has in the past.   More data needed.  Is it November yet?

Special Thanks to:
Some of these will be repeating year after year so humor me a bit……

Duffy Thury (Supernatural Big Baits) for making baits that big fish cannot resist.

45headlocknetcam

Paul Amberg (Venture Custom Rods) for the sweet trolling rods.  Contact Paul to check his winter show schedule so you can check out his art live and in person.

Mike Blewett (Wick Onez Musky Customz) for the Kingpinz collection.  Great baits with some of the most amazing paint jobs you will find on a lure.

24-2jman50half17nov2016cropped50.5″ – Kingpinz

Dick Moore (Moore’s Lures) – For all my terminal tackle needs.

Bob Schmidt: (Just Encase tackle boxes).  Simply the best in tackle storage.

Lidio Azevedo (Blue Water Baits) for adding a few more BWBs to my collection.   Thanks, Lideo!

To Don, Linda, Tom, Dave, Eric, Brad, Mitch, Dean, Brady, Paul, and Jeff for some great times in the Pooh boat.  Also, special thanks to Collette and Lauren Roll for sharing their Husband & Dad with Brady and I again after a scary spring and summer.

season-end-2016The end of the 2016 trolling season in the Pooh boat.

Final Thoughts
It is easy to get frustrated and upset when things don’t go your way on the water.   Never lose sight of why we do what we do.   Catching fish is certainly the goal, but until we all learn that spending time on the water, whether it is alone or with people you care about, is more valuable than any caught or lost fish, then we will never know how blessed we are.  I’m beyond lucky that everyone that spent time in my boat this past fall feels the same way that I do.   If I had to do this for money, that might not be the case.

I will miss the Minnesota Muskie Expo this year because I was not aware that it has been moved to early March.   Hopefully I can figure out a way to fit it back into my off-season schedule in the future, but in the meantime, I will be at the NW Sports Show in downtown Minneapolis for 1 or 2 days the weekend of March 25 so give me a shout if you want to get together and talk fishing.

50release

Cheers

J-Man

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