J-Man’s 2017 Muskie Trolling Report: Lake of the Woods; Sabaskong Bay & Area

HAPPY NEW YEAR, muskie nuts!  The 2017 fall trolling season was interesting.  Read on to find out how…………….

Muskies Landed: 30
Days Fished: 9 full days, 2 half days

The bay at the resort was frozen hard the morning of November 9, causing an end to the season much too early.

Fish lost during the fight: 1

Fish that hooked up and fell right off: 19

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: 23 (I don’t recall measuring one this past year.)

Total Strikes in 2017: 73

% of Muskies Landed vs Total Strikes: 30/73 = 41.1% (Down 7% from 2016.)
% of Muskies Landed minus Confirmed Pike: 30/50 = 60% (Down 17 % from 2016.)

Previous Years Totals

2016: 68 fish in 22 full days & 2 half days
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
The target average of 3 muskies per day is pretty much dead on this year.  Strangely, the low overall number has me feeling both very frustrated and extremely proud at the same time.   The weather conditions dictated a lot of what we could do out there this fall, more so than any other year I can recall.  Though the total of 30 muskies landed is about the lowest I can remember going back to 2005 when I started trying to keep good records, only 2007 was lower in terms of fish caught and similar days on the water.    Despite what was, by far, the toughest sustained weather pattern I have ever had to fish in for an extended period, we found some fish simply by grinding it out every single day.

Size Distribution
Good overall average size again this year with over 2/3 of our landed fish over the 40” mark and 20% of them 45” and up.   The smaller fish were all in the 35”-40” range except one peanut that would not have made 30” and another that was closer to 35” than 30”.  Please see the usual disclosure below.

Sub 30”: 1
30” – < 35”: 1
35” – < 40”: 8
40” – < 45”: 14

45” – < 48”: 2 (45”, 46.5”)
48” – < 50”: 3 (48.5”, 49.25”, 49.5”)

50”+: 1 (51.75” Super Fatty)

In the interest of full disclosure, please note I am not measuring every fish anymore.  We will often dump them at boat side 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+

2017: 6 of 30 = 20%
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
It took a while for us to get a fish over 45” during the fall troll, but once we did, 6 of the last 13 fish were 45” or bigger.  As well as one near miss that was a chunky 44.5” so similar to last year….we didn’t get numbers in tough conditions, but we got some quality fish.   The quality of fish helps take some of the sting out of losing time and numbers due to the early freeze.  For me personally, it feels like we really earned those nice fish by applying what we have learned in past years.


Supernatural Big Baits
10” Headlocks: 2
12” Headlocks: 4
12” Mattlocks: 1

10” Jake: 4
Franky: 4
9” Krave: 6
Wick Onez “Kingpinz”: 3
13” Grandma: 3
9” Grandma: 1
Blue Water Baits: 1
DK Fifty Finder Shallow: 1

Thoughts on Baits
Once again, Supernatural Big Baits showed why they are a go-to lure family in my boat.  A 12” HL landed the 2nd largest of the fall at 49.5”.  An old fave even got back in on the fun in 2017, but more on that later.

The Kingpinz lived up to it’s big fish reputation again as well, landing a 45” and 46.5” out of the 3 caught on them.

Paulie Rod Builder caught 4 on his Franky bait, including a 48.5”, but we know little about it.  In fact, we had no idea what kind of bait it was until he caught a fish on it.  Once it was proven to be a fish catcher, we looked for a marking on it to tell us what kind of bait it was.  I had never seen one prior and haven’t seen one since.  Paulie wasn’t much help because he has no idea where it came from either.  😊


The DK Fifty Finder Platinum Shallow landed the biggie.  This was a very cool thing because Dave asked me if I would be willing to beat up a bait that he worked hard to get the way he wanted it.  Of course, I was happy to oblige, and it turned out very well for lure maker and field tester both.  You will see the entire story on an episode of Video Monday coming soon so don’t miss it!


Rod Position Related to Structure
Outside Rod: 15
Inside Rod: 10
Middle Rod: 5

A second consecutive trolling season with reduced middle rod activity.  Hmmmmmm.   Lack of bait perhaps?

Not much new here.  The lack of bait fish was frustrating, but we can seemingly blame that on the severe cold fronts that moved through.  This drastically dropped water temps more than 10 degrees in 10 days at the end of October.   Having surface temps go from 54 to 40 degrees in 10 days and then go under 36 degrees within the next 5 days totally blew up any bait fish staging and spawning pattern.   Multiple fish catches were almost zero in areas that have produced 3-4 fish at times when baitfish are present during staging and spawning.   This made the shoreline and structure related to shoreline (underwater tips, traditional points, etc) and reef structures even more important in our runs.   The usual 8-10 feet of water average put us in contact with that structure and produced fish despite a lack of baitfish during most of the fall trolling season.

Some nice fish to end the season.   The 51.75” came on Sunday morning of the Epic and started a good 24 hour run of 7 fish from 40” to 51.75” that ended with a 49.25” and 49.5” landed less than an hour apart.

The return of Perchie!!!    After being semi-retired after his rookie season in 2013, and full retired since 2015…..I asked Brett to help me surprise Duff and had Perchie, my original 12” Headlock, sent down to SBB shop in St Paul to be refinished.  Perchie came back just the way I wanted.  He looked as beat up as ever, but was freshly sealed and ready to rock and roll one more time.  My plan was to give Perchie another run or two this past fall when conditions were prime and fish were active.   Well, conditions never came close to prime, but I called his number a couple of times anyway to see if he could still dance.    After landing a nice 43”, he was BAAAAAAAACK!    After studying my records, I count 14 muskies in 2013, and then 1 muskie in very limited water time in 2014 (semi-retirement.)   I don’t think he saw the water in 2015 and I know he stayed dry all of 2016.   His limited run in 2017 gave him a total of 16 muskies landed with an average** of 43.75”.   Only 2 of the 16 muskies were less than 40”  Of course, there have been multiple pike caught on Perchie as well, but I have never held that against him.

Using my records, Perchie has landed the following muskies: mid-to-high 30s, 39, 40, low 40s, low 40s, 42.5, 43, 43.5, 44, 44.5, 45.5, 46, 48.25, 48.5, 50, 50.25.

The 16th muskie to have lost a fight with Perchie was a 43″.

**Please note: for the sake of being conservative, when calculating the average size, I used 35” for the “mid-to-high 30s” and 40” for both of the “low 40s” fish that were not measured.

Above photos show Perchie before his new skin was put on.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Ole Perchie!!

We know we can find some fish in water temps under 35 degrees, if we must.  I prefer not to, but we shall take it 1 fall at a time.

Tom, Dave and I managed a 7 fish day on October 20 in the sunshine with water temps almost up to mid 50s.   There was nothing large in that bunch though.

The Epic did include a 5 fish day that started with the 51.75” and also included: 40ish, 45”, 44.5”, 40ish.

Not So Cool Stuff
WEATHER!  Yeah, it was horrible.   Extreme cold and high wind is a deadly combination.   I have fished in some less than ideal conditions in the past and generally go out of my way to avoid trolling in rollers.   A time or two this year, it was unavoidable.    I have owned the Pooh boat since spring of 2006 and never once have I taken a wave over the bow of the boat.   This year, we managed to get it twice.  The first occurred while trolling through some nasty rollers to get around a point and out of the wind we had been hiding from most of the morning but could not avoid in the area we were in.  This was only a partial rinse.   Later that day, we speared one completely on the way home.  With the freezing conditions, it was more than a little not good.   I do not care to ever do that again and will take more steps to avoid this in the future, even if it means losing part of a day on the water late in the season.

A tilt/trim motor problem cost us half the day to start the Epic.   With the usual slow start on Day 1 after the boys arrive, unload and load gear, etc…..the day is shorter to begin with.  Add the tilt/trim motor issue that led to an early ending, to a day that had wind, cold, white out blizzard conditions and more boat traffic than I can ever remember in November and you end up with the Pooh boat recording its first skunk in almost 3 seasons of trolling.   The two big pike we landed that day in the snowstorm were not any cause for celebration.  See how Cousin Jeff saved the Epic in the special thanks section.

In the shop with a tilt/trim motor problem after part of a day fishing in blizzard conditions.

The new trolling rods from Venture Custom Rods were AWESOME.   We tweaked last year’s models slightly and were beyond pleased with the results.    Lamiglass blanks, aluminum reel seats with double nuts, spiral wrap, EVA foam handles and out of this world threadwork and customization from Paul Amberg.   This is the kind of thing you can get for the angler that has everything and they will be blown away.   The right equipment for the job always makes life easier and more enjoyable.

We had some trouble with GoPro batteries in the extreme cold conditions, but I can’t blame them for that.  Overall, the cameras held up pretty well and captured some great footage for Video Mondays again.

I am dying to get a couple of Helix 12 Megas, but trying to wait until a new rig.   There is nothing wrong with the job my current Birds are doing, despite them being older technology.

The Pooh boat is aging. He is going to need to be replaced sooner rather than later.   I may buy something used if I can find the right rig until we get a few more bigger projects done at the resort and free up some funds in the capital budget for a new Competitor 205 tiller with all the bells and whistles.  If anyone sees any well taken care of Alumacraft Tournament Pro 185 boats for sale out there, please do let me know!  They are not easy to find due to their vintage (2003 to 2005ish.)

Cabelas late season extreme guidewear, inferno boots and some base layering did the job on the cold.  I wouldn’t want to fish in that kind of weather every fall, but this gear makes it manageable.

Other Observations
The cold weather conditions, coupled with wind, snow, wind, sleet, wind, rain, wind, clouds, wind….did I mention wind, made it miserable to be out there when the fish weren’t co-operating.  Combing this with the aforementioned lack of baitfish may have led to…….

…….solunar table data being even more important than I can remember other years.   While we tried to focus on proven areas during these times, we had significantly more activity during moonrise, moonset and major activity periods when we could fish them during any given day.

Our first 9 fish were caught in 52-54 degree water on October 20 and 21.  Our last few fish were caught as low as 33.6 degrees on November 7.   A total of 8 fish were caught in water temps below 36 degrees on the surface.

Many more fish caught on back hooks this year.   Also a large number of fish that fell off or didn’t hook up considering our significantly number of days on the water.   Very few fish seemed to be crushing baits in kill and/or feeding mode.  Even the biggie of the season was hooked on the rear treble.   Fish seemed to be nipping short throughout the cold fronts, which caused hook-up percentage to be down significantly.  We had 1 day during Epic Pre-Fishing with 10 strikes that turned into 2 muskies, 6 pike and 2 that popped right off.   You can’t help but wonder how many following fish didn’t try to eat or missed baits completely and lost interest.   Even Paulie Rod Builder started catching them on the back hook in the Pooh boat this year, which is something he said he had never done before.

From 2016…….”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.”

It looks as if I was a bit prophetic when I wrote this report last year.   October time on the water went down to 3 days in 2017, with only 2 of those being prior to guests checking out and docks coming out of the water.   Getting froze out early and losing almost half of the average number of days on the water was especially tough to swallow this year after a couple of extended November fishing seasons.

Special Thanks to:

To cousin Jeff Morrison for “taking a look” at a crapped-out tilt/trim motor and refusing to quit tinkering until it was removed, fiddled with and tested for operation.   Jeff saved the 2017 Epic and I could not be more thankful to have amazing friends and family that share their skills and talents when they are needed most.  

Some of the rest of these will be repeating year after year so humor me a bit……

Duffy Thury of Supernatural Big Baits ( www.supernaturalbigbaits.com ) for making baits that big fish cannot resist.  Also Brett Erickson at Supernatural Big Baits as well.  Check them out at a Muskie Expo near you this winter.

Paul Amberg of Venture Custom Rods ( www.venturecustomrods.com ) for the sweetest trolling rods and amazing attention to detail.  The new Team Epic set built on Lamiglass blanks are absolutely incredible tools.  Contact Paul to check his winter show schedule so you can put your eyes and hands on his art live and in person.

Dave Kormanyos (DK Musky Lures) for asking me to test drive a DK FF Platinum Shallow that landed what might have been the heaviest muskie I have ever caught.   Let me know if you want to get in touch with Dave about getting into his buying group on facebook.   He will do draws for the option to buy so baits can be distributed to as many anglers as possible when available.

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.

Lidio Azevedo (Blue Water Baits) for always responding to my questions about running depths with different sizes of lips when I’m running his awesome handmade lures.  Thanks, Lideo!

Dick Moore of Moore’s Lure ( www.mooreslures.com ) – For all my terminal tackle needs.

Bob Schmid of Just Encase tackle boxes ( www.justencase.com )  Simply the best in bait storage.

Chad Wyss for sending some baits for us to beat up during the Epic.   We look forward to having more days to get them dialed in next year.

To Tom and Dave for helping me shake off the rust with some October practice fishing.

To Paulie, Mitch, Dean and Brady for hanging in there through nasty weather and a couple of mechanical issues to make fishing in the worst conditions tolerable because of the good company.

Final Thoughts
This was easily the worst set of conditions we have faced since starting to fish hard in the fall.   Sustained sub-freezing temps with high winds are not something to be taken lightly.  I learned a lot about how this can affect your safety this past fall.  There is a lot more to it than you might think if you haven’t experienced it yourself.   The fish will be there another day.  Make sure you are safe to be there another day as well.   My upcoming seminar in Appleton, WI in March will feature some time spent on this subject.  It is as important as life and death.

I intend to lead by example and take no chances when one mistake or problem can lead to the end.

Safety first.  Always.

That is all.


2 thoughts on “J-Man’s 2017 Muskie Trolling Report: Lake of the Woods; Sabaskong Bay & Area

  1. I’d like to get a chance to join DK Facebook page I can’t find his lures anywhere and those that got em won’t let em go


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