It is not too early to start thinking about your approach to 2018 summer musky fishing. When i originally reached out to musky guide, Billy Jenkins, I expected to discuss simply Ottawa area summer musky fishing. What happened instead is that Billy took the time to spell out an approach to musky fishing that can be used in waters throughout our area of Eastern Canada and Northeastern United States for late spring and summer musky. I suspect that most of these techniques will apply no matter where you are chasing summer musky in Canada and the United States. So if you love chasing the Esox, you are in for a fantastic read that will help you be a better musky angler.
Why do you love guiding for musky?
I am currently in my third year with Jenkins Guiding Service. I have been fishing since I could walk and I have always enjoyed the adrenaline rush from reeling in every single fish I have caught.
However, everything changed when I caught my first musky over 10 years ago. Experiencing the sheer strength and aggressiveness of that fish gave me an adrenaline rush I have never experienced before, nor one that I will ever forget.
As time went on I began to experience that same excitement and joy while helping friends and family catch these beautiful fish. This is why I decided to start Jenkins Guiding Service, a business that will help people experience that same unforgettable feeling. I have been hugged, high-fived, and thanked a million times by guests, and more often than not my guests leave with a new found obsession for catching big fish. That is what makes what I do so rewarding. It’s pretty amazing seeing people show the same emotion as me when they catch their trophy.
Since you played professional hockey in the OHL, what have you learned from playing hockey that helps you as a musky fishing guide?
My time in the OHL has helped me in a big way towards the guiding aspect of my fishing career. While playing in that league you are communicating with fans, coaches, media, teammates and everything in between on a daily basis. I was a young 15-year-old when I first joined the league, and I left the league as a 20-year-old man learning more in those 5 years than I could ever explain or imagine.
My communication skills became grade A and this makes it so much easier to communicate with people on a day-to-day basis and to get the best out of them. My communication skills are very beneficial when it comes to my guiding career. Each client is different, and each client learns in different ways. Communication skills gained from knowing and talking to so many different personalities over the years, transfer right into working with clients on the boat. It is essential to understand and adapt teaching methods to each client, which I find I can do within a couple minutes of meeting my clients. Understanding how they learn and are motivated leads to the boat being more successful, and a better trip for everyone!
What are the signs that you are looking for on your waters that the summer musky bite is ready to get hot?
There are a few main signs that really indicate that the area summer musky bite is on. The first one is weed growth. During the summer months I am constantly fishing weed flats, weed edges, big and small weed beds or at least structure that is nearby weeds.
Once you start noticing that weed growth is really starting to take place, you know summer season has been turned on and so have the musky. If you can find where the first weed beds begin to grow at the start of the season, chances are you will find the musky. The musky will be looking for the excess oxygen that the first couple of developed weed beds of the year give off.
There are lots of different types of weeds that I believe hold musky, coon tail is one of the best along with deep cabbage that comes up near the surface creating big beautiful pockets. A bucktail is always a great tactic to get fish to come out of these weeds. Topwaters and glide baits also produce lots of fish in these areas.
The second main sign for the summer musky bite is the temperature outside and in the water. Spring temperatures slowly heat up into summer temperatures and this is one of the best times to have great multiple fish outings. Seeing the temperature on your fish finder climbing to the high 60 range is a great indicator that the summer musky bite is on or upon us.
Year after year I find that this spring turnover can produce very active musky and it is one of my favourite times of the year to pursue the giants. This is the time that I normally start burning in bucktails, and reeling in the big and loud topwaters to get the out to the big girls in the net again after a long off-season.
What are some of your favorite summer musky waters to take clients?
We are so lucky in the Ottawa region because of all the amazing musky waters we can fish, and I guarantee every musky angler in our area will agree. First off, we will start with the incredible Ottawa River. This river is known for its giant fish. To put it simply, big water equals big fish. This river flows all the way through the famous Ottawa Valley, from there it passes by the historic parliament buildings in downtown Ottawa, after that it passes the beautiful east end of Ottawa, and it finally comes to an end in Montreal where it links up with the St. Lawrence River.
I have always found the Ottawa River has two different types of structure that are both musky heavens. The Ottawa Valley offers breathtaking scenery. The river contains many fish holding zones including gigantic bays, rapids, islands and tons of rock structure. My favourite spots are the islands and points that wind and current get pushed into. A lot of the time a musky will be sitting in an ambush site off to the side or right behind a island or point, anxiously waiting for bait fish to get thrown right in front of them.
The east end of the river includes more weed structure compared to rock structure. Weed islands rule this region and so do mass amounts of big musky. Islands in the Ottawa Valley stretch are normally surrounded by rock structure, in contrast in the east end of the Ottawa stretch islands are surrounded by weed structure. The front and back sides of these weed islands normally hold musky. Once again it is important to look for good ambush spots; this is helpful for finding more fish.
Overall, the Ottawa Valley and eastern regions of the river are superb areas to fish and they both hold the trophy fish that we are all after. The sky is the limit for structure in this river, which is why it makes it so much fun. Fishing it can be a challenge, but the rewards are worth it.
The next main musky source in the Ottawa area is the Rideau River. This river is connected to the famous Ottawa Rideau canal. Which brings in thousands of tourists every winter to skate that very canal through the heartbeat of Ottawa. This is a huge stretch of water flowing from Kingston all the way through the North Grenville area, and finally making its way through downtown Ottawa before flowing into the Ottawa River. Stretches of the river are connected through lock systems, which make for pretty cool experience for boaters and fishermen travelling through the historic waterway.
I always think of the Rideau River as a giant weed bed. Although this may sound promising, it does not make the fishing any easier. With large weed beds running parallel down both sides of the river, the entire length of this river looks the same for the most part.
So where to fish? Well, because it is all so similar, any form of unique or varying structure in the weed beds is where the musky can be found. Any time I see a weed edge with a drastic change in structure such as a bay that forms inside the weed bed, a point, or a break, I get excited – these are normally my go to spots. In the past I used to fish on the same boring straight weed edge for hours and hours with little results.
A few years back I finally started to find the structure I just mentioned, and I started to find a lot of fish. Although there are no guarantees in musky fishing, more times than not you can be confident that you will see musky come out in bunches in these little bays, breaks and points; especially when the wind is pushing bait fish right into these spots.
We are also fortunate to have many tributaries scattered throughout the Ottawa region. Although these spots may not hold as many giants, you can get into more than a couple on any given day. The mighty St Lawrence river is also a short drive down highway 416. You can be in a remote location deep in the Ottawa Valley or in the heart of downtown Ottawa and you will have the chance of catching the fish of a lifetime. It seems the options are endless. We are surrounded by an amazing fishery!
What are your favorite summer musky casting methods?
For me, on most days, bucktails rule. The vibration they give off, the water they move, and the presentation they have is normally too much for a musky to pass up on. I always go with my trusted set of Handlebarz bucktails that never let me down.
Sometimes, however, musky don’t cooperate. Very rarely will I have my whole boat casting bucktails because often times the elusive giants are looking for something completely different. If I have a few clients out I will always get the client at the front throwing a bucktail, the middle fishermen will be throwing a slower moving presentation such as a glide bait or the new Baby Beaver, which is an awesome option. While the client at the back will be throwing a topwater, such as a big water-moving prop bait, or a slower walk-the-dog type presentation. On any given day, any of these tactics can produce a lot of musky.
I have fallen in love with using the glide bait over the years. On tough mid-summer days where nothing seems to be moving or on cold fall days when the fish are feeling lethargic, the side to side dying bait fish presentation from a glide bait can be irresistible for musky.
The Baby Beaver gives off a completely different look for the fish. Nowadays, since musky fishermen are more abundant and everyone uses similar baits, it is important to fish with alternative presentations. The Baby Beaver is new and unorthodox, and it seems muskies can’t say no. Whether working them down deep, in the middle of the water column or right below the surface it doesn’t matter, musky simply love them. I have seen so many muskies hit these baits like a great white shark breaching the water while attacking a seal – it makes for a spectacular moment! When you see the fish be that aggressive and active towards a bait, you know you have the right one on your line.
Topwaters are one of the most exciting baits on the market. Nothing to this day beats seeing a giant wake from a pursuing musky commence behind your topwater before, bang fish on! Sometimes the fish come from out of nowhere, catch you by the element of surprise and almost make your heart stop for a second or two.
A Handlebarz bucktail will always be my go to, active fish will eat them up instantly or crush them right at your feet on the very important boat side maneuver. When nothing seems to be taking interest on a bucktail, try to slow it down and use the glide bait or the Baby Beaver. The topwater is known to be good in any type of condition, always have one handy!
While casting remember that its not always about hitting the main piece of structure that brought you into the spot, weed edge, point, rocks. While most of fish will come from these areas I always tell clients to throw a couple casts out into the middle of the channel, where musky will sometimes roam. You can add a few fish to your season totals by picking them off in the open water. I have had days where the fish we catch came from casting to the deep edge of a location, while other days they come from the shallowest part of the location.
I think it is important to always make sure you try both depths no matter what time of the season. I recall a time when a buddy and I were fishing side by side at the front of my boat, I was casting to the deep-water side of the weed bed and he was casting into the shallow side. We were both using the same bucktail, the same way, and all 8 fish we raised in a couple hours came from the shallows. The next day we did the same thing and they all came from the deep side. You have to be able to adapt.
How about trolling for summer musky? What are the keys to success?
Just like casting the glide bait, I really began to incorporate trolling into my pursuit for musky over the past few seasons. Handlebarz has designed me a few giant spinnerbaits that serve as musky magnets on the troll.
Trolling is a terrific way to cover a large area of water. It is also helpful as it allows guests and myself to put the big rods away and take a break from chucking big baits; this gives the arms a much-needed break.
My summer musky trolling tactics are simple: I normally run a giant maribou spinnerbait, a regular sized musky spinnerbait and then a giant bucktail. Speed is key, I am normally going 4 to 5 mph, if not faster, all summer, and between 2 to 3.5 mph in the fall. A lot of the time variations in speed can trigger the lethargic musky.
I use line counter trolling reels that sit in my Trojan Tackle rod holders…they are amazing…with the tips of my rods in the water. On musky waters, weeds always tend to be present, so it is important to have your rod tip pointed into the water; this ensures topwater weeds floating along the surface get hung up on your rod tip as apposed to following your line all the way down to your bait and ruining its action.
One line running from my boat will be 10 feet back and the other will be 15 feet back. Many people can’t believe that a musky would hit a lure so close to the propeller, but trust me it works. Remember how aggressive musky are! Having the baits so close causes them to remain in the turbulent water from the spinning prop, and musky are aggressive enough to come right up and strike.
There have been many occasions where myself or the clients have seen the musky strike the baits, because they are so close to the boat. Many anglers believe the prop can stir up baitfish, which attract musky to come take a peak or the sound of the prop attracts them.
The third line I troll will get casted out, and it will troll much further back. While trolling, I am consistently checking my trusted Lowrance fish finder, which sits right beside my steering wheel. I do so in order to follow closely along the edges of the weed beds. Typically, I will go in a slow zig zag pattern in and out of the weeds. Generally, a rule is, the colder the water, the slower you go and vice versa with warm water.
I will troll weed edges, flats, island edges, drop offs, and points. Sometimes, on tough days the only fish we can get in the net are off the troll. Many people don’t find it as exciting as casting for musky, but when you hear the dragticker go off on the trolling rods, adrenaline really kicks in. Startled by the whining drag from the reel you then must scramble to figure out which rod has the fish, grab it out of the rod holder, and then battle what hopefully is a big fish at the other end. Hearing the clicker go off on my trolling reels is music to my ears. Many of my clients have really enjoyed trolling and they have continued to have success down the road doing it.
Another trolling tactic I use is more applicable for the fall, however it can be used in the summer as well. This other tactic is trolling crankbaits in the deeper water column. While trolling crankbaits the lines will be anywhere from 25 to over 100 feet back. Some of the biggest fish ever recorded have been caught off this tactic.
Trolling giant crankbaits in the fall past huge schools of baitfish can be an unstoppable tactic. If you find that schools of baitfish remain higher up, adjust your baits to go to that depth. Most of the time I will ensure my crankbaits are nearly touching the bottom or very close to it. Banging these crankbaits off of a rock bottom can trigger fish to strike. Most crankbaits come with a graph that shows you how deep the bait will go according to how much line is out. If you experiment with any of these trolling tactics you will find what works better on certain days or what you are more comfortable with, I highly suggest you try them all!
You also mention that you jig for muskies on your site. Do you jig for summer musky?
Jigging for muskies is a tactic that many anglers overlook, but some anglers swear it’s the best for tapping into the deep-water column holding giant musky. The Bondy Bait is a great frequently used musky jigging lure. If you find high populated musky areas and you know there is structure below you, simply drop it down and jig that bait up and down.
While jigging make sure you don’t allow for slack in your line because this can really turn off a fish. In order to prevent slack simply do not drop your rod tip too quickly. It is most common for fish to strike on the drop and if there is slack, the fish can easily elude you because it is much harder to get a good hook set.
With all the new electronics out there, you can see your bait below, going up and down and if a musky takes notice you will know to get your game face on. I would suggest doing long jigs and then short ones, you want to mix it up to try and trigger that strike.
Muskies can school up in the fall because they are following a deep-water pack of bait fish, this is where jigging can out rule everything. If you find those bait fish, drop the bait down, and hold on, these strikes can be violent and very powerful.
Out of these techniques, which is your favorite to employ for summer musky?
Casting is for sure my go-to tactic. Although I love hearing the drag let off from hooking into a musky on the troll, there is nothing quite like casting. When you see a big musky follow your bait right up to the boat, and then you execute a well-done boat side maneuver and see that fish turn with the bait and flare its gills, open its mouth and eat your lure right at your feet, its truly tough to beat.
To this day one of my favourite guiding memories came from casting a topwater bait – the Whopper Plopper. We were fishing a large weed flat alongside a very significant drop off. Within the weed flat their was a big thick weed patch in the middle of the flat…this is what I mean by something different and unique…that obviously grew a bit quicker than all the other weeds. Anytime you see a circular or any shape of a weed patch in the flat, chances are a musky is using that for cover and ambush purposes.
It was almost sunset, and you could clearly see the weeds brushing along the surface in the calm conditions. I jokingly said to Paul, the client fishing with me, “ok Paul, cast to the left side of that thick weed patch and let’s watch for the wake to commence”. Sure enough, shortly after the Whopper Plopper hit the water, a very big wake formed behind it.
I had mentioned to the clients at the start of the day that when using a topwater bait muskies will often pursue directly behind the bait, and if they continue to follow the bait subtly speed up the retrieve to trigger a strike. Paul did just as I had taught him – after the fish followed behind the bait for a couple metres, Paul sped his bait up and sure enough the fish reacted. It quickly darted to the side of the Whopper Plopper and then t-boned the bait at full speed. Man, it was so cool! After a couple seconds later, we had a mid 40-inch musky in the net. The look on everyone’s face after that is exactly why I do what I do. We went on to catch 3 muskies in about 20 minutes that evening, feedings windows and moon phases are huge elements to consider while musky fishing!
What are three most critical tips for summer musky hunters to be successful?
THIS IS BY FAR THE MOST IMPORTANT!! YOU always need to be focused and ready while summer musky fishing. All my clients will tell you that I preach this at the start of every trip and several times during the outing. Obviously, some people just have that knack, and fish just seem to hit their lures, but I believe that everyone can cast and work baits effectively with a bit of practice.
What some people lack is the ability to always remain focus from their first cast to their last cast. Many people are not focused enough until it is too late…a failed boat side maneuver or not paying attention could result in a lost opportunity to catch a big fish, and these opportunities on tough days can be hard to come by. I always tell clients that my first cast is the exact same as every other cast during the day: I am focused and know exactly where my bait is, I watch to see if anything is following my bait into the boat, and I remain focused on my lure as I perform a figure 8 or what I prefer, the big O.
To put it simply, being alert and aware of everything going on will result in a lot more fish in the net. I always spend time trolling on every outing because 1) it is a great tactic and results in productive days, and 2) it gives clients a break from casting and it allows them to ‘recharge their batteries’. This way they are chomping at the bit by the time we resume casting. Casting big baits with big rods is not easy to do for hours on end, but we do it because we know the reward is unmatched. This always ties into making sure your hooks are sharp and the reels are working properly, these fish are hard to catch so you must give yourself any edge you can.
The second most critical tip is to have all the proper gear, it breaks my heart seeing people fish musky with bass gear and a net that some bass wouldn’t even be able to swim in. Musky, even though they look like big mean indestructible machines, are in fact very delicate and if they are not taken care of properly, they will die.
Since they are the top of the food chain in our lakes and rivers, they are not used to getting stressed and exhausted. I don’t think people are intentionally trying to harm them, they simply just don’t know a fish of such size and strength is capable of being so delicate, but they are. This is why musky anglers are trying to educate people on this topic.
When the water temperature is high, summer musky are particularly vulnerable. If the fight is too exhausting for them, they will not be able to recover, and even if they swim away after they might die. This is why I use the proper heavy-duty gear. Using this type of gear helps to ensure clients are successful at bringing in their fish, and there is a minimal amount of harm done to the fish. Trust me, this heavy-duty gear does not take any of the fun out of catching a musky away.
For casting I use Shimano Tranx baitcasting reels with 8 foot 6 inch heavy St.Croix rods rigged with 80 pound power pro braided line. For trolling I use Okuma Convector trolling reels rigged up with 80 pound power pro braided line.
I also have a huge net big enough for me to go swimming in; this is critical so the musky can remain in the water while you get your release tools ready. Next, I have a pair of long needle nose pliers, heavy duty hook cutters and jaw spreaders. If a fish is hooked bad, I will cut hooks instantly, you can replace hooks but not a musky.
My last tool is my Handlebarz bump board which measures the fish, musky have protective enzymes on them and if they lose them they are much more prone to diseases. If a fish is mishandled and flopping around on the bottom of the boat or on the shore, these enzymes will get brushed off. The slime on them is so important for survival, Handlebarz has a special coating on these bump boards that will not affect them. I highly suggest buying yourself one, musky also look super cool on these bump boards…LOL.
Finally, when it comes to having my equipment in working order, I always ensure my hooks are razor sharp and my reels are running smoothly; these fish are hard to catch, so you must give yourself any edge you can.
This brings us to holding these trophy fish you catch. Holding a musky vertically can be detrimental to their survival, the jaw can break, and this will lead to them not being able to function and consume properly. Which more times than not, can lead to death. You must hold musky horizontally and make sure you are supporting the mid area of the fish along with the jaw. This is especially crucial on bigger fish because of all the excess weight, just a quick tip to make sure our catches live on!
Everything I just mentioned above helps to ensure guests enjoy their experience, and the musky’s swim away completely unharmed. We are so fortunate to be able to fish for these incredible creatures, that give us unmatched feelings and adrenaline rushes, we ought to show them the respect they deserve by catching them with the right equipment and releasing them properly back into their natural habitat.
Lastly, an important aspect of summer musky fishing is to not get discouraged. You need to stay confident; if you think you are not going to catch one, you probably aren’t going to. The same thing goes with the bait you are using, make sure what you are throwing you have confidence in. If you consistently use a bait that you have no confidence in, well chances are that you won’t be successful.
Fishing for these toothy critters has a huge mental aspect. Anglers who have been fishing them for 40 plus years will still go a couple trips without even seeing one. For whatever reason, sometimes muskies are simply not interested in anything you show them. That being said, I always find there is one way to get a bite, whether you figure that tactic out that day or not is up to you, but that is why I always have everyone throwing a slightly different presentation. It could make a huge difference!
If you put your time in and do as much research as possible, on and off the water, you will get rewarded. An endless amount of research and studying can be put into tracking these fish. I fish for muskies with a near scientific approach. Fishing for musky provides a thrilling pursuit, continuous learning, and endless challenge. This is what makes the chase for the top freshwater predator in our country so worth it! This chase is my complete and total obsession! Good luck!
Thank you so much Billy. That is a tutorial that will help any summer musky angler. So much detailed information and a truly scientific approach to catching late spring and summer musky.
One thing that I do want to emphasize that Billy discussed is that summer musky are particular vulnerable to post catch mortality. Those north of the border enjoy water temperatures that allow for many great days of summer musky fishing. This isn’t true for some of us here in the United States. It is our belief based on much research that when water temperatures reach and go above 78 degrees Fahrenheit or about 25.5 Celsius, it is time to put down the musky rod for awhile and wait for the temperatures to cool down a bit. So take Billy’s summer musky fishing advice and apply them in the late spring and the parts of the summer in your area that help protect this amazing predator and gamefish.
If you want to meet up with Billy for some summer musky fishing or fishing the Ottawa are at other times as well, please visit JenkinsGuideService.com. As I am sure you can tell, you are in for an amazing time on the water and a true educational experience.