Fall Fishing: French River Musky

One of the best times to fish for French River Musky is in the fall season (from late-August to October). The cooler autumn days change a Musky’s behaviour. They go from territorial couch potatoes snatching up easy prey to nomadic hunters as they move from structure to structure with the shortening daylight cycle.

Harry with French River Musky

Musky Fall Fishing

This change in behaviour happens as early as the last full moon in August. Younger male Muskies return from the Georgian Bay following the Salmon and Alewife looking for waters richer in oxygen and food for spawn.  Muskies particularly begin to display this behaviour, when the water temps begin to drop to around 15°C (59°F). Their instincts drive them to binge feed before going into a torpor (much like bears hibernating) during the winter months.

Muskies have a limited time in the spring to feed before spawn. Thus, fall is the most important time for them to gain weight and nutrients for eggs or milt to develop.

George Taylor with a Fall French River Muskie.
Muskie Guide, George Taylor, with a Fall French River Muskie.

At the start of fall, on the French River, Muskies will be near places such as weed-beds and rocky structures. This allows these predators to ambush smaller prey.

When weeds die off, then baitfish will leave for rock piles and places with current. They will be looking for shelter before migrating deeper into the depths of the French River system.

Fall Musky Lures & Tactics

In order to entice Fall Musky, we have to mimic these prey fish patterns. Jerkbaits like Suicks imitate weak or hurt fish as it will dive down on each jerk, suspend its depth, and rise slowly on the pause. The sudden pause in the Suick’s erratic movements triggers strikes from any hungry followers.

Around structures, large minnow-baits, crankbaits, and even spinnerbaits will work. You have to retrieved them steadily, with several pauses, to entice hesitant fish.  Other options to fish with would include bulldogs and bucktails too.

A Muskie Suick Lure with a cloudy French River sunset in the background.
Example of a Suick after a long day of French River Musky Fishing

While there is a common belief that bigger is better, especially in the circles of Musky anglers, and it is certainly true that a Musky will eat a fish (such as pike) that is about half its body length – they are also opportunistic hunters.

While they prefer to eat one large fish and digest them near the bottom of the river for a month, that does not mean they won’t take the opportunity to eat several smaller and possibly slower game for the same fill. At Bear’s Den Lodge, we have seen on more than one occasion individuals bring in 45+ inch Muskies on things like frogs and spinnerbaits while bass fishing.

Should I Troll or Cast for French River Musky?

While trolling is a viable option on the French River Delta, we highly advise you to also use lures you can comfortably throw into the structures.

In golf terms, the lower French River Delta is like a course with very few fairways and mostly greens that hold these elusive trophies. In other words, the French River Delta has many backwater bays, channels and etc. with constantly changing water depths, shelves and rock shoals.

Simply speaking, you’re hard-pressed to be able to cover over 30 square miles of water (approx. 78 square km) without casting into those prime waters.

Musky Lure Colours?

Regardless of the lure and fishing technique you choose, concentrate your efforts in 15 to 30 feet of water.

Colours to use to help improve your chances would be dark colours (dark purple, brown or black) with a light accent colour such as orange, chartreuse, and even pink–are proven choices. The dark colour allows the Musky to have a clear visual of a silhouette above them (especially during the darker and cloudier days) while the lighter colours allows you to see your retrieval and distinguish between the bait and the potential Musky following.

Remember, every time you retrieve your lure you should change the direction of your lure (left or right when appropriate). This causes the trophy fish to flashes its lustrous green scales and let you know you have a follow.

Hint: Be sure to wear fishing sunglasses that are polarized to help see into the water!

Final Thoughts

Trophy Muskies are almost always female spawners approaching 30 years of age, so releasing them unharmed is vital. Hold up a big fish improperly, let it flop on the floor while you grab a camera or, worse yet, gaff it, and you significantly reduce its chances of survival after release. Ideally, you should keep the fish in the water over the side of the boat in an extra-large net while you remove the hooks. If you must lift a big Muskie into the boat, gently cradle its belly—then get it back into the water as soon as possible.

Visit this article or more detailed information on How to Properly Hold and Release Fish.

Article by Joe Barefoot, M.B., Outdoor Writer of Canada and Nationally Published Author & Photographer

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