Fall is jerkbait time. A jerkbait is a wooden bait weighted with lead so that it has just a tiny amount of buoyancy or no buoyancy at all. This allows the lure to just “hang” in the water when at rest. During the fall, you should stick to very large jerkbaits – larger than ten inches would be appropriate for most waters. Fishing a jerkbait can be done in several ways. The simplest way is by retrieving the bait slowly, then pausing the retrieve every few feet, which allows the bait to suspend or slowly rise, teasing hungry muskies. Often, the strike comes right at the end of the pause, just as you are about to turn the crank again.
Another way to fish a jerkbait is to use a technique widely known as “walking the dog.” This involves dropping and lifting the rod as you retrieve the bait so as to impart a side to side gliding action on the jerkbait. This technique takes practice, but it’s not rocket science either. Just watch the lure closely and you’ll eventually get the action. Watching an experienced musky angler do the technique is useful too.
Live suckers can be an outstanding musky bait to use in fall, as well as the early season. The best way to fish a live sucker is using a quick-strike rig. There are several types of quick-strike rigs, but they all have one thing in common: they are designed for a quick hook up. The old style of using suckers involved waiting anywhere from a minute to several minutes before setting the hook. Often, the musky was hooked so deeply that it was impossible for a live release. The quick strike set up allows you to set the hook quickly and generally hooks the fish in the mouth. That means the best possible chance releasing the musky to fight another day.
There are several ways to fish the live sucker rig. One way is to simple fish the sucker over the side of the boat, letting the sucker move freely in the water column to attract musky to the boat. The other way is to fish the sucker under a very large bobber. This technique has the advantage of being incredibly exciting – seeing that bobber go kerplunk when the musky strikes is a heart-stopping experience.