By Matt Straw

The cast is stopped with the lure just above the water. The reel handle is engaged and the bait hits the water already turned toward the rod tip, ready to spin, bulging the surface on contact. Best to have shoes tied on tight at that point in preparation for a retrieve interrupted by an ultra-violent attack.

The spinnerbait is the No. 1 choice for muskies in the fall for a variety of reasons. First: These days, everybody wants to throw straight-shafted, double-bladed “bucktails” (few have real hair anymore). Muskies see far fewer spinnerbaits. Second: Spinnerbaits have more of everything, creating a larger profile without wearing your arms out. Third: Spinnerbaits work through weeds and wood with fewer hang ups, providing an extra dose of clean presentation time every day. Only the lure in the water catches fish, and trebles snag, trail more ripped weeds and—worst of all—become so tangled in weeds the lure stops and can’t be ripped free. When big baits rip clean from weeds in fall, violent things happen. Nothing does that better than a spinnerbait.
Big-name muskie veterans often talk about the transition from weeds to rock during late summer, or the beginning of the fall season. But many musky environments have no rocky structure to offer. Rivers and reservoirs in flatlands often have more weed than rock and more wood than weeds. Late “middle aged” (mesotrophic) to “old age” (eutrophic) lakes often have no rocks at all, just weed and wood cover. From huge bays in the Great Lakes to vast stretches of big inland lakes, sand and weeds dominate. Muskies can thrive in all those environments.

In riverine environments, beginning in early fall, muskies dump out of smaller rivers, running back to the “mother ship,” which could be a larger river (like the Rainy River on the Minnesota-Ontario border), a reservoir (like the Chippewa Flowage in Wisconsin), or a large natural lake (like Lake Michigan). This migration tends to get overlooked, yet it creates some of the heaviest concentrations of muskies seen all year throughout their range. Even around rocky cover, something about spinnerbaits, rivers, and muskies blends together like a fine curry. River muskies love bent-arm spinners. And from Tennessee into Canada, some rivers offer only fallen wood and dense weedbeds for cover. Spinnerbaits always outperform bucktails and crankbaits in those environments simply because they come through cover better.

In older lakes, rock cover is rare. Muskies continue to use the greenest, deepest, healthiest growths of cabbage right through fall. If cabbage isn’t available, muskies cruise the deep edges of coontail, milfoil, or whatever green, healthy weeds they can find to blend in with. Again, spinnerbaits shine in those conditions, providing more clean presentations than crankbaits or bucktails because the arm and blades deflect weeds from the hook.

In fall, real bucktail provides another advantage. As the water cools, baitfish expend less energy moving from spot-to-spot. Deer hair has less movement, appearing more natural to an approaching musky. Real bucktail on a spinnerbait like the M/G Muskie Tandem creates a dense profile, giving predators the illusion of something larger and heavier than it is. Muskies are stocking up for winter and looking for a real meal in fall. The spinning blades produce little individual holograms of fleeing baitfish, sending flash in all directions.

Besides flash and vibration, color is the next most important trigger. Looking for larger meals, muskies often find walleyes slipping up against deep weedlines and into creek-mouth areas on rivers. The Brown-Gold M/G with brass blades matches the hatch. In older lakes, big panfish tend to provide most of the protein muskies can find. The Green-Chartreuse-Orange M/G mimics perch—another favored forage fish in fall. Grey-White-Red is a ringer for crappies and, on larger lakes, whitefish. When in doubt, the Black-Gray M/G with nickel blades imitates suspending crappies by producing a dense, easy-to-see silhouette from beneath on cloudy days or during low-light periods. Black-Red or Black-Orange are great, everyday fallback colors for muskies everywhere. The M/G spectrum has everything covered.
musky net
The M/G fishes best on high-speed reels spooled with 50- to 65-lb braided lines. The looped line connect is perfect for clipping the M/G to any commercial steel- or titanium-wire leader. Clips ride up the arm of R-bend spinnerbaits, ruining about 10 percent of the retrieves made every day.

The M/G hits the water running, and that’s one of the primary keys to a successful presentation with spinnerbaits. Stop the M/G just above the water and it turns, aligning it to start operating at the moment of submersion. Begin the retrieve as it hits the water and the blades turn immediately. Place casts precisely and amazing things happen—like muskies violently crushing it at that precise point. It’s amazing how many muskies strike spinnerbaits early on rather than follow, as they often do with other lures.

Many make the mistake of simply casting and reeling with a spinnerbait. While muskies will hit a steady retrieve, the best presentation is a “pump-and-go” accentuated with speed and directional changes. Keep reeling while occasionally pumping the rod forward then pushing it back. The bait speeds up, increasing vibration and often triggering muskies right then. Pushing the rod tip back makes the bait pause and the blades flutter. Lay the rod over horizontally to the left to begin the retrieve, then sweep it back to the right, changing both direction and speed. Start slow and gradually speed up the retrieve, too. Manipulating the spinnerbait tends to result in more action than a steady, constant retrieve until the water dips into the high 40°F range. At that point, dropping the rod tip, letting the lure fall to a depth of 8 to 10 feet or so and “slow rolling” the bait steadily along can be extremely effective.

Twin-bladed spinnerbaits, often overlooked by musky heads in fall, give the impression a school of baitfish broken up by a smaller predator like a walleye, crappie, whitefish, or bass. Muskies simply don’t see as many spinnerbaits, providing a huge advantage. And, spinnerbaits work through cover more efficiently while pushing a lot of water without wearing you out.

Spinnerbaits like the Lindy M/G have incredible triggering power when worked in a figure-8 beside the boat for following fish—perhaps more than any other lure style. More importantly, however, spinnerbait retrieves are more likely to be violently interrupted long before a figure-8 is necessary.