For many years I sort of had the “anti-slop” belief when it came to musky fishing. As the editor of Fishing Facts magazine for 22 years and being in the middle of the structure fishing revolution, I avidly taught and practiced the principles of structure fishing. Mostly I fished the deep edges of structure and cover for muskies, but had no qualms about going to adjacent shallower cover or out over open water for suspended muskies. Early in the year I wouldn’t hesitate in just a few feet of water to stir up a musky.
Every now and then something would be written about muskies holding in thick, shallow weeds, but the articles generally didn’t impress me, especially when the author was holding up a hungry-looking, medium-size fish. “Big deal” I thought these weren’t the muskies I was after. The truly big fish were near deeper water – I wasn’t going to find a 30 to 40 – pound or larger fish in some thick, shallow cover where they couldn’t maneuver around to feed. I knew that in some lakes the reeds or rushes harbor some big fish but this emergent vegetation is generally near deeper water, and the fish only move up into this cover under certain weather and water conditions.
Okay…so I was wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it! There is a population of slop muskies that exist in may waters, and these fish can get huge. Now don’t get me wrong. I still fish the edges of the deepest water in an area most of the time, but I also check for slop and fish it.
I’ve got to give Bob Mehiskomer, host of the “Simply Fishing” TV series, credit for turning me on to slop muskies. We ran into each other on Ontario’s Eagle Lake a few years back and talked muskies for a while. I knew he was into fishing shallow, heavy cover and I began to ask him questions about what makes a good slop bay. In the middle of his explanation he stopped cold and said “Follow me.”
A short run put us into one of his favorite bays and he explained a few of the features that made the bay productive. That’s all it took, as I was off to the races with another musky-catching tactic to add to my bag of tricks. .
Since that time I’ve done a fair amount of slop fishing, and under more conditions than first were encountered. I don’t pretend to be an expert on these shallow low-water tactics because there are probably numerous conditions that I’ve yet to experience. But I do know that many muskies exist in this shallow cover during warmer weather, much of the slop is overlooked, and few anglers who fish it really work it correctly.
Muskies don’t need deep water to survive and thrive. In recent years I’ve been seeking out large, shallower areas in bigger waters to fish. This is because the water in these areas is more stained, muskies tend to feed better during the daylight hours, and there is less chance you have to deal with suspended fish. If a lake has large sections of 50 foot-plus depths, and good size areas with 20- to 40 food maximum depths, I may fish a few key spots in the clearer, deeper sections early and late in the day, but then I’m off to the stained, shallower water for the rest of the day. Slop fishing just takes this strategy one step farther. Instead of working a lot of 8- to 15- foot depths, now we also get into the 3- to 6-foot range.
Many chains of lakes have a connecting lake that is shallower and weedier than the rest, and most anglers bypass it for the most “classic” water in the other lakes. It’s a mistake to not check out the shallower lake.
A larger lake with varied sections of water, such as Ontario’s Eagle Lake, Lake of the Woods, or rainy Lake, have extensive stained water areas where big muskies are holed up in the slop. Or a pattern might be as simple as a single slop-filled back end of the bay on a favorite small lake in Minnesota or Wisconsin. The point is, there is an under fished population of muskies using shallow, weed-choked waters that rarely, if ever, see a properly fished lure.
Let’s assume we have a large, shallower section of a lake with a maximum depth of 10 to 15 feet. An excellent example of this fishery would be Osbourne and Niven Bays of Ontario’s Eagle Lake. The water in these sections will be stained and may even be downright dirty due to wind, sediment from incoming water, or tannic acid from flooded wood. Due to limited light penetration there is no deeper weed growth, with the maximum depts. Of weeds generally in the 5- to 7-foot range. Some shallow rock structures may exist, and there may be an occasional band of offshore weed growth, but the best and most cover usually exists in the back ends of the bays.
Soft, silty bottom usually blankets the area outside the weeds, and much of the forage base is weed-oriented. Open water forage such as ciscoes, whitefish, herring, etc. don’t exist, which makes the muskies even more apt to use available cover.
The best slop-filled back ends of bays usually have a variety of vegetation such as reeds, rushes, wild rice, cabbage, coontail and a variety of pads. The shaded water underneath this cover is probably cooler than the sun-pounded open water, the shallower areas frequently have a firmer bottom, and plenty of food roams around the shallow cover to keep a musky well fed. If a smaller water has only one slop bay, then a large patch of surface blanketing cabbage or coontail can be okay.
With cover situations being equal, the bays with the deeper vegetation will usually be better than the ones with shallower growth, especially for larger fish. And a little deeper can easily be a 6-foot weed edge versus one of 5 feet.
Slop fishing shouldn’t always mean fishing the thick, weedy back ends of bays. Sometimes when you’re fishing a mature weedbed in summer, the mid range to shallower sections of the bed might have thick, matted weeds on the surface. While most anglers would cast to the edge of the surface-covering weeds and bring the lures over the sub=surface vegetation, few would run lures over the thick stuff to reach isolated pockets and slots surrounded by weeds. And two reasons for that – they don’t believe a musky would hold there, and they may not know of the limited selection of lures available to work this cover effectively with minimal hang-ups.
LURES AND TACKLE
Few lures will come through emergent vegetation and slide over heavy, matted goop without fouling. They’ve also got to be heavy enough to cast far and thick line, have decent hooking power and be able to withstand the thrashing and rolling of a big musky in shallow, cover=laden water. Two proven winners are the Mister Twister Super Top Prop (model with 7/0 hook and plastic trailer), and Odyssey Lure’s Sloppee Pig spoon.
The Top Prop revolves, floats at rest, and features a strong 7/0 hook with a keeper barb that goes into a 7-inch long soft plastic, split-tail trailer. Just toss this anywhere and reel in at various steady speeds. I keep the rod tip fairly low and pointed somewhat at the lure during the retrieve.
The Sloppee Pig is a 2.4 ounce, wide, hard plastic spoon with a silicone skirt. I stop or slow it down just before it hits the water so it will land with the hook pointed upward. The rod is held parallel to the surface at about waist level, and I retrieve the lure in spurts – a fast turn of the reel handle, split second pause, than another fast turn. This causes the spoon to bounce up and down and to walk, sending out extra sound and vibration, plus a more exciting action. The manufacturing suggests twitching the rod tip to achieve this action, but I don’t want to get caught with a higher held rod and less of a hookset when a fish hits.
While these two lures are the best for coming through anything. Charlie’s Weedless Bucktail (Wisher Lures 217-627-2028) has a weighted single hook that rides upright and it great for patchier cover. It can be flopped over pads or other surface cover, then run through an area of open water like a regular bucktail. Keep the rod tip up when retrieving over cover, then drop it down when the lure hits open water.
Often patches of open water exist in the slop that are large enough to allow you to fish a lure with an exposed treble hook(s). I particularly like the Lindy Musky Roller bucktail for working the open water. It has a flared skirt that pulsates during the retrieve, and its round blade gives it lift so it can be run high at a slower speed if need be. Other excellent lures for working open-water slots are shallow-running crankbaits or twitchbaits. I wouldn’t use one of the 6-inchers sporting three smallish treble hooks. The lure is okay, but the hooks can’t be trusted to hold a big musky wallowing in heavier cover. Replace the small hooks with two bigger, stronger ones. I think the new 8-inch Jake will be great for the open slots. It’s durable and will toss a lot of flash to attract muskies holding under nearby cover. Work it with rips. Snag Proof has a new giant weedless frog in the works called the “Frogzilla.” If it has enough weight to cast with heavier line (you can put some shot inside the hollow body), this design should come through anything.
Rods for slop fishing should have enough length to let you fire out long casts and make powerful hook-sets. They’ll also give you needed leverage when trying to control a big fish. I prefer a 6-foot -10 Tony Rizzo rod (R-757) and a wide spool reel with a superior drag and solid gears. The best I’ve used is Abu Garcia’s Morrum (M6600CL).
Reels are spooled with heavy-test superlines in the 60- to 80-pound test range. This is not a job for stretchy mono. I favor 60-pound test Berkley Ultra-Max. I make my own wire leaders using at least 100-pound test single strand wire. On one end of the foot-long wire a size 4 Berkley Cross-Loc ball-bearing swivel is attached. A size 5 Berkley swivel goes on the other end. Both are connected with a hay-wire twist.
When fishing slop-filled bays, I generally first move the boat along the deep edge of the vegetation, staying about 25 to 30 feet away from the edge. Use your electric motor or drift if the wind is right. Don’t get too close to the edge or you might run up on an outcropping of vegetation that’s the best spot in the bay.
Although most of my action has come off the deeper one-third of the slop, sometimes you have to penetrate the mess even further. High water, fishing pressure, or bright sunlight may cause the muskies to hold even shallower, sometimes in just a few feet of water. A second pass may be needed to reach the shallower cover.
Periodically check your big engine to make sure water is coming out of the exhaust port. Weeds can easily foul it and cause overheating.
Muskies tend to roam around more on overcast days. Under those conditions the slots can be hot. Brighter conditions generally cause the fish to hole up under thicker cover and they have to be rooted out.
Once you hook a fish in shallow, heavy cover just hold on and see what the musky does. You may get lucky and have it hit along the weed edge, or even follow the lure out to open water and blast it. That makes things easy. But often the strike will come in or near heavy cover. Just set the hook hard and hold the rod tip high. Often the fish will wallow, roll and twist, wrapping itself and weeds up in one big tangle. After it settles down, I’ll slowly move in toward the fish and net the whole mess with my magnum-size Beckman net. Everything will be sorted out in the water; the musky is lifted out for a quick photo, and then released.
Slop fishing for muskies is exciting. Imagine hooking a 4-foot=long fish in shallow, weed-choked waters more suited for largemouth bass. Besides, it’s an underutilized fishery that can put extra fish in your boat every year.