The Best Time to Fish for Muskie – Time & Season Breakdown 2022 Guide

Looking to catch a giant Pike? Well, Muskie aren’t famous for being the easiest fish to catch.

Their alternative name is the “fish of 10,000 casts”, so you are going to want to make each cast count in maximizing your chances.

Knowing the best time to fish for Muskie might increase the odds significantly. Want to know what they are?

Well, you are in luck. I’m going to tell you everything you need to know…

What are Muskie?

The muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), is a predatory fish species particular to North America. You’ll also hear them called Muskie, musky, or lunge. Here are some key facts about Muskie:

muskie fish in water caught with lure

Muskie Average Size

Muskies’ average length is around 95 cm (37.4 inches). The maximum Muskie length ever recorded is 183 cm (72 inches). Yes, that is a pretty big fish, and you can see why anglers go to such lengths to catch them.

Muskie are a real rod bender. Make no mistake!

How Much Do Muskie Weigh?

With great size comes great weight. Muskie are really heavy. The heaviest recorded weight is around 70lbs.

Where Can you Find Muskie?

Muskies mainly inhabit clear lakes, quiet pools, backwater creeks, and rivers. Here are some areas that famously hold Muskie:

  • Lawrence River
  • Great lakes
  • Red River
  • Chautauqua Lake
  • Black Lake
  • Niagara River
  • Mississippi River basins

They are also found along other waters such as the Allegheny, Delaware, Susquehanna rivers, Lake Erie, and Eastern Lake Ontario.

Muskie Feeding Behavior

As said above, Muskie are predatory fish. They are generally known to prey upon ducklings, muskrats, and snakes. Young muskies feed on minnows, small gizzard shad, and small fishes. Adult muskie feed on common carp, gizzard shad, suckers, and buffalo fish.

Observing their feeding activities, muskies are visual predators. They rely on their sense of sight to move around and locate food, just like trout, bass, and Pike.

And for the observant among you, this should give you a vital clue…

To increase your chances of catching Muskie, you will need to fish during times that they can see your bait!

As a very general rule, daytime good, nighttime bad.

Why are Muskie so Hard to Catch?

There are a few reasons why Muskie fishing is difficult:

Relative Rarity

Unlike Pike, trout, and other predatory fish Muskie are not all that common. A mixture of overfishing and a reduction of their natural habitat means that, in today’s angling world, your chances are much reduced.

Seasonal Behavior

You can catch some fish using the same techniques all year round.

With Muskie?

Nope.

They are fickle fish and spawn much later than their smaller cousin, the Pike. Depending on the season, they also move around, meaning no two days fishing for Muskie are the same.

As a result, it is hard for anglers to maintain any real level of consistency.

Muskie are Powerful

Ok, you might be fortunate and hook a muskie, but that is no guarantee that you will actually bag one.

Why?

Because they are one of the hardest fighting freshwater species on the planet! They have sharp teeth, weight advantage, and are strong swimmers.

That means only one thing. Lots of snapped line and lost fish!

You can avoid this by picking a suitable fishing line right from the off!

What’s the Best Time of Year to Catch Muskie?

So, the thought of snapped lines and 10,000 casts hasn’t put you off?

I can see you, and I are going to be friends…

As I said, Muskie are a little elusive, and even if you are in the right spot, you need to know when the best time to catch Muskie is. Here’s what you need to know, broken down by season, and a few tips as to tactics you might want to consider.

Muskie Fishing – General Considerations Before You Start

Light Conditions – Muskie are predominantly sight hunters. As a general rule, this will mean that they need to see your bait or lure for you to catch.

But…

With light that is too bright, all of the things that Muskie eat will tend to hide away, and Muskie lose the tactical advantage of being relatively camouflage. As a result, you’ll struggle in very bright conditions.

Aim for low light conditions or a good overcast as an ideal.

Water Temperature – Like northern Pike, Muskie tends to be more active when the water is slightly cooler. If the temperature rises too much, it can switch them off feeding all together.

Spawning – If the fish are spawning, you’ll find it impossible to catch a muskie. They’ll have a one-track mind.

However.

The period directly before and after spawning can yield excellent results.

fisherman holds a pike fish close-up

Summer

As much as summer is considered an ideal fishing period, you may struggle even to track a muskie if you do not know the basic skills and tactics to use. Obviously, in Summer, the water temperature will rise, leading to a change in Muskie behavior.

What you have going for you is that the water will be alive with small baitfish and all of the other things I described above that Muskie like to eat. However, like Pike, Muskie prefer cooler water.

This means that they will be down deep.

Contrary to common myths, muskies do not swim off in hot summer seasons. Instead, they swim deeper but maintain the exact positions where they used to be. Casting your lure as deeply as you can and trolling are tactics that will help you cover more areas quickly. It will also increase your chances of catching muskies in the summer seasons.

Fall

As the temperature cools slightly, muskie feeding reaches a crescendo. All fish species feed voraciously over fall. It is a vital time to take advantage of the abundance of food and pack on some weight ready for the winter.

You may find fish in all levels of the water, both deep and towards the surface, depending on the topography of the venue.

Winter

While fish of the Pike family aren’t averse to a little cold weather, the fish that they tend to eat are.

As a result, you’ll probably find winter muskie a real challenge. They will tend to hunker down in deeper water and avoid the shallows, which will be pretty devoid of life at this time of year.

Suppose you want to give it a go during the winter. In that case, the best day will be in the afternoon when air and water temperatures are pretty warm for muskies to move around a bit and hunt for prey.

Regarding tactics, lures might not work best during winter. Live baits and baitfish work better during the winter for a high success rate for musky fishing.

Anglers interested in fishing during winter seasons often deploy the ice fishing technique. This technique involves catching fish through an ice hole on the surface of a frozen body of water.

Spring

The spring season, like summer, is ideal for fishing and maybe the best time of the year to go muskie-fishing. Following the inactivity during winter, muskies become hyperactive in finding food and hunting for prey.

You can expect the mornings to be slow, as the water temperature hasn’t benefited from the sun’s heating rays. Going from afternoon to evening can produce excellent results.

angler catch pike on inflatable fishing kayak with fishing tackle at lake

What is the Best Time of Day to Catch Muskie?

The best time of day varies from season to season. And what works in the winter most definitely won’t produce the same results in the summer.

You will have to analyze each season to know which time of the day would be appropriate to go fishing. Knowing the best time for catching muskies puts you a step ahead of the fish.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet, showing you everything you need to know about the best time of day to catch Muskie:

SeasonBest Time of Day for Muskie FishingWater TemperatureWhere and how to Fish
SpringAfternoon to early evening.Starting cool and rising throughout the day.Deeper water with slow-moving lures or static deadbaits.
SummerEarly morning or late evening.Optimal around morning and evening, growing too warm during the middle of the day.Deeper water during bright periods, shallows if overcast with lures.
FallMid-morning through until evening.Optimal for most of the day, peaking around midday.Fish are present throughout the water. Try fast-moving lures and live bait.
Winter2 – 3 hours after midday on overcast days.Cold throughout the day, the later, the better.Deep water only. Live baits and static deadbaits.

Want a little more detail?

In general…

If you anticipate catching in hotter seasons, go in the early hours of the morning or late in the evening just before the sun sets. You may also get lucky while fishing in the night, but your best bet is just before the sun comes up and immediately before it sets.

And when it’s cold?

In other seasons with much colder temperatures, the fish tend to surface as soon as the water surface temperature increases. Therefore, the best time of the day to go muskie-fishing in winter is within the early and late hours of the afternoon.

On the whole, look at it like this…

Fishing for Muskie during the day will be slow, and you will need to fish closer to water covers like weeds and logs. Muskies tend to seek shade from the sun during the day and reduce their movements because of the high-water temperature.

Is it Better to Fishing for Muskie in the Morning or Evening?

As a good rule of thumb, and comparing all the seasons together as a whole, the evening is the better time to try fishing for Muskie. The water will have all day to come up to the right temperature in the colder months.

And for summer?

If the fish have been kept down all day by bright sunlight, as soon as the light fades, they are going to emerge hungry, presenting you with optimal feeding conditions to catch.

But, as with all fishing ‘rules’…

There are exceptions.

Generally, dawn and dusk have both been proven to be the best time of the day to catch muskies during warmer months. And during winter and other colder months, mid-day is the best time of the day to catch them.

What’s Better: Fishing for Muskie in Day or Night?

As I said, right at the start, Muskie are sight-oriented predators, so they will need to see your lure or bait to catch.

Obviously, the chance of this happening is much greater during daylight hours.

If you want to fish at night, it is well worth knowing what the moon is doing. More moonlight means more chances to catch a Muskie.

Generally speaking, it is a lot slower when fishing for muskies at night. For night fishing to be more effective, fishing with live baits or artificial lures, also known as dead baitfish like shad, cisco, and suckers, is much recommended.

Northern pike caught with yellow twister bait

Best Time to Catch Muskie | FAQ

What’s the Best Month to Catch Muskie?

September sees the number of fishes increase significantly along with the water surface because of the barometric pressure. In these months, you can almost be assured of catching a good number of muskies in less time because of their proliferation through the water.

Although a significant number of the fish may not be fully mature during this period, you can still occasionally spot bigger Muskie on the surface.

The concentration of fish towards the surface area of the water starts to reduce in the latter days of October.

But you get a better chance of catching bigger muskies between October and December because the fish will be a lot more mature at this time. However, you may need to switch to more advanced types of fishing lures.

What is the Best Weather for Muskie Fishing?

The best weather for muskie fishing is one that avoids any extremes. You will need to avoid fishing in conditions that are either too hot or too cold. Avoid bright sunlight should be high up on your list too. The best weather is a flat overcast without precipitation.

What? Why does the rain make a difference?

With an influx of fresh rainwater, the water can become colored, preventing Muskie from seeing your lure. The one exception to this rule is on blistering hot summer days where a downpour might just lower the water temperature enough to stimulate feeding.

Can You Catch Muskie During the Day?

Of course, you can! In fact, daytime fishing for Muskie is the optimal time to go. Check my table above to identify when is the best time of day to catch Muskie. If you want to hedge your bets, you stand the most chance of success towards the end of the day.

Will Musky Bite at Night?

Remember, Muskie fishing in the day is much effective than fishing at night. Muskies are visionary predators and move according to the level of light intensity.

You’ll find fishing much slower at night. However, there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of success.

They are:

  • Brighter Lures – For musky to bite your lure, they will need to see it. Choose lures that are brighter in color. You could also consider looking for lures that glow in the dark.
  • Try in Summer – About the only time you’ll stand a chance for Muskie at night is in the summer. During the spring and winter, it is just too cold. Fall is a little bit of a mixed bag.
  • Use Noise and Vibration – Help muskie locate your lure by choosing something that makes a lot of commotion. Surface poppers, rattling lures, and crankbaits are all really effective.
  • Watch the Moon! – A splash of moonlight makes for a clearer picture. Clear nights with a relatively bright moon can often bring the best chance of success.

What Time of Day are Musky Most Active?

Muskies are most active during the dawn to the early morning and late evening to the last night. They move around and hunt more during these periods. You are trying to find the ‘goldilocks zone’ with all of the following:

  • The right water temperature
  • The correct location
  • The correct level of daylight
  • A period outside of spawning season

If you can accurately find the optimal for all of the above, then you should be in a great place to catch Muskie.

Final Thoughts

Muskies are elusive fish that are pretty tricky to catch. Think about all of the above factors, and you’ll have a unique advantage when deciding on the best time to fish for Muskie.

Knowing the time is only one-half of the battle. You’ll also want to make sure that you are fully kitted out.

While you are here, why not browse through my gear guides to see some of the best tackle setups for a range of species.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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