Back when I was a muskie guide I wish I’d have gotten a nickel for every time I was asked: “Are ya seein’ any muskies on the graph.” I can certainly understand why someone would ask it. But let’s think about this... and you’ll soon understand why my standard answer was always: “I’m looking for what they eat.”
Muskies, and all fish for that matter, spend much more time not eating than otherwise. Big predators spend even less time eating than smaller fishes (due mostly to their metabolism), since they rule the water when conditions are right and they’re in the mood – and can often finish their meal with a single large item or two, finishing their job in a flash. Muskies are lucky when you think about it: eating is the only job they have. Once they get big, that’s all they have to do – and once mid-size, they really don’t have to worry about the tables turning on them.
Like us, they like to “get their job done as quickly and easily as possible,” so they can lie around. In other words, muskies spend a lot of time not at all concerned about eating. Therefore, it’s not enough to simply locate muskies; we need to find muskies that are eating. The easiest way to do this is to locate what should be the easiest feeding scenario for them. In other words, find big numbers of what muskies eat. When they’re hungry, they go there via necessity... with your electronics and naked eye, concentrate on ambush structure and the fish’s forage – not the fish itself, as much.
So what is muskie forage? Basically anything. A muskie will eat anything they can swallow; and they’ll push this limit at times, but will dine on small stuff too. This includes everything from perch, to suckers, to crawfish, to smaller muskies. Nothing is safe really. While technically not thinking critters, muskies do learn through “trial and error” that some meals are easier to catch than others. Stomach content surveys on muskie reveal a wide array of items, but certain species make up the bulk of their nutrition.
This can change seasonally due to forage movements, but it seems that certain types make up the overall bulk. In northern Wisconsin waters, perch and sucker species lead the list, followed by panfish and minnow-species. It pays to know what type of forage is offering a high percentage success rate to the big predator. Knowledge of this aids anglers in location and the best probable presentations to trigger muskie. Bottom line is: if it’s a body of water you plan to fish on a regular basis, learn the water’s prime forage species and their seasonal movements on that particular body of water.
The two things that make a forage desirable (i.e. easy to catch) are; sheer numbers and mandatory movement. Anytime you can find big numbers of forage, especially if they’re tightly grouped its good news. If for some reason, groups of forage are making predictable daily movements, muskies will definitely pick up on this and take advantage. A good example is spawning fish, which, depending on the