Early Season Top Water Tactics

By: John Myhre 2020

It was the opening of Musky season. The day was bright and sunny, yet a little on the cool side. Taking into consideration water temperatures and weather conditions, I decided our plan of attack for the day was to look for the Muskies around deeper water near the mouths of spawning bays. Several good spots and hours later without so much as a follow called for reassessment of the situation.

Early Weed BiteAfter some thought I headed into one of the shallow back bays, and dug out some top-water lures. My partner looked at me as if I was crazy. He remarked "It's too early for topwater lures."

It only took a few casts to prove him wrong. My Creeper had just cleared the end of an old partially sunken log when a nice Musky exploded on it. By the end of the day we had boated 3 nice Muskies and had action from several others. Switching to topwater lures on that spring day really paid off.

There are many Musky anglers who, because of old myths and beliefs, mistakenly reserve the use of topwater lures for the summer period. Topwater presentations however can be very deadly in the spring. Whenever Muskies are in shallow water they may respond to a topwater lure.

Weather conditions, water temperatures, and the type of lake are all important factors to consider when deciding where to use a topwater presentation.

As the water warms Muskies will eventually become more oriented toward deeper water, but this is not necessarily so in the spring. Shallow spring Muskies are actually activated by warming air temperatures and solar heat. Careful choice of lakes and a watchful eye of water temperatures will provide you with active Muskies in the shallows throughout the spring and into the summer transition period.

Daily weather conditions will determine just how active shallow Muskies will be. It can also move deep water Muskies into the shallows. Deep cold natural lakes tend to warm much slower than shallow dark water flowages. Consequently, these deep natural lakes will often hold more Muskies in the shallows much later in the season than most flowages. In many deep lakes Muskies may stay near shallow spawning areas for quite some time after spawning.

Usually the north and northeast sides of bays receive more warm sunlight exposure. This faster warming water produces good weed growth and abundant forage. Muskies will gravitate to such spots. These bays will be prime topwater spots for early season Muskies.

As water temperature readings move upwards into the high 60's to low 70's look for Muskies to move out of these bays, and head towards deeper waters. Once this movement towards deeper water occurs, active Muskies may be shallow less often. Conditions, such as morning and evening low light periods and stormy overcast days will be best.

Never overlook the possibility of active Muskies being shallow at night in the spring. Look for these night movements to occur earlier on smaller lakes and dark water flowages since they warm faster than deeper natural lakes. Heavy fishing pressure, and a lot of hot spring air temperatures will promote an unusual spring night bite.


Topwater fishing is undoubtedly one of the most exciting ways to fish for spring Muskies. There are many lures on the market designed especially for topwater fishing Muskies. Water temperatures will be the number one factor determining surface lure type and speed.

Best American Musky Bug

Colder temperatures would dictate the use of slower wobbling type lures such as the Hawg Wobbler, Crawler, and Jitterbug. Work these lures just fast enough to activate them. Too much speed with these wobblers is usually counterproductive both in the lure's action, and fish responses.

The Best American Musky Bug however has no retrieve speed restrictions, so you can vary the speed during retrieve and trigger reluctant early season Musky.

Most expert surface bait Musky anglers agree that the very best speed to use with all wobblers is ultra slow. Rarely is a fast speed more effective with this style of surface bait, plus hookups are much more consistent with slow speeds. Hawg Wobbler

As water temperatures increase the use of buzzbaits or prop style lures, like the Topper or Globe, can be super effective. Here the complete opposite is often true. A water spraying, fast moving lure often triggers more response. Another advantage of this lure style is that far more water can be covered.

If strikes are missed with a buzzbait or prop style surface lure, a quick switch to a wobbler will often fool the fish more often than not. Usually frustration sets in and the fish smashes the slow moving wobbler as soon as possible.


When it comes to tuning baits, many fishermen overlook their topwater lures even though tuning is often critical to performance. On wobbling type lures such as the Creeper or Jitterbug, carefully adjust the wings or lip to obtain a uniform wobbling action or side to side roll at slower speeds. Make sure that props rotate smoothly and evenly without any resistance on propeller type lures, like the Globe and Topper. I often bend up the inside of the prop on a Globe or a Mudpuppy lure to get a more pronounced plopping sound Changing the actual sound by tuning the bait will often produce more strikes. In fact, sometimes changing the sound pitch in these lures makes all the difference. Study the sounds these lures make very closely. Sometimes the most subtle difference in sound can produce amazing results.

Also check all screw eyes and connectors for sturdiness. They will pull out of wood plugs quite easily if they're not checked often. Finally, make sure all hooks are sharp. Needle sharp hooks will catch those fish that don't hit the bait solidly.


Proper timing on the hook set is really important when fishing topwater lures. Many times a Musky will "blow up" on a surface lure, but never actually touch it. Setting the hook on a "blow up" more often than not results in a missed fish. Watch your lure closely and set only when you see or feel the Musky take the lure. I know that a "blow up" can really rattle your nerves, but by following this policy you will increase your hookups dramatically. Occasionally twitching the lure after a miss every few feet will often draw solid strikes with a few missed fish, too.

Most often black is thought of as the best choice for a surface lure. Black is a top choice for one single important reason. It casts a better silhouette. However in very dark or shallow water, a bright colored surface lure often produces better since it has more side flash. Your arsenal of topwater baits should include some of these high visibility colors, as well as "classic" black.

Yes, topwater lures can be effective in the early spring. Pick your lakes and watch the water temperature closely. You can enjoy early topwater action if you hit the right areas and match lure style, color, and speed to existing conditions. Stay with warm water and shallow cover early. Stick with slower retrieves, too. This combination might provide some exciting early season Musky action!


Key topwater areas to look for are in and near the entrance to spawning bay areas.

Spring BayDowned trees like those in area A provide cover in an area with warmer water which produces more food earlier in the season. Look for the warmest water to usually be on the north and northeast sides of these bays.

Area B provides deeper water with easy access to the shallow areas and a good weedline of new cabbage. This will be a key area later in the spring. Muskies may hold in this area for quite some time before moving out of the bay. Look for Muskies to hold on points and turns in the weedline as well as thicker stands of new cabbage.

Areas C and D - The trough into the bay would probably be used by most fish both entering and leaving the bay. Big Muskies will often hold in these trough areas and weedy bars like D throughout the early part of the season before moving out into the main lake. These areas will usually hold small Muskies all season.