Big muskies in their native waters are just a road trip away.
The muskie’s native range brushes up to the Northeast, encompassing parts of western Pennsylvania and New York. Included in these waters are some of the best trophy muskie fisheries in the world, and they are all just a short road trip away from anglers in New England.
The Middle Allegheny River, Pennsylvania
Every year, scores of 50-plus-inch fish are caught and released in the Allegheny, some pushing 40 pounds. This is where my muskie obsession began.
The Middle Allegheny River begins at the outflow of the Kinzua Dam close to the town of Warren, Pennsylvania. The area is breathtakingly beautiful, with 37 miles of the river falling within the boundaries of the Allegheny National Forest.
In the warmer months, shore-fishing is not out of the question. There is public access just below the dam on both banks and a quick scan on Google Maps will reveal several spots to wet-wade or fish from the bank.
In addition to the trophy muskie fishery, the Middle Allegheny offers world-class fishing for pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, plus brown and rainbow trout, all of which have been known to attack muskie baits.
When to Go: Spring and summer are the most consistent, productive and comfortable times to fish the Middle Allegheny. The warmer months are best for shore-fishing and wet-wading. If you’re after a trophy, it’s hard to beat November and December. The Middle Allegheny never freezes due to the outflow from the dam, so mild winters can see fishing go into January or possibly right through to spring.
What to Throw: Anglers rely on jerkbaits, also known as gliders, to fish the Middle Allegheny throughout much of the year. A 7½-inch Phantom soft-tail is a staple, and natural patterns like walleye and sucker mimic the river’s forage and are always productive.
The Lower Allegheny River, Pennsylvania
As the Allegheny prepares to join the Monongahela and create the mighty Ohio River in Pittsburgh, the river deepens, widens and becomes much more accessible. This part of the Allegheny is entirely different from the shallow, often turbid waters of its upper reaches. Huge navigation pools hold some of the largest fish in the system, and it’s often easy to find out exactly where they are.
Mark Nicholas of Big PA Musky Guide Service has built his business with his vast knowledge of the Lower Allegheny. For most of the year, he focuses entirely on the Allegheny’s navigation pools, the upper ones in particular. Nicholas notes that many of the muskies living in these pools don’t migrate to other stretches of the river. They have a contained ecosystem with food and shelter from the current, so there’s no need to be on the move. Because of this, focusing on these navigation pools will ensure you’re putting your bait in front of fish.
Nicholas adjusts his tactics to suit water temperature and the time of year. Early spring will see muskies moving into the shallow spawning areas near the pools where they’ll stay through the spawn and a short period afterward. By late spring, the water is warmer and the muskies disperse throughout the pools, so covering water is key. As the water cools and winter sets in, Nicholas will fish the deeper parts of the pools, looking for bait pods and vertical jigging with Bondy Baits in 60 feet of water.
When to Go: Much like the Middle Allegheny River, muskie fishing in its lower reaches can be productive all year. That being said, Nicholas’ favorite time to fish the big pools is in the late fall and winter, from November until weather and ice make fishing impossible. The huge concentrations of bait have muskies feeding heavily for the winter and ensuing spawn, making this an exciting time to be on the water.
What to Throw: With pools that often reach 40 to 60 feet deep, throwing baits that can effectively fish deeper in the water column is a must. Nicholas depends heavily on rubber baits like Bull Dawgs and Medussa swimbaits throughout much of the year. As far as colors, he says you can’t go wrong with black.
Lake Chautauqua, New York
Approximately 17 miles long and covering 13,000 acres, Lake Chautauqua offers Northeast muskie hunters both numbers and size. Located about as far west as you can go in New York State, Chautauqua is a perfect water to bring your own boat to cast or troll for its thriving muskie population.
Lake Chautauqua isn’t an incredibly difficult lake to figure out. Its name means “bag tied in the middle” because of the bottleneck separating its north and south ends.
Mayville Flats on the north end of Chautauqua is hugely popular with the casting crowd. Anglers can spend an entire day, or days, targeting the vast weed beds for their resident muskies. Other popular casting spots include the areas known as Prendergast and Bell Tower.
Although casting for Chautauqua’s muskies can be productive, trolling is the name of the game. Trollers can target the weed lines of the Mayville Flats or “mow the lawn” back and forth over the giant flat that is the south end.
When To Go: Chautauqua produces muskies all year, but heavy boat traffic during the summer months can make fishing difficult. May can be a good month before the Memorial Day crowds, but September through ice-up is the best time to be there.
What To Throw: Anglers who cast the flats should focus on bucktails and dive-and-rise jerkbaits like the Sledgehammer Sledge. Black bucktails and natural-patterned jerkbaits in perch and walleye are preferred for the clear water of the northern side of the lake. In the stained southern side, brighter colors will produce better results. Baits like Wiley’s and Legend Perchbaits are staples for the trolling crowd.
The Saint Lawrence River, New York
The Saint Lawrence River, informally known as “The Larry,” is the mother of all muskie waters. Its world-record-class fish are only a six-hour drive from Boston. This massive waterway connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and the stretch of river that borders northern New York State consistently pumps out some of the largest muskies in the world.
With its source at the outflow of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence begins its journey to the ocean through the hallowed grounds of “Thousand Islands.” It continues through Clayton, Alexandria Bay and Ogdensburg, NY before heading north into Ontario, Canada where it joins forces with the Ottawa River, another world-class muskie fishery.
When fishing The Larry, safety is of utmost importance. With a massive body of water like this, anglers must pay close attention to weather conditions and make sure their boats are properly suited for fishing big water. Local anglers who endure brutal fall weather for a shot at catching some of the heaviest fish of the year wear survival suits to protect them from the elements. If it’s a 40- or 50-pound muskie you’re after, your best bet might be on a larger vessel with a guide.
With that in mind, anglers with their own vessels have access to the monster muskies of the St. Lawrence as well. Trolling is the most popular method, as it enables anglers to cover water and get lures in front of fish. Trolling along the deep weed lines of the clear water is the most common tactic in the warmer months, while searching for and crashing lures through bait balls is most effective as the water cools.
When to Go: If you plan to bring your own vessel, any time from June through September offers calm conditions and a reasonable chance at hooking a muskie. Even in the summer, it is essential to check weather and wind reports, as any southwest or northeast wind over 10 knots can render the St. Lawrence unfishable for smaller boats.
What to Throw: Jointed trolling baits like Wiley Muskie Killers or Muskie Kings are hugely popular for trolling Saint Lawrence. With the gin-clear water, natural bait patterns work best, and a perch pattern is a good place to start. If targeting bait schools, pay close attention to how deep the schools are and use baits that dive to that level.