This defining late-fall homing instinct of both predator and prey is the reason I smile whenever someone says you have to troll during the fall in order to catch monster muskies and pike. That’s simply not true—casting is routinely a much more productive strategy if you know from past experience where to concentrate your efforts. Here’s a case in point. More than 20 years ago, I guided the vice-president of the largest U.S. chapter of Muskies Inc. to his personal best muskie; last year, my grandson Liam caught his biggest muskie on the very same spot. It’s a single, barely submerged rock the size of a compact car—if your cast misses the edge of it by more than three feet, you may as well be fishing in another watershed. If you hit it precisely on the northwesterly back side when a brisk southeasterly wind is blowing, however, you better have a good grip on your rod. I can show you another dozen spots where fall fish predictably lock on to similarly small features.
With all that in mind, I always stress two things when it comes to fishing for gargantuan late-season muskies and pike. First, concentrate your efforts on the lakes, rivers, reservoirs, pits and ponds that you know like the back of your hand. Second, troll new waters to find the fish, but then cast to catch them. Trolling is a fantastic fall strategy to help you catch fish that are moving from one spot to another, but you won’t hook any giants on those spot-on-the-spot locations by trolling. They are just too shallow, too specific, too complex and too small, and that’s part of what makes fall fishing so challenging—and so awesomely rewarding.