High Water on the Woods

When fishing in high water, there are a few ways to navigate them and land your trophy muskie.

Every summer we teach a musky fishing school on Lake of the Woods in the Northwest Angle in Ontario, Canada. The school is the University of Esox and it is held at Sandy’s Blackhawk Island Camp. Each year is an adventure as we have a camp full of avid musky anglers fishing Lake of the Woods, working together to develop the pattern and catch a bunch of muskies. It’s always a learning experience, as although we always teach the school in mid-July the conditions are always different. The year 2022 was definitely a different situation that provided a lot of musky fishing lessons for fishing any Canadian musky water in the future.

blackhawk-island-camp-1
The University of Esox musky anglers getting ready for a day on Lake of the Woods.

When we arrived at camp water levels were five feet above normal. Portions of the parking lot were underwater, the boat launch was partially submerged, and the lake appeared completely different. Navigating with modern electronics made things easier, however, small islands and reefs that normally would provide visual clues were gone.  So, it was important to pay attention to your travel route. Of course, since the high-water line was often in the trees, it was imperative to be alert for large, floating logs.

blackhawk-island-camp-2
Jim Saric with a big musky caught from a slack water area behind an island.

When fishing in high water, there were a few things that range truly from previous high-water situations, even though these water levels were at record highs. First, high water increases current. Lake of the Woods is a giant reservoir and the water in the entire system flows toward Kenora. There is always current, but in high water conditions, even with no wind, the current was present. As a result, fishing any area in the lake where you have a neckdown area or constriction results in increased current. The current passing along shoreline points and islands in these neckdown areas were natural musky magnets and will commonly hold muskies throughout the entire day.

blackhawk-island-camp-3
One of the many cabins at Sandy’s Blackhawk Island Camp.

Besides searching for currents in specific portions of the lake, the high water creates currents in saddles or shallow areas between islands. These shallow areas or saddles that exist between island clusters had current moving across the weeds or rocks. Such saddles tend to hold muskies in high water conditions, as they serve as prime musky feeding areas. When the wind blows the current can increase significantly, and there are times that both wind and current across rocky points held a lot of muskies. However, the combination of wind and current also creates an eddy or slack-water area immediately on the downwind/down-current side of the island. We caught lots of muskies fishing the calm side of the island right where the upwind current would start to wrap around the island.  It was easy to pick these spots out and predict where the feeding muskies were holding.

blackhawk-island-camp-4
In high water even when it is calm there is a current.

Another factor that came into consideration with the high water was to fish extra shallow or to fish the spots the way you would under “normal” conditions. Typically, in high water I anticipate the fish moving extremely shallow on Lake of the Woods and being tight to shore.  That’s just how stained-water muskies tend to respond to high water.  We caught a lot of muskies fishing tight to the bank. However, there were spots, particularly that had a distinct shelf, deeper weed bed, or drop-off, where the muskies still related to that area. So, you needed to fish the spot the way you would under normal conditions and ignore the high water. I guess that’s what makes fishing so fun.  There are no absolutes, you just have to continue to experiment with spots and react to the muskies!

blackhawk-island-camp-5
Fishing tight to shore is key when fishing muskies in high water.

One last thing to consider in high water is that there is more room between the shallow weed or rock cover and the water's surface.  Therefore, in high water, you have more lures that can be fished over the shallow cover. In high water, it’s not just about fishing muskies with bucktails and topwater, but minnow baits, jerk baits and large, soft plastics all come into play.  It really allows the musky angler to try multiple techniques to trick finicky muskies into biting.  To be successful, it was often a matter of having a musky follow a bucktail and returning later with a slower-moving lure to get them to bite.

When arriving on your next Canadian adventure and conditions are significantly different than anticipated, don’t get discouraged. The muskies are still there, it’s just that they may be slightly deeper or shallower. High or low water tries and takes advantage of the current. Finally, never forget that Ontario waters hold lots of big muskies, fish hard and fish smart and you might just catch a giant. For more information on musky waters in Sunset Country check out www.visitsunsetcountry.com.

About Jim Saric

Jim owns Jim Saric Outdoors, Inc., which is dedicated to elevating the sport of musky fishing to new levels by educating anglers through print, web, and television. He is the publisher, editor and owner of Musky Hunter Magazine and the Executive Producer of The Musky Hunter television series. Jim has over twenty-five years experience fishing lakes, rivers, and reservoirs from Minnesota to New York and all across Canada. He has boated more than 100 muskies exceeding 50 inches in length, the largest weighing 53 pounds.

Recommended Articles

Muskie Moons

More than just superstition?

Pot of Golden Walleye

Fishing at Whitefish Lodge in Ontario's Algoma Country

Loch Ness Fishing

Loch Island Lodge is an Angler's Dream

Wabigoon Walleye Extreme

Trophy-sized Walleye in the 30" Class

Ontario Brown Trout Fishing

It may be the best fishing on earth.

Become a World-class Fishing Guide

Misconceptions, behind-the-scenes intel, and key tips from a professional guide.

Big Hook Camps

Walleye and Pike Fishing in Beautiful Canadian Wilderness

Bobber-Whacky Magic

Don't Say Good-bye To The Bobber

Kashabowie Bass Blast

Fishing for Walleye, Northern Pike and Bass in Ontario's Superior Country

Don't Let the Name Perch Lake Fool You

These Northern Ontario waters are packed with northern pike like you'll never believe, abundant gourmet walleye, and yellow perch await.

Exclusive Video

How To Zero In On Lake Trout

Ontario Brook Trout

Fish these 10 sweet spots.

Lake of the Woods

10 Facts You Didn't Know

Top 5 Flies for Smallmouth Bass

The inside scoop on bass flies from the hosts of The New Fly Fisher.

Five Brook Trout Flies

What flies to bring when fishing for brook trout.

5 Deadliest Fishing Lures

Use these lures when ice fishing for lake trout in Northern Ontario.

Top 10 Ice Fishing Lakes

Every kind of fish and experience—Ontario ice fishing is some of the best in the world.

Incredible Walleye

Drive-to Fishing at Brennan Harbour Resort

Shoreline Strategies

Try These 2 Techniques For Targeting Winter Brook Trout

3 Great Ontario Walleye Destinations

Karl of Extreme Angler recommends must do walleye lakes in Ontario.