How many casts does it take to make a good day of muskie fishing?
We were out to accomplish one of fishing’s most difficult feats—a muskie on the fly. My two customers, Kris and Jordan, were up to the task, and we were fishing water that I know pretty well- the muskie are not as plentiful here as on some other popular rivers, but the average size is impressive.
Let’s go down the checklist– Water clarity-good. Water temperature—good. Weather—good. Angler skill level—good. Guide skill level—reasonable.
I had a solid game plan—we would run up river, hitting favorite spots along the way. Once to the top, we would fish our way back, revisiting spots where we had located fish on the way up. So what do you do when you get to the top, and the only action has been one pike boated and one small muskie follow? We had hit many of my best spots, spots with names like “The Muskie Channel”, “Munch Bend”, and “Lower Two Fish”, and with little to show for our efforts, I decided to chance running upriver even farther. The water level was just high enough to allow safe passage, I had to force myself to watch the river and not my depth finder as I cruised on plane over 2 feet or less of water. The decision to go up farther was a good one, as we made contact with the first good sized muskie of the day at the “Upper Two Fish” hole. A yard-long fish chomped Kris’s fly but came up short of the hook, and a thorough re-working of the spot gave no more action. I looked up the river, thinking of more spots waiting around almost every bend up there, but reluctantly decided to head back down river.
Our cruise back down river was interrupted by my prop making pretty good contact with a rock while running at nearly full speed. Anyone thinking of launching their boat in a river should take a close look at the prop photo. I pulled up to shore, donned my waders, switched out the damaged prop, and we were back in action. A re-working of a few favorite spots revealed nothing, and I was now starting to get a little nervous. On even the slowest day up here usually there are pike and smallies to keep your interest in between muskie showings. I floated us down into a “B” spot called “Apocalypse Now”, it is a small but deep hole in a side channel. It has given up a couple of fish over the years, but not a top producer. Jordan was casting a big yellow streamer, and a couple of casts in he was a little too eager to make a new cast, and he lifted the fly out of the water just as a 40+ inch torpedo shaped muskie made a dash for it. I have done this same thing on more than one occasion, and it can really haunt you for the rest of the day. Had the fly been left in the water just a second or two longer there is a very good chance the fish would have eaten it. The fish made another showing when it made a pass at Kris’s fly a minute late, and again a thorough reworking of the spot produced nothing.
We continued down the river, alternating from the east to west bank depending on how the water looked. As the sun sank to treetop level, it was starting to look like our quest would have to resume another day. After a LONG period of no activity, Jordan scored a nice sized pike, then Kris got one, and then a couple more pike hit, all in a 50 yard section in just a few minutes. “The fish are starting to move” I thought to myself, wishing very much one of my high confidence spots was closer than two miles away. I idled us back across the river to a likely looking shoreline. This spot had all the right characteristics—deep water, slow current, and the right bottom content. Even though it looked perfect, I couldn’t recall ever having fished there before. Kris laid his big white streamer right next an eddy of foam and debris, and the call of “FISH ON!” was the next thing we heard. The fish gave a spirited battle, including one jump where it came all the way out of the water right by the boat. Kris’s 10-weight eventually wore the fish down, and before long I had a firm grip on the muskie’s peduncle. I’ve hand landed hundreds of muskies, and I’m not about to start carrying a net now! After a couple of quick photos the fish was back in the river, none the worse for wear. We didn’t get an official measurement on it, but I don’t think we’re going to get called out if we call it 40”. Not quite the “River Monster” we were hoping for, but a fine fish nonetheless.
I was ready to call it at that point, end it on a good note I thought, but Jordan was eager to even the score. With very little daylight left we tried a few more likely runs, but it wasn’t to be . Muskies stay active on the river through October and into November, there’s still time to even the score!
A few notes. In the past I was known to have some pretty strong opinions of gear, rigging, and tactics–do it my way, or don’t bother. Mind you, my way was always a good way, but that doesn’t mean that other things ways couldn’t be just as good, or maybe better. A little older and wiser, I have learned to keep an open mind, and to not completely dismiss something just because I didn’t think of it or discover it first. Kris has a nice set of “Beulah” brand fly rods. The name alone is enough to get me to dismiss them without a second glance. Turns out they are just right for the fishing we were doing, stiff and fast, they cast the big flies just great. [He showed up with all three rods fully rigged, each with a different line with a fly tied on!] Speaking of flies, we were using flies tied by another muskie guide, Brad Bohen. Ten years ago I would have not considered using another guide’s flies. If you haven’t heard, Brad is probably responsible for muskies caught on a fly than anyone, so I figured I oughta give his flies a fair chance. Great design, great material, and nicely put together. The hook seemed small, but the way it is placed on the fly makes sense. They cast great and I am not surprised to find they work well. I’ll be busy at the tying bench before my next muskie outing.
MUSKIE FISHING WITH A FLY TOP TEN LIST
- Fish water with a good population of fish
- Have good boat control
- Have the right equipment, a 10 weight rod [or heavier] with a line to match
- Use a short, heavy leader with wire bite tippet [Kris’s fish had the fly all the way in its mouth, I would have been nervous without wire!]
- Strip the fly to within a few feet of your rod tip EVERY cast, watching for following fish
- Be an efficient caster [can you make a 50′ cast with one back cast?]
- Use a big fly with a big sharp hook [about a 4/0 or 5/0]
- When a fish eats your fly, set the hook with a “strip set”.
- Fish when the conditions are right [extreme wind or cold-no good!]
- Have realistic expectations–casting all day for one or two “eats” is standard