Nothing is more relaxing for an outdoorsman studying at UW-Stevens Point than reserving time to go fishing. And since Point is recognized for its College of Natural Resources, it’s not too difficult to find a fishing partner who has a car and is willing to learn any new style of fishing on the vulnerable, overwhelming Wisconsin River. It can be especially aggravating when you have friends patterning a consistent musky bite, and don’t want to share with anyone. But to make the tension even greater, your buddies are rippin’ em out of the water with a fly rod! They’ll tell you how they’re missing fish because they’re lifting the rod to set the hook rather than properly strip-setting every fish they encounter. But when they do strip-set, they don’t even remember doing it, and will invest all the energy they have to keep tension and carefully land the mysterious predator. Engaging yourself to mastering the art of taking musky on the fly rod will most definitely bring out your level of perseverance. In other words, it’s not an easy sport.
If you didn’t get the message the first time, the answer is yes; musky can be caught on the fly! This revolutionary sport has been growing at an astounding rate for roughly ten years now, and it’s not slowing down. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, Tennessee, and many other states are exploding with enthusiastic anglers bringing innovative tactics to improve the sport.
Many of you will be puzzled about how to approach this adrenalin-rushing endeavor. It’s easy enough to acquire the necessary tools for taming the toothy beasts. But the absolute key, which money can’t buy is perseverance! If you’re not hell bent on casting 7-12+ inch flies all day while performing a balancing act in a canoe, floating downstream with your fellow angler, this may be as challenging as proving parapsychology to be empirical science.
Finding musky can be very overwhelming. So if you want to go the easy route to finding fish, I recommend dam hopping. Any time from the fishing opener and up until the river starts to freeze over, any river system holding musky should direct your attention to its dams. There is plenty of biodiversity to be found up close by dams, and these toothy predators should be prowling around. Since the water will be much faster than the rest of the river, you can leave your poppers in the box, and throw streamers with your intermediate sinking line. When shore fishing, your options are what is in reach. And make sure you work them thoroughly. Anything from boulders, current breaks and seams, and foam are what you should throw in and strip through. If you happen to have a canoe, what’s most ideal when close to the dam is to anchor and cast a few times, pull the anchor to float down a bit and get resituated, and then drop the anchor to fish again. When further downstream from any dam, it is manageable to continue floating and fish any fishy structure on the banks, such as over-hanging trees, rocks, weeds, bottom transition, etc. If you’re familiar with what to look for when musky fishing, the same structure will do you good. And the same goes with inland lakes. Any known musky hotspots at your favorite inland lakes will allow you to move fish with the fly.
So let’s talk fly gear! When looking at fly rods, they normally vary from as low as a 2 or 3 weight all the way up to 10, 11, and 12 weight rods. The heavier weight the rod action typically translates the heavier the fly that can be thrown. A 10 weight is the most optimal rod in order to launch the heavier articulated flies (flies tied with two or more hooks/joints). Any weight-size under a 10 weight makes your choice of flies fairly limited. Articulated flies can be thrown on an 8-weight rod. The issues with that are that you may not reach maximum distance and/or attain desired accuracy when covering structure. Otherwise, an eight weight can work well with single-hooked flies. I won’t delve into discussing what brands to choose from because there are so many to experiment with that offer different features and qualities that some people may favor over others. But I will say that what may be most optimal is a 10 weight that has as fast action as possible while physically light in weight, along with having at least two stripping guides. Whether the grip is cork or synthetic is your call.
Almost any fly reel will do. As long as it can hold all the fly line and backing, and has a large arbor, the matter of it being a cast or machine aluminum reel doesn’t matter because the chances of you putting the fish on the reel, and having to worry about the fish pulling a lot of drag are slim to none. As we tell our members at the UWSP Fly Fishing Club, the fly reel is just a glorified line holder.
Your choice of fly line can vary as well. When throwing streamers, they’ll require an intermediate sink tip line with a short head in order to turn over large flies out at a great distance and be able to sink and drag the fly within the fish’s range. Using an all floating, weight-forward line may be advantageous when throwing surface/popper flies, or flies that you want to fish with an up/down swimming motion. And since a lot of poppers will have a lot of air resistance when casting, the fact that an all-floating line won’t launch the fly as far may not matter. When shopping for lines, you’ll be able to read their packaging to distinguish what it is you’re looking at.
The world of flies people are creating everyday for these critters is an entirely distinct entity. Many of them are flies made mostly of natural materials such as buck tail and saddle hackle, while others are mostly composed of synthetic materials, such as fuzzy fibers and flashabou. I wouldn’t dare to go any deeper than that in how to go about tying these flies. It is incredibly easy to get access through YouTube videos and elsewhere online with plenty of tutorial videos on how to tie certain flies. On Facebook, there is a Musky Fly Fishing page that has all kinds of musky fanatics posting their fly designs, sharing tactics on how to rig specific leaders, asking questions on specific components of rods and lines, etc. And of course, there are always new members joining and utilizing the page just to get started and ask the basics. If you can take the time to learn how to tie your own musky flies, it will save you a lot of money in the long run. If you learn how to tie these massive flies, and are an avid musky angler using gear, you can create all kinds of concoctions for making customized buck tails.
The rate of innovative anglers growing and sculpting this sport across the nation is excruciatingly divine. It’s such an alluring sport where not too many people are doing it in as concentrated an area as gear fishermen are, and it feels rewarding to dial into them and get results from the hard work being put in. Yet, you can’t ignore the fact that it’s still fishing; the sport can only get better when shared with everyone.
by Carlos Helmstedt