Saturday, December 19, 2020

Musky on Fly

Two musky hunters in the distance...

The allure of musky is prevalent across the industry and many anglers are taking up the challenge of catching the top esox species on fly. The increased attention is driving fly design, material creation, resource sharing, and resulting in a wave of new musky specific rods from top manufacturers. What was once a shiny mystique is now more accessible than ever. That accessibility is creating increased pressure on the species, especially in areas of the country where their numbers are high. If there is one thing that muskies learn from, it is pressure. They can easily pick up signatures on their lateral lines from boats, motors, kayaks, paddles, fly lines, knots, and flies in the water column. This pressure results in lazy follows and 180 degree turns away when they approach a vessel or hear any sound/vibration they don't like. For musky fly anglers, stealth and presentation are often a key part of any anglers success on the water, especially on small, intimate waterways. Of course, luck and time are always key ingredients. The main key is an understanding of the factors that influence conditions, and therefore, a musky's behavior. That will always be the most important part of the game. The peak time to catch a musky on fly is in the fall and winter months preceding the spawn. This coincides nicely with the months (November/December) you should NOT be targeting wild brown trout by fishing during the spawn or immediate post spawn periods. This works out nicely for the angler and the wild brown trout we all love. If you find yourself falling down the musky on fly rabbit hole, please consider a few recommendations before partaking...

For the sake and welfare of the muskies please buy all of the following before going musky fly fishing: 

  • A high quality landing net. These are expensive and should be wide and deep enough to hold the largest of musky. The net should be rubberized to protect the slime coat of the ski and to prevent hooks from catching and getting caught in the material. Think of this as a musky live well where the fish can recover as you get ready for hook extraction and a quick hero shot.
  • Jaw spreaders. Muskies are powerful predators whose jaws/teeth are designed to capture and not let their prey escape. If the fly isn't hanging out of their mouth, you are probably going to have to open that trap and a jaw spreader will come in handy to keep their jaws open so you can safely remove the hook. 
  • Long pliers or a hook extractor. Sometimes hooks are deep and a typical pair of fly fishing pliers are not going to cut it. These are a necessity in order to safely back out large hooks in the vulnerable areas of a musky's mouth. 
  • High quality wire/hook cutters. If the hook is in a vulnerable position and not easily extracted, cutting the hook is a safe solution and can eliminate the extra wear and tear on the musky. It can also get the fly out of the way to remove what is left of the hook. Your cutters should easily be able to cut through a 6/0 hook with one hand. If not, buy a better pair. In this case, you typically get what you pay for.
  • Wire leaders with good knots. Any serious musky fly fishermen uses wire as a bite guard. If you think (like I used to) that fluorocarbon results in more follows and interactions, than you haven't fly fished enough for musky. This comes down to protecting the musky and preventing a large fly and mono from hanging from their mouths as they swim away. 
I am no expert on fly fishing for musky. In fact, I only fish for them a few times a year. However, I know enough to understand the value they bring to an ecosystem and how fervent musky fishermen are in protecting their quarry. Many serious gear and fly anglers I know are scared to death of killing a musky. It literally gives them nightmares. If you seriously want to catch one on fly, out of respect for the ski, be prepared. This is not something that you casually do while floating for trout. Catching a large, pissed off ski, can happen at any moment. Be ready so that you can enjoy your slime time and rest easy at night knowing that someone else will get to enjoy the fish you released. 

 A little guy that hopefully will one day will be a tank...

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