Saturday, September 30, 2023

I'll Go Out Howling at the Moon Tonight

Time and timing are essential elements when fly fishing for musky with any degree of success. For an angler bound to weekend warrior status during peak musky season, timing can be an oxymoron. The best conditions almost always fall on working days leaving scarce opportunities to make it out on the water. When you finally do, shitty conditions create a general lack of confidence and a whole lot of hope dangling on a string. Even the best hunters can turn into hopers, which leads to missed opportunities when that big girl appears out of the gloom. This past year, my opportunities were scarce and I was getting a little antsy. I had not caught a musky on fly for almost an entire year. My worries slowly grew into a desperation and I decided that a mental health day was in order. I checked the week's weather window, flows, and the calendar. My analysis zeroed in on a key day with ripe conditions on a haunt I know well. I decided to call in sick. Sometimes, you just have to make the time when you the know the timing is right...

One typically associates calling out of work as a "recovery" day, but that just isn't the case for the average outdoorsy person, let alone someone that counts fly fishing as their main passion. My alarm clock was set for 3:00 a.m. and I had the SUP on top of the car and on the road a half hour later. I pulled into the boat ramp at 5:30 a.m. and fully launched a little after 6. My first strokes upriver were made in complete darkness and dense fog. The forecast called for heavy rain and a rising river which are perfect conditions for where I was. I eventually made it to my spot with some minutes to spare. 

For the non-musky anglers reading this, I was in a spot I knew held musky at a time that coincided with the best conditions and variables that I've learned for this unique body of water. I picked out a foot long musky DnD variant in black and hooked it on to my snap-lock. The rain had finally arrived and my eyes had adjusted to the lack of light. It took me a little while to gain my balance standing up on the SUP. The mid-December water temperature hovered around 38 degrees and I waited until I was nice and steady before I started casting. 

My first round of casts worked a deeper side channel that I knew usually held one of the larger specimens in this particular stretch of river. From my anchored position, I worked the angles and my figure eights in the low light and rain. After a round, I decided to cast to the opposite bank over the top of a sediment bar. One strip of the DnD and a massive swirl erupted around my fly, which definitely got my attention and focus. I accelerated the fly, gave one last hard strip, and let it jack knife in the current. A good musky ferociously t-boned the fly at the surface. I strip set hard and the ski cartwheeled across the surface and found the downriver current. I already had the Frabill deployed and resting on the front of the kayak. I reached down with one hand and guided her into the net with the other. 

Later, I went to check out the area where the musky was sitting in that low light period. There was a new shelf of sand and gravel made by an obstruction in the water. It produced a dip in the current that would be a perfect ambush spot for an apex predator. Even though, I know the river well, it is always cool to learn something new and capitalize when the moment arrives. I didn't see or move another fish for the next 9 hours. 

At the extreme end of the day, during another moment of variables, a larger fish came out of pile of wood. The musky followed my fly to the boat and into one turn of the eight before disappearing. I let my fly drift downriver and began some boat side bouncing with the hope that she was somewhere down below and out of sight. Popping the fly, I moved it a 90 degree angle to the bank and the big fish exploded off the bottom. I literally watched my fly glide out of the fish's jaws as she revealed her full body profile at the surface. It would have been a personal best. I worked that run until last light, switching flies, and changing angles. I never got another chance. Soaked, cold, and tired, I packed up the yak and hit the road for the drive home. 

I had work the next day...

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