March 13, 2007

Muskie on the fly

Recent temperatures breaking 50 degrees have got many of us thinking about open water fishing again. Melting snows have begun to swell river banks, and soon water temps will begin to rise, bringing the start of the fly fishing season. I’m planning on chasing muskies on the fly this summer. I’ve never targeted muskies with a fly before, but have caught plenty of their cousins, the northern pike, on a fly before. There are many similarities between pike and muskies, including foraging and habits and locales. The main difference between fishing the two is upsizing all of your gear for muskies. The following is a brief synopsis on the equipment needed for getting started for fishing muskies on the fly.There is not much information out there on the web (or in text) on fly fishing muskies. It is a very specialized niche in the fly fishing market and is relatively unexplored by most anglers. There isn’t much market saturation taking place. Even pike information is still relatively obscure. Warmwater fishing for species like bass and panfish, though, has begun to get more press from the fly fishing industry in recent years. Equipment needs for targeting muskies include a stout fly rod; I’ve noticed that people use anything from an 8wt to a 12wt for muskies. An 8 wt is a little underpowered, in my opinion, to be casting flies large enough to catch muskies. You arm will tire, which will lead to sloppy casts after a long day on the water. I think that 12 wt is overkill, and was mainly preferred for its fighting strength. I don’t think this is an issue anymore with the newer high modulus blanks used today. I’d opt for a 9wt or 10 wt rod, around 9′ long. These rods should provide enough backbone to cast those large flies as well as have a fighting butt to fight those muskies.A decent reel with a good drag should be used. Pike and muskies are known for short fast runs; you’ll want to protect your tippet to keep from the fish breaking off. I wouldn’t be concerned about needing a lot of backing, so a large arbor reel would fit the bill. It will have a faster retrieval rate and will reduce the amount of memory on your fly line.I would recommend having at least two fly lines. A floating line in a bass bug, clouser, or pike taper will help get those big bushy wind resistant flies to your target. These lines are designed with an oversized head, to help deliver big flies. The second line would be a sinking tip line. You may need to adjust your sink rate based on the depth of water you will be fishing, but will most likely an angler would be fishing weed beds, so a Type II or III sink would fit the bill. A type V or VI sink rate would be preferable in deeper water, or fishing rivers with heavy flows, and/or current, to get your fly down to the bottom.Unfortunately, there are not many muskie flies available in the marketplace. Your best bet for purchasing, would be finding the largest pike flies that you can. Reynolds pike flies, dahlberg divers, rainy’s tsunami, and double bunnies are very good patterns. Often times, muskie/pike anglers use saltwater patterns, due to their size. They are effective as well; clouser deep minnows and lefty’s deceivers are two good saltwater patterns. I prefer to tie my own flies, since many of these patterns are not available locally. By tying my own, I am able to match the color combinations that I prefer, and use materials that I prefer. Bucktail is the preferred material used in many large flies, however, I like to use synthetic hairs, because they stand up better to toothy abuse, are longer fibers, and tie better.Chasing after muskies is very demanding, and you will need some of the best equipment available, regardless of skill level, just to deliver flies to the beast, and to prevent severe equipment failure. Even the stoutest, highest quality equipment is known to break from these monsters. I would consider for purchase equipment with lifetime warranties. Fortunately, there have been recent breakthroughs in technology and overseas production that have brought high quality, affordable equipment to the marketplace. The Muskellunge is North America’s fiercest freshwater game fish, and definitely one of the largest to be caught on fly rod and reel. My goal for the upcoming season is to catch one of these toothy critters on the fly. Fortunately I live in an area with prime muskie waters, and catching a trophy sized fish is a very real possibility. This will be a challenge with many hours spent casting for this often elusive fish. Hard work and effort will payoff, however, when I land that first muskie on the fly.