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Fly Fishing for Musky

Musky are certainly high on the scale of difficulty when it comes to targeting them on the fly. Even when gear fishing for musky you are hard-pressed to expect any real consistency on the water. However, there are times in productive systems when it can turn on. Lake of the Woods is no exception. We have days where we bring 5 or more musky to the boat and hook several all on the fly. When muskies are holding in the right kind of water, a good fly angler can out-fish a gear chucker. Yes, that is correct, certain days, fly fishing for musky can be very productive.

The Approach 

Like any challenging fishery where you are hunting sparse, spread-out, trophy fish, you need to spend time creating a game plan long before jumping in the boat. The preparation before going fishing is probably the most effective tool in ensuring you have a productive day.  This is nearly impossible to do on the first or second day of fishing a new body of water. First and foremost, you need to get some intel on how far along the muskies are in their summer cycle and how the water temperatures are influencing behaviour. Early spring means an early spawn, and that can affect musky habitat all summer.

Musky tend to hold close to home after spawning and when they regain some strength they push out to more prolific hunting grounds with ideal ambush structure. As the summer progresses they move deeper with warming water. Combine this with current weather patterns, and predominant wind directions, you can begin to calculate likely spots.  

After our Musky opener, we like to start close to prime spawning grounds looking for the closest structure.  Our season opens the 3rd week of June which ensures we are not targeting spawning fish.  After a couple of weeks, we follow the Musky out to rocky outcrops close to the depth, like land points, saddles and sunken islands.  Once you get an idea of what stage they are at,  and you see active Musky, you can start to search out similar features.  

Rods to carry

I always carry three rods rigged with different lines and sink rates. First is my topwater setup. My line of preference is the Scientific Anglers amplitude smooth titan long. It has the longest front tapered head in the game for predator lines, coming in at 43 feet (the line is 100 feet).  With precision casting, you can reach very long distances which is crucial for topwater.   I can throw deep into weed beds and cover good water depths from shallow to deep. A Muskie’s favourite lake weed is cabbage, and when I see it, I instantly grab my floating line to methodically work every inch of it with loud pops and long pauses. 

My utility line is a mixed-density line from Scientific Anglers called the Sonar Titan I, 2,3. It goes from floating to intermediate, into types 2 and 3. It sinks, but not too much. By altering my strip speed I can put this fly through any structure other than weeds. It has a 33-foot head and casts beautifully. Fly Fishing for Musky became a lot easier when this line was created. It casts very large flies beautifully and you can cover nearly any depth you like without ever having to switch rods. A close second for me would be a full intermediate line, but I do seem to find a few more bites being able to drop the fly a little bit deeper under most conditions. 

The final rod I carry is a dredger. I use this very sparingly.  For the most part, it is my comeback rig after moving a musky. When they sink out after a follow they often sit right on the bottom under the boat, which is typically deeper than the lie you found them in.  By sliding the boat back and fanning your casts, you do have a chance to get interest a second time. Fly fishing for musky in the early summer is not typically a dredger game. Even if the musky have moved into deeper water, you will still find them in under six feet in the early morning and late evening. For us, 6 feet is the maximum depth we want to target musky on the fly.   Any deeper than that, we leave it for the live scope jiggers.  This is supposed to be fun! Having to water load ridiculously heavy sink tip lines to dredge 10 feet plus holes is not something we ever have to do in our fishery. To learn more about our operation be sure to check out

When you get a follow

The Strip

There are few other things as exciting as seeing a large musky turn up behind your fly seemingly out of nowhere.  The intensity on a boat when this happens is palpable. Eyes pop, knees buckle and the risk of making a critical mistake looms heavy. The simple rule of thumb is to keep stripping at the same speed that attracted the Musky.  If the fish is slow-tracking the fly, it is most likely going to end at just a follow.  If you start to speed up the strip on a slow-tracking musky, you will often see the fish stay at the same slow speed creating distance from the fly. I like to try and keep the musky fairly close to the fly as it approaches the boat so I can prepare for a change of direction in a figure 8. Drop the rod tip into the water at least a couple of feet and continue to strip into Figure 8. On the turn, accelerates into a big deep curve, easing the fly toward the surface.  

Figure 8’s

Figure 8’s needs to be quick and very wide to keep a muskie’s attention.  Anything less than 6 feet will typically fail, shoot for an 8-foot reach. If the fish doesn’t strike on the first or second turn but continues to follow, the odds of a strike drastically reduce, but there is no time to give up. if the fish is still swimming quickly to the fly, my last attempt is a death pause after a turn.  This is a make-or-break moment, because if it doesn’t work, the Musky will often sink out, and you will likely have to come back for it later. The biggest mistakes beginners make in Figure 8’s are too small, too slow, and too shallow. You are attempting to create a reaction strike on a figure 8, and the margin of error is very thin. Stay calm, and focus on the fish’s behaviour. Feed him!

Fly Fishing for Musky 

Fly Fishing for Musky is one of the most challenging experiences in freshwater. It takes a very high skill level in casting, and fly control to feed these fish consistently. It also takes a great understanding of the feeding cycles of esox. It is a fishery that you continue to learn every time you go out. For guides and anglers alike, that is what keeps us chasing these magnificent unicorns year after year. The addiction is real. 

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