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Musky on the Fly

Welcome to the musky on-the-fly addiction. We may be gluttons for punishment but we need to stick together. What makes you want to fish for the most challenging species on a fly rod? Maybe it is some kind of ailment that folks are born with.  Maybe it started with a permit or in our case Steelhead. Or are you a bow hunter and enjoy the hunt more than the kill? However we all got here, we share the love and challenge of fly fishing for massive fish. There are anglers all over the world who like to target the most challenging species with a fly rod, and Musky are no exception. The only advantage we search for is to chase these fish in the waters that present the best and most opportunities, and for Musky on the fly, this is undoubtedly Lake of the Woods, Ontario.  Check out our new Lake of the Woods fishing Lodge dedicated to fly fishermen for more details.  

A beginners guide to Musky on the Fly

Gear to fly fish for Musky

For small fly work,(6 inches and smaller) a 9wt will do just fine. But if you want to step your game up into flies that most would consider medium to large, you’ll want a 10 weight at a bare minimum. 10 weights are the ideal starting rod, as it’s a do-almost-anything type of rod, with very few limitations. And today’s 10 wts are so light that the difference between casting a 9 or a 10wt is almost negligible. They have enough backbone to throw a light 10-inch fly on a weighted line if that is needed. 

There are a bunch of rods on the market these days that are more than capable of handling the rigours of musky fishing. Most brands have at least a couple of rods that you can trust to toss musky flies. Many people start out using a saltwater rod they have kicking around and that is a great way to get into the sport. One reason to consider getting a new rod is how light they have become over the past 3 years. Having a light rod that can handle big flies is one of the big game-changers in the sport. It makes tossing streamers all day so much more palpable.

Regardless of the rod, you end up purchasing or using, there are other things just as vital to your success. The most important factor to make this work is matching the right line. Lines can make or break whether or not a rod is successful. You need big heavy front loaded fly lines to get those flies to turn over. Rio, Airflo, and SA all make good lines for this. The Rio outbound short, SA Titan and Orvis bank shots are great lines. For lake fishing, the do-everything line would be a full intermediate. If you have the funds to add a spare spool and line, I’d suggest a medium to fast sinking line as well, just to be able to cover the deeper structure a little more effectively.  Lastly, a topwater floating line which can be extremely productive at times would be the third. 

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Flies vary a lot with Musky fishing. Just like every species, you have to wade through flies that are designed for the fisherman to buy, and the ones that are actually fishable. The most important factor is castability with your specific rods and lines. A lot of the beautiful musky flies you see online or in shops are an absolute nightmare to cast, and if that’s the case you are in for a long day. It is very difficult to know how a fly will cast until you try it out.  There is a complicated algorithm between weight and aerodynamics that takes some time to understand. Some guys prefer big synthetic baitfish flies, while others like myself, enjoy using natural fibres like bucktail and long saddle hackles. A lot of the new musky patterns are based on famous lures.  Take a look at lures that are productive on your fishery, and see if you can build or buy a fly around that same colour scheme.  

Reels are the least important part of the equation. Just make sure it balances out your rod well. To do this, balance the rod on one finger and find the spot where the rod hangs perfectly horizontally. If the spot is not on the cork your reel will not work. Lamson Gurus are a solid American-made reel at an attractive price point but most saltwater and spey reels will work well. 

Once you have your rod, reel and line set up with a handful of castable flies you are ready to fish. Presentation for musky is much like streamer fishing for big trout. Accurate casts are needed to cover the structure thoroughly with varying stripping speeds to ignite a strike. Musky don’t need to feed a lot because the size of the prey they attack are so large. One large meal can cover them for a day or two.  This is why our presentations are more often trying to incite a strike response rather than say matching the hatch. With good erratic movement mimicking a fish trying to escape some structure, you are hoping that the large predator just can’t resist. Sometimes this is a slow, flaunting peacock walk, or a very quick ‘getting the hell’ out of their speed swim.  

If you get into some productive water you will eventually get a follow from a Musky.  This doesn’t mean you are about to get a bite, but by maintaining the retrieve that brought it in, with a super-sized figure 8 finish, you do have a very good opportunity. If it doesn’t convert into a strike you now have a new target that will need to be visited a couple of times a day to see if it is a location where the musky is living.  If the Musky is still in the area you will most likely eventually get it to eat. Sunrise, sunset, moon rise and moon set along with the early part of a storm front are the optimal times to revisit the area.  Often a musky spot will have multiple hunting zones.  This could be a patch of weed (cabbage), near some rocks and fallen trees. Make sure to methodically cover all this water each time you fish the spot. Timing is everything when hunting Musky.

When you do get a bite you have to make sure to not lift the rod on the hook set. It takes multiple strip sets to penetrate the hook into the hard mouth of a predator fish. The first bite is so hard and aggressive that the fly is being pinched down in the mouth with extreme force, and the first strip set only dislodges it from the grip. You know this because you can often land small pike with the hook not even penetrated, they are just holding onto the fly in the mouth with the feathers stuck in its teeth. After the first strip set the fly is now dislodged in the mouth, and the second strip is the one that will penetrate the hook. The leaders are so strong you are not going to break a fish off on the strip. Don’t lift the rod until you are positive the fish has been hooked.  

Once hooked, you need to focus on keeping the fish from wrapping you on weeds or structure. Keep the fish up high in the water column as best you can and follow the fish around the boat to avoid any obstacles like the trolling motor or scope pole. If you get it into the net you have just accomplished what very few anglers in the world have ever done. You just landed a musky on the fly which is truly one of the hardest challenges in the sport of fly fishing. Now go do it again!

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