Fly fishing for muskie is not for the impatient, nor for the faint of heart. The rewards with this warmwater species are simply jaw-dropping - colossal, aggressive, smashmouth takes, often with an aerial show. It's a warmwater gamefish whose rapidly growing popularity is expanding the fly fisherman's portfolio, without requiring a passport and a hefty bank roll. Robert Tomes, the author of Muskie on the Fly, arguably the most definitive book on the sport from a guy that has dedicated more time to the species than almost anyone else alive, was gracious enough to write a guest blog for us. In it, he shares an anecdote from his field research for his upcoming Stonefly Press book about the premier places to fly fish for muskie, 25 Best Places to Fly Fish for Muskie (Stonefly Press, 2013). If you want to expand your fly fishing portfolio, and get a massive payoff in the process, get to know more about muskie fly fishing.
Researching the best places to fish around the country can be an exciting and even eye-opening experience. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend more time on the water checking out fishing hotspots real or imagined? When it comes to muskie fly fishing, my research efforts over the past seasons have been particularly interesting given this toothy-predator’s well-known - if over played - reputation as the elusive “fish of 10,000 casts”, moody behavior and general lack of predictability, even on the best days.
I recently found myself deep in the woods of Northern Wisconsin researching the best waters and fishing in the region for my new muskie fly fishing destinations book being published in late Spring 2013 by Stonefly Press. Joining me on this trip were several, long-time fishing buddies and guides as well as two new muskie anglers from the East Coast hoping for their first taste of muskie on the fly. Our goal for the trip was simple enough; check out some new spots for the book, catch a few fish and, of course, drink some beer and have a great time. Conditions were near perfect with unusually stable spring weather, good water quality and surprisingly few mosquitos. No excuses! As we hoped, our trip started off with a bang with several good fish landed and released, including a few hefty trophies in the 40-inch, 20-pound class. To my personal delight, even my adventurous if skeptical friends from out East managed to score with their first legal muskies on the fly; a major accomplishment given this was their first attempt!
All our fish were caught on rivers and flowages, casting our Hayward host and muskie guide Don Larson’s famous “Yogurt Lips” streamer pattern in various color combinations and sizes (see a picture of one at www.anglinoutdoors.com). The unusual name is derived from his creative use of plastic yogurt containers – seriously - to fashion a collar behind the head. This muddler-on-steroids has been a proven fish-catcher for many years and, when retrieved with the correct technique, possesses an almost uncanny ability to trigger even the most finicky muskies into a feeding frenzy. As an added bonus, each of our fish ate Don’s fly with total authority, often within a rod’s length of the boat providing a stunning visual. To those of us who’ve fished these waters for many years, it seemed the spring bite was definitely “on” and we had high, if guarded hopes for the days ahead. Mind you, in the sport of muskie fishing, this kind of thinking can be dangerous - it’s always best to temper your optimism and expectations with a strong dose of humility.
In typical fashion, the next few days proved challenging for our group with only a few follows and missed fish interrupted by long hours of casting a stiff 9-weight and a big fly. At the end of our three-day adventure, lightning struck in a big way. We were fishing a little-known stretch of one of Wisconsin’s more productive rivers, which offers several miles of fishable water where few have ever cast a fly. Just a few miles downstream from the launch, our intrepid band of anglers had already seen, missed, or lost several good fish. Mid-way through the float we came upon a sharp turn, followed by rocky rapids and a long, wide pool below. Amazingly, the first boats through this choice piece of water came up empty handed. Playing cleanup, Don pulled anchor and we made our way down the rapids to join the rest of the group. Along the way I made a half-hearted cast to a shallow pocket hoping for at least a feisty smallmouth bass. What I got instead was the unmistakable, violent boil of a large muskie inhaling my fly! The fish put up a spectacular fight, running up and across stream, then down as it looked for cover and a way to pull free. As we floated into the pool below, she dove deep under the boat and then jumped nearly eye-level providing everyone with a splashy show. After a few tense moments, Don let out his trademark “war whoop” as he scooped my trophy into his net. The other boats quickly surrounded us like ersatz paparazzi, taking shots as I released her unharmed to swim again in the storied waters of Northern Wisconsin. Just another day in the name of research." - Robert Tomes (photos by Rick Bannerot)