Anyone who knows musky fishing knows that it sucks most of the time, put plainly. In this article I’d like to share with you a few things that I do when I musky fish that have worked for me in the past, things that just may help you have a few less headaches and incidents out on the water, as well as hooking and landing fish.
#1: Tape your ferrules
This is a fairly simple thing to consider, something that gets passed up by a lot of people – including me until fairly recently. Last season I was out on a day with heavy wind, fishing as I normally would. A couple hours into the morning, on one of my forward casts, there was a loud ‘crack’ and the top three sections of my rod ended up in the water. Upon further inspection, I learned that my ferrule had loosened up and started to come off, and on that last forward cast the pressure from the heavy sink tip and fly were too much for the rod to handle. This sent a crack up about a half inch into the blank just below my first stripping guide. Luckily I was able to tape the rod up and fish it the rest of the day after this, but it was a close call – plus I had to spend the money to send it in and get it repaired. Since then, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t taped up my rod when I musky fish.
#2: Burn your knots
I always keep a lighter with me in my on-the-water kit, just about regardless of where I am. It may not be entirely necessary, but I’ll burn my knots in a number of situations when I’m tying leaders. For musky leaders this may be a little excessive, but when I fish for them I take absolutely zero chances – there are so few opportunities with these fish, and any little thing I can do to reassure myself that my gear will hold up when that line comes tight is important.
#3: Utilize the two-handed strip
This is something that was realized through some trial and error for me. Muskies aren’t your typical run-of-the-mill fish that eats a streamer, they’re normally big and pretty heavy. Because of this, it takes more effort to move ‘em. As well as this, they have some pretty tough parts in their mouth that take a bit of force to drive a hook into. In my experience, having just one hand to move line when a fish hits isn’t always enough, and multiple strip sets are ideal to ensure you’ve really buried that fly. With as much stretch as fly line has, and at times with the longer distances between yourself and the fly, getting those sets in as quickly as possible can be important. Personally, the two-handed strip works well because it gives you the ability to hit the fish with multiple quick sets, picking up as much line as possible in the shortest amount of time. And as a side benefit, it also opens up opportunities to vary your stripping pattern as you fish, changing up the action of the fly. Having that second hand available makes a big difference.
#4: Go back for hot fish
Muskies tend to hang out in the same areas much of the time. So, if you have a fish, (especially a nice one), follow and show strong interest, don’t leave it alone. After fishing down the run for a couple minutes, double back and fish through that same area again. If you’re really interested in that specific fish, turn around again and run through a third time, from the same angle as the first. Sometimes angle of casting makes a difference, and this can be what it takes to make that fish commit. There are many times where if a musky is interested enough, it won’t pass up on a meal the second time around. You can utilize this to your advantage, and give the fish that second chance it wouldn’t have if you were to simply move on. This rule goes not only for fishing the same spot immediately after seeing an interested fish, but also for going back to those spots later in the day as well. As I stated earlier, muskies tend to frequent the same areas. So, for example, if you were to see a nice fish at 11:00 in the morning, going back to that same spot in the evening around sunset would be a good idea as the fish may be more active at that time.
#5: Re-think your Figure 8.
Here, I have a few things that I do when I get my fly (and fish) up to the boat that may increase your chances of enticing that following fish to strike boatside.
#5a: Actually CIRCLE, don’t 8.
In my own experience, muskies aren’t contortionists. When making sharp turns with the fly as you would when doing the typical “figure 8”, you can often lose the fish because they can’t turn hard enough to follow it. For this reason, I prefer to simply move the fly in a circular or ovular motion once I get it up next to the boat. Now, I will say that if a circle is done incorrectly the same effect can happen, the fish may lose the fly because it was turned too sharply. And, there is something to be said for the fact that if the fish really wants the fly they’ll come find it just about regardless of what you’re doing, but doing everything the best way possible never hurts.
#5b: Especially when you have a fish hot on the fly, circle BIG and DEEP.
This seems to help quite a bit at times. As the fly is coming in, make sure it’s not right on the surface as this will hold their attention more effectively and decrease the chance of them spooking out when they see the boat. Next, once they’re at the boat, make sure you continue to stay deep, and move into doing big wide circles. Personally when I see a fish, I’ll get down on my knees to make this easier to do. As you’re circling, make as big of a motion as you can to give the fish room to work. This relates back to my previous point, that fish will be more interested if you have the ability to make wide rather than sharp turns which will better allow them to keep track of the fly.
Regardless of whether or not a fish seems to be present, good boatside presentations are something to practice 100 percent of the time. As well as forming good habits, there are times when a fish is in the area but not necessarily within your range of sight. Irregardless, in any situation a good habits won’t hurt.
#5c: Fast on the straightaways, hang the turns.
This is a technique that has been in use for a while, for fly and gear fisherman alike. When executing the boatside presentation, move the fly faster when it’s travelling in a straight line, and slow it down on the turns. These changes in speed can be what it takes to trigger an eat.
#5d: Keep your fly in the water, even after the fish is gone.
This is an important one, and something I’ve seen a number of times already this season. There are many times where you’ll see an interested fish, but they don’t eat. If you keep your fly in the water, keep circling by the boat, they may come back to have another look at it even after they’re seemingly gone. Because of this, after I have a follow of any sort, regardless of how interested the fish is I’ll keep my fly in the water for up to a minute afterward in case they decide to come back.
In the end, all this just comes down to my personal preferences – but regardless of that, thanks for taking a look, and hopefully there’s a few things here that’ll help you next time you’re on the water.