Can the fish of 10,000 casts be caught on a fly?  With the popularity of musky fishing exploding over the last couple of years and musky populations booming across the nation, many fly fishermen have been asking themselves this question.  Muskies definitely can be caught on a fly rod and there are certain times of the year I’d put my fly rod up against any baitcast rod. 

I had been catching muskies for years and had already been inflicted with “musky fever” before I ever decided to try to catch one on a fly rod.  I decided to give it a try a couple of summers back, so I rigged up my fly rod with the largest fly I could find at the fly shop and set out with my float tube to my favorite musky lake.  When I arrived, the lake was dead still and the sun high in the sky, not good musky weather.  I kicked my way out from shore anyways, determined to hook one of these monsters on a fly rod.  It was early summer and I knew the fish would still be up shallow this time of year.  I started casting towards whatever green weeds I could find, changing retrieves to try to find the right one to attract a fish.  I was getting ready to call it a day when the musky finally hit.  

It caught me a little off-guard, as it wasn’t the massive hit I was expecting, but as soon as it realized it was hooked the fight was on.  It immediately took off for deeper water, dragging me helplessly behind.   I quickly reeled in the slack line to play it on the reel.  After playing the fish for a while I finally started to get the upper hand.  As the fish got closer to me, I was then struck with a dilemma…  

What was I going to do once I got it in?  I didn’t have a net, I was in a float tube, and I was the only one out on the lake.  The fish was quickly tiring and I was finally able to bring it up to the surface next to me.  I decided to grab the fish and lay it across my legs in the front of the float tube.  In the back of mind I wondered whether this was such a good idea.  After all, this was a musky full of teeth, but the fish cooperated and I escaped without any battle wounds.  It wasn’t a monster fish, but was probably right around the 40 inch mark.  A good fish for my first one on a fly rod and the battle had definitely heightened my interest in pursuing muskies on a fly rod.  To say I was hooked was an understatement. 

If you decide to pursue this elusive fish, you’ll definitely need the right equipment.  A 9-11 wt rod, preferably either 9 or 10 feet in length is a must.  You’ll want a rod with some backbone to fight the fish, as well as be able to steer them away from or out of cover.  The length will help you cast the sometimes massive flies needed in order to entice these fish.  You’ll also want to use a large arbor reel with a good drag system.  It’s much easy to play these fish off the reel than to worry about where all the line is at when the fish makes a strong run.

A floating line matched up with the same weight as your fly rod is optimal, but sinking or sink tip lines also have their place.  Sink tips work well, as you can switch them in and out depending on the depth you are targeting.  When choosing a line you’ll want it to have a smooth, solid finish that shoots well.  Scientific Angler’s new Shark Skin fly line or Rio’s Bass fly lines are excellent options.  You’ll be casting big heavy flies, so a quality line will allow you to cast into the wind and take a little stress off your body. 

Leaders are a bit more controversial.  If you asked ten different fly anglers how they rig up their leaders, you might get ten different answers.  Many musky anglers prefer to use 30-50 pound mono or fluoro carbon leaders with a 9 to 12 inch steel leader.  I prefer to use a braided line, such as PowerPro, and tie it straight to the fly.  These braided lines are thin in diameter, so you can get away with using 80 or 100 pound line.  Leaving the leader off will also allow you to impart more movement on the fly than you would if it was tied to a leader.  The leader should also be kept as short as possible, which will also give you room to perform a large figure eight or “L Turn” at the end of your retrieve. 

Standard pike flies like rabbit strip or bunny leeches, Dahlberg divers, shiner or minnow flies, or the Whistler all work well, but most commercially tied flies don’t provide the size or bulk required to get the larger fish moving.  A lot of experienced musky fisherman will eventually start experimenting with their own flies, which can be in upwards of 12 inches long.  Adding a second trailer hook can also improve your catches, as the larger fish will sometimes just nip at your fly.

Fly color can make a difference depending on a multitude of factors.  Sometimes it’s best to “match the hatch” and go with a fly that matches what the baitfish that muskies have been feeding on.  A good rule of thumb is to use natural colors on clear sunny days.  On cloudy or rainy days, you can go with the brighter color flies, which will standout against the darker sky.  When all else fails, throw something black.  Black colored baits and flies have produced more fish than any other color.

A lot could be written about techniques, seasonal movements, weather, bait fish, current, and moon phases, which all affect where and how you would fish for muskies on a particular lake.  The best advice is to spend time on the water getting to know the lakes you fish.  Each lake has its secrets, which once discovered will often hold true for years to come. Cover water and try to develop a pattern of fish location.  Vary your retrieves until you find something that works.  Time your trips to make sure you hit at least one moon phase, as it’s been proven that muskies go on the feed bag during these peak times.

Musky fishing, like trout fishing, is all about knowledge.  The more you know about the fish, the lakes you fish, and the techniques to use, the more likely you are turn the fish of 10,000 casts into a fish in the boat every time out.