On Outdoors: Musky fly fishing: Art and the common man’s trophy

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Not many anglers think of going after the elusive and utterly fierce musky with flies. However, many fishers prefer to lure beasts using fly tackle.

Musky fishing, with a heavy rig, is a challenge in and of itself. Reports of needing a club to tame one after a fight are common.

While using flies for musky is not for the weak or timid, it can enhance an already exhilarating experience.

Musky fly-fishing needs to be done with the proper tackle and the willingness to learn how to fight the monsters with relatively unconventional gear.

Rod: Size matters

Musky are strong fish. In fact, they are swift and mean like a barracuda and swim like sharks. Bringing one to shore on fly line requires the proper rod. Most anglers recommend an 8- to 9-foot rod with a minimum of a 9- or 10-weight graphite being standard.


Musky will often strike without notice and follow bait for several seconds before nailing it and taking off. Thundering boat-side strikes are common. The best fly reels for musky need to have good drag, the ability to hold a couple hundred feet of backing, and the durability to tangle with a tarpon.


Water conditions aside, a heavy line is a must. Fly line must be thick and heavy enough to hold large flies and reel well. Strong tip-sinking and weight-forward line (11-weight minimum, depending on wind and water conditions) is necessary.


Big flies equal big fish. Lures in the neighborhood of 6 to 12 inches in length are recommended. Forget the freshwater fly companies. Homemade and commercial saltwater lures are key to success when loading for musky. Because musky are known for destroying lures, a well-stocked tackle box is never unwise.


Anyone familiar with the jaws of a musky knows his teeth are razor sharp. Like a hot spoon moving through a bowl of rice pudding, a single tooth can sever fish line in a second. For this reason, strong braided wire leaders are as important as a flashy buck tail.

A 6- to 9-foot leader with a strong tippet (15- to 20-pound test) is recommended. As a general rule, a leader-tippet combo should be as heavy as possible without impeding casting and lure workability.


Musky fishing rarely involves a fish on every cast. A successful day could consist of hours on the water before hooking one. It’s not uncommon for musky to chase lures without striking. However, when they do, the fight is on. Even smaller fish are capable of grappling like a trophy.

The key to musky fly fishing lies in consistent fly performance. A novice fly-caster may give up after a few hours, or learn the art in the process.

Outdoors news and photos can be sent directly to Jim Hagerty at jim.hagerty@rockrivertimes.com. Glossies and hard-copy press kits can be mailed or delivered to The Rock River Times’ office at 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101. Jim can be reached at (815) 964-9767.

From the June 2-8, 2010 issue

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