Fly Fishing for Muskie – Beginners Guide to Catching Muskie on Fly


Muskie are a special fish to target, and when you try with a fly rod, they become even more special.

The fish of 10000 casts, known up North, can be notoriously difficult to first find and then try and hook on a fly rod.

The first thing you have to do is work out where to target these mystery fish. Once you have worked out where they may be, the time of year is also important. Get the season wrong by even a few days, and your chances go from fair to non-existent.

Finding the fish can be considered the easy part, and once you have zoned in on what fly they are eating, then you are in for one hell of a ride!

The chases are heart-pumping. The fights, knuckle wrenchingly hard and the netting nerve-racking. But when this is all done, and you lift the beast out of the net, you will forget all your misfortunes and troubles.

They have this power over you.

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muskie fish

Catching Muskie on a Fly Rod

Whether you are chasing that elusive 50-inch fish or just happy to hook and land an 18-incher (most of you should be over the moon with this,) the approach, tactics, and mindset stay the same.

Muskies seem to have this majestic addiction about them. If you think of the troubles we go through to just get to the waters these fish call home, let alone try and catch them, they have to be something special.

Personally, the feeling I get when I lift a 40-incher out of the water can’t be compared to any other species of freshwater fish I have caught before. It’s a really powerful moment, and I’m not a spiritual guy by any means, but that long, eel-like tannish, silver body with its huge flathead, pitch-black eyes, and toothy mouth, just does something to me.

I don’t know. Let’s call it the muskie spell.

Below, I will run through my thoughts and follow the process to catch Muskie on the fly. This is one of the more mysterious fish to target, and a lot of your success will boil down to being in the right place at the right time.

So let’s make sure we have the rest of the task covered, i.e. The right gear, flies, etc, and get you into some muskie.

Can You Catch Muskie with a Fly Rod?

In short, YES, you can catch any fish on a fly rod provided you understand the what, where, when, and how about the said species. You have a chance.

With Muskie, it isn’t so much a case of how. They will generally smash a baitfish pattern that is being stripped along the surface of the water, but rather an accumulation of luck regarding the other three questions let’s cover them properly and make sure we are ready.

Once you have found the right water for them and are confident they are there, or better yet, you have seen a few, you know you are in with a decent chance to hook one.

Proceed to set yourself up and get ready for what could just be the best days fishing you will ever have!

man fly fishing from boat in large lake

When and Where to Find Them?

Muskies are autumn and winter fish. They tend to be the most aggressive and eager to play ball during the fall period. This isn’t easy for us as this means cold mornings and icy fingers, but I feel if they were a balmy summer’s day kind of species, many more anglers would fish for them.

This would make them lose their majestic flare for sure!

Scattered across many a still water across the US, I personally like to aim for the Northern areas. The fish are a lot bigger up there and tend to see fewer people, if any at all. My main focus is those unspoken lakes and rivers towards Maine and the Canadian border.

It helps if you know contacts that can assist with information or, better yet, get yourself a guide for the day. There are a few great guides who only fish for Muskie. Ok, they may use convention crankbaits, but they know the areas and drifts, and that is what you need.

Look for structure on the banks. I generally like to fish from an inflatable boat or fishing canoe, casting from the deeper water to the sides.

I find the Muskie will tend to hold on to a deeper drop-off and smash the fly as it lands, or they like to track the fly right to the side of the boat.

There is a trick called the figure of eight, which you must do in scenarios like this. For the most part, it always works, but I will touch on this a bit later.

Check out the article on the Best Times to Fish for Muskie.

kayak fisherman on lake fishing

What Equipment Do I Need for Muskie Fly Fishing?

Ok, so you can fish for Muskie with any saltwater setup that you would usually take on the flats and fish without any issues.

Some anglers have produced hybrid rods and line sand flies specifically for Muskie, but you don’t have to have them to catch fish. That said, some of the big fly rod builders and designers have started to formulate fly rods that are best for Muskie, pike, and lake char.

The Rod

Your rod needs to be at least a medium to fast action rod, even better, a fast action rod should you be confident in casting one. The ideal muskie rod should be 10ft in length.

The added length helps with a few things when it comes to muskie fishing. Firstly the classic muskie figure of eight trick boat side is performed much easier with a longer rod (later on this). Secondly, the extra length helps with keeping contact with the fly by creating better angles to the fish when fighting it.

The longer rod also comes in handy when you are casting from a sitting position in a boat.

I prefer a 10wt fly rod when out for Muskie. Some may fish lighter, but in my experience, you don’t want to get caught fighting a big fish on light gear, especially not a muskie.

Read more about how to choose the right fly rod.

The Reel

Your reel needs to be able to stand up to a fair bit of force and pressure. It should have a decent backing capacity and smooth drag.

With the large WF lines you use for Muskie, a large arbor reel is recommended to comfortably hold the backing and fly line. The drag is important to help with those notorious tough first runs.

The Line

The fly line you use is very dependent on your tactics and the waters you are fishing. I tend to use heavy, intermediate lines in the northern areas, and I like to use rocket taper floating lines when fishing with surface flies for that addictive surface eat.

The flies used for muskies are not small, so a heavily forward-weighted fly line does help to turn them over.

Leaders and Tippet

This is where personal preference comes in. You must understand that we don’t get many shots at this fish, so it is important to use quality materials, especially the ones attached to the fish.

I fish a 9ft Maxima self-tied leader, and I use left Kreh’s 50% leader rule. The tippet section has some debate to it, and this is where the different choices come in.

Some anglers like to use trace wire for bite protection, and others use heavy fluorocarbon tippets. I’m in the latter pool of thought and use an 80 lbs fluoro tippet. I tie my flies on with a Rapala for extra movement.

fly fishing equipment - fly rod, reel, backpack, fly box and flies

What are the Best Flies and Sizes for Muskie

These freshwater torpedos are perfectly designed for speed and stealth. They ambush their prey utilizing their sheer speed and power to engulf the baitfish.

Muskie eats baitfish, this we know, and big Muskie eat big baitfish; therefore, we throw BIG flies.

Flies like the Devil’s tickler, Jared’s outlaw, and Ballok’s musky money are big baitfish imitations pushing water and catching fish.

It takes a bit of getting used to casting these massive flies, but it is great fun once you have the knack. The trick is to slow your casting stroke down without opening your casting ark too much. If your ark is opened too much, you will start to get tailing loops.

Watch the video below for better casting techniques.

The color of the baitfish patterns again depends on where you are fishing. I like to use more natural tans and browns to start with, and if I don’t have much luck, chartreuse and orange combo are my go-to choices.

Strategies and Techniques for Muskie

Ok, so we have found the water and have the gear to give us the best chance at a muskie. Now how do we get them to eat?

Fish up and close to the bank and any visible structure. I always like to hug the sides of the lake or river to start off. The deeper middle is no man’s land, and you may only get a cruising fish out there. Working all the structure and bays on the edges, stripping that fly fast and hard through the water.

You want the fly to push water and make a disturbance. Even if it is a deeper water pattern, it needs to be noticed. Many of the waters up north are brackish and dark, so the vibrations created help the fish zone in on the fly.

The fish will hit you hard! There isn’t anything subtle about a muskie eating, and if you are fishing a surface fly, then some aerobatics can be expected. I find the fish that jump are generally the smaller ones which are still great fun to catch, and any muskie hooked and landed is a special prize.

When you get hit hard, and the fish stays deep and peels line off the reel you know you are in with a massive brute. It is these fish that we dream of catching.

The handiest trick I have ever been shown is the ‘figure or eight’ trick. When I first learned of this, I must admit I was skeptical, but it has accounted for many a fish over the years and has now gotten my full acknowledgment of success.

Once you have stripped the fly in a few times without a take, bring the fly to the edge of the boat, and pull your leader in so just to have 4 ft of tippet and the fly in the water. Now dip the rod tip in the water and move the rod in a figure of eight motion for about 5-10 cycles. This often induces an eat from the tracking fish.

Muskie tracks the fly right to the boat and often hang under the boat while the angler is casting out again. The figure of eight trick is done to catch those large fish that hang under the boat waiting to strike. This trick counts for much more fish than you would expect and should be on every muskie angler’s arson of tricks.

Watch this video for a better understanding.

Conclusion

Muskie, take time and dedication on and off the water to master. Can one claim they have mastered catching muskie on the fly? I am not convinced.

I know that they are an awesome fish to target, and should you be so lucky to land one, take the moment in and cherish it because they don’t come around often.

Please feel free to comment in the below section. We love hearing from you guys and answering any questions you may have.

Remember to be safe and have fun out there.

Tight Lines!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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