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Musky: The fish of 10,000 Casts

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

Fly fishing for musky, also known as muskellunge, can be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and miserable experiences in angling. Musky are large, predatory fish that are native to North America and can be found in a variety of freshwater habitats, such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Here in the Shenandoah Valley we have musky that inhabit the Shenandoah River, as well as some other rivers in the area. I'm usually a fan of hibernating throughout winter, but if we happen to steal a warm day I can be tempted to get the boat out and go for a paddle.

Musky are most active in the wintertime. They tend to hold in a large pool and wait for an unsuspecting victim. They then shoot quickly out of their cover and grab the fish whole, impaling it with their teeth. Musky flies are typically large and designed to mimic the appearance of the fish's natural prey, here creek chubs and smallmouth bass. These flies are difficult to cast until you get the hang of it, and proper retrieval is required to entice a strike.

Tackle and equipment used are much larger than the typical fly rod. Musky are powerful fish so it is important to use a strong, high-quality rod and reel that are rated for larger species. Everyone I know uses a 10 weight rod that can handle both the flies and the fish. It's also a good idea to use no bite tippet or steel leaders, as musky have sharp teeth that can easily cut through lighter line.

When it comes to fly fishing technique, casting and retrieving the fly are key. Make as long a cast as possible aiming for downed trees and limbs, docks, and over cover. Strip the line back in a steady, rhythmic motion to imitate a swimming fish. Vary the speed of the retrieve occasionally prey. Musky will typically follow a fly before striking, so keep an eye out for the line to start moving or for a wake behind the fly, or they may even come straight up from the bottom a T bone the fly. Lastly before casting a figure 8 should be made by the boat with your rod tip and fly as musky really don't spook easily and strikes at the boat are somewhat common.

Finally, fishing for musky in the early morning and late evening, when the water is cooler and the light is lower can be more productive, yet cold. These fish eat big things and because of that they don't have to eat often like trout. Be patient and persistent when fly fishing if you really want a musky. If you do manage one understand it's quite an accomplishment and multiple fish days are usually not the norm. It's a lot of casting, a lot of waiting, and a lot of cold, but when you see a face full of teeth going for your fly that all goes away really fast, just like your backing.


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