You may have to test big lakes and open water to find muskie salvation.
Sidling up to the bar at one of the legendary fisherman’s hangouts that populate the north country—from Bemidji, Minnesota to Hayward, Wisconsin, to Clayton, New York—can be a little disheartening.
While sipping a favorite libation you may notice all the dusty, stuffed muskies, angrily staring down from the walls, and a near wallpaper of faded photos featuring giant, dead fish from days gone by. “The good old days” some old-timer might say, adding that in his or her time they were all as long as your leg and as easy to catch as a bluegill.
That barrage could make you wonder if all the modern day pain and effort of catching a muskie on the fly is worth it.
Luckily for us muskie fanatics, this could be your year to stop the questioning and finally catch that fish of your dreams. Thanks to a catch-and-release ethic among all but a few stubborn anglers, and strict bag limits on designated trophy waters, plus improved water quality on many Esox fisheries, right now is a good time to catch your first musky on the fly. It’s also a great time for veteran muskie hunters to find the biggest fish of their lives, those elusive 50-plus inchers.
Evidence: in 2015 Robert Hawkins landed an incredible, 57-inch long, fly rod world record muskie on Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota; and, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologists, while electroshocking last spring for walleye on Lake Mille Lacs, turned up a potential new world-record muskie measuring 61 ½ inches long, a fish estimated to weigh between 55 and 75 pounds. The long standing all time world record musky, caught by Cal Johnson on Lake Court Oreilles, Wisconsin back in 1949, measured 60 1/4 inches and weighed 67 pounds 8 ounces.
So how and where do you look for a muskie approaching those hefty dimensions? Those of us who hunt Esox masquinongy with a fly already know the “Fish of 10,000 Casts” is never easy. In fact, finding a muskie over 50 inches on any gear takes the game to a whole new level of difficulty. A muskie guide once told me, “Dude, you gotta have a lot of free time and a short term memory to do what you do.”
For starters, upping the odds for a trophy muskie requires a major change of strategy. As tempting as it is, spending all your fishing time on high percentage “action water” (large numbers of smaller fish) while hoping for one truly big fish, is definitely not the way to encounter a monster. The smart money plays on big water, meaning lakes and rivers where genetics and the forage base—suckers, ciscoes, shad and panfish—support large fish with impressive lengths and girths.