On a recent trip to the heart of Wisconsin’s muskie country, I had the opportunity to fish with my friends, veteran fly fishing guide Chris Willen and Tim Fischer, who’s fishing and guiding experiences have taken him from the Rocky Mountains to the Caribbean.
We set out on an October morning chasing the elusive muskie with stout 10- and 11-weight rods and heavy sinking lines that terminated in leaders that tapered from 40- to 30-pound fluorocarbon and finally 40-pound coated wire. The flies were monstrous—the type that, just looking at them, makes your arm sore. The Big Foosa and Optimus Swine flies we used were 8- and 10-inch assemblies of fur and feathers that surged and undulated enticingly with each strip of the line.
Chris assured us that the river we would fish held active muskies, and he was right as our casts toward the bank attracted attention almost right away. The first muskie appeared when Tim landed a fly at the water’s edge. Two strips into the retrieve the fish boiled but didn’t take the fly. He stripped all the way to the boat and finished with a sweeping figure-8, but the fish never showed again.
As Tim worked his retrieve, I cast a little farther downriver and began stripping line. This time a muskie’s massive head emerged from the surface, but missed the fly. Again, it was the last we saw of that fish. But at least we knew we were in the right area, and the fish were ready to play.
We drifted about a mile farther downriver before a third muskie, smaller than either of the first two, appeared. Once again, no strike followed. We were in deep conversation about fly selection and retrieve speed when Tim shouted, "I got one!" A quick glimpse of the fish confirmed it was a good one, and after a brief but aggressive battle, Chris scooped it with his oversize net. After a few pictures and a kiss on the head, it was released. We were on the board!
Tim Fischer broke the ice with this fine muskie.
The action slowed after that, and with about three-quarters of the day gone and our bellies full of sandwiches, we felt like it was over for good. We were wrong.
I was in the bow and casting to a downed log when a big muskie, bent on murder, attacked the giant fly on the first strip. If you haven’t hooked a muskie on fly gear, it’s a little like holding onto a long leash that’s attached to the collar of a large out-of-control dog. You’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next.
The author with his dose of autumn fury.
After an intense fight that was probably shorter than what it seemed, Chris was ready with the net and we had our second fish in the boat. My fall was complete!
All in all, we saw 5 muskies and landed 2 of them—and got to experience the fury of the elusive muskellunge.
Bonus Video: Topwater Pike