Flylords: What is your background? Can you give us a quick summary of who you are and what started your craze for targeting muskie? What region are you from? How long have you been fishing for?
Joe: Originally from upstate New York, near Saratoga Springs. My work background includes the unique opportunity to have worked in product design and production of USA made fly lines and fly rods (previously at Cortland Line Company, and fly rods now at Thomas & Thomas). Muskies have been a fascination for about a decade now, starting with ice fishing for stocked tiger muskies and graduating to taking big wild purebreds on fly gear.
Flylords: What Rod/line weight is best, wire or fluorocarbon leader, is a net needed, what flies do you tie?
Joe: My favorite combination for muskies is an 11wt rod with a fast sinking 350 or 400gn fly line, and a huge net. Most of my patterns are 7″-9″ and imitate specific natural baitfish. Leader question is tricky – due to sourcing difficulties for items I prefer to use, I suggest the use of titanium wire. Keep in mind that material hardness, not tensile strength, is what protects you from bite-offs. It doesn’t matter if gamma soft fluoro has a tensile strength of 130 pounds because teeth go through it twice as easily as #40 Mason Hard Mono.
Flylords: What are some streamer tactics you use?
Joe: Lots of tactics. On lakes or big river water, I like to use a long mono leader, usually 50lb mono, between my fly line and my bite guard. This allows the fly line to sink the length of the leader very quickly before the resistance of the fly begins to inhibit the sink. With a floating or semi-buoyant fly, this causes the leader to achieve a near vertical angle prior to the first strip. The first few strips will pull the fly nearly straight down with a bubble trail, which can cause an active suspended muskie to intercept the fly.
Flylords: What type of landscapes and hydrology do you typically look for, what depth is best, is it possible to wade or is a drift boat better, what season is most productive?
Joe: In rivers, muskies will often hold in the slack water adjacent to the powerful current or in the deep current at the head of a big pool. Keep in mind that they use their lateral line to detect vibration in the water, and this sense is most keen in open water. Although most fish benefit from some cover for protection, muskies are more likely to want to eat the fish using the cover than to hold tight against cover themselves. Try fishing one cast distance away from distinct structure rather than casting at it, and you will encounter more adult muskies that way. Wade fishing can be productive, but the largest fish prefer to stay in deeper water and don’t often follow flies into the shallows. Muskies can be targeted throughout the year (although you want to let them be during the early spring spawning period). Summer and late fall can both be good times to catch them as well, but the holding locations and presentations can change dramatically on the same body of water.
Flylords: If fishing is slow, what do you do to increase activity? Do you switch location? Switch species? What do you do?
Joe: Muskies aren’t going to catch themselves, so if you want to catch one you are going to need to be committed to it. Many of the fish I have caught have been at times where there was zero positive feedback for the day until the bite. Muskies are a low light predator, so staying out until dark really increases your chances of encountering or catching a fish. Taking a break, eating some food, getting caffeinated – do whatever it takes to stay out on the water even when things are slow. I would tell any beginner muskie angler to stay out on the water as long as possible if they want to catch a muskie on a fly, it can make the difference between an eat and the fish spooking after seeing the angler.
Questions by Collin Terchanik, a Flylords contributor out of Central Pennsylvania. Check him out on Instagram @c_terch!