Meet Chris Willen, a Musky Fishing Guide from Wisconsin. We are excited to add Chris to our ongoing blog series “Behind the Guides” presented by Costa Sunglasses.
FL: Where did you grow up, why did you start fishing?
Chris: I grew up in northern Illinois. I couldn’t tell ya why I started fishing, but as far back as I can remember I always loved it.
FL: Tell us about your introduction to Musky
Chris: First real musky experience was in northern Wisco at a very young age at a place called Aqualand. A tourist trap by another name. Never the less the old swimming pool they had in the back full of musky was the coolest thing I had ever seen. You could buy frogs and throw them to the hungry Musky. I was hooked, the savageness of the frog eating green machine had me.
FL: When did you start fly fishing for them? What was the difference between spin and fly fishing for them?
Chris: I did not start fly fishing for them until much later. I had already spent a lot of time chasing them with conventional musky tackle before I picked up a fly rod. I was with my good friend Tim Fischer the first time I landed a fly rod musky, we caught three that day. It was incredible the way the fish ate the fly. Really messed me up. It was not long after I decided to pack everything I had up and moved to the northwoods full time for musky season.
FL: When did you start guiding, have you seen the industry change since you started?
Chris: I started guiding in 2011. The biggest change I’ve seen in that time is just more people getting into Musky fishing. Even before I was guiding and we were just Musky fishing non-stop, not that many people fished musky with a fly. Now people don’t really bat an eye at it. Pretty cool to see the progression of “Musky with a fly? They don’t eat bugs?” to hardcore conventional Musky anglers seeing the benefits of what the fly has to offer.
FL: What makes Wisconsin a unique place to go fishing?
Chris: Northern Wisconsin is the Exotic Domestic destination. Sounds funny, but when you get off the beaten path and hop on the river it’s really amazing. Not a ton of human presence, and natural reproducing big fish! The scenery is gorgeous, and the tannic waters really play to a musky anglers advantage. Nothing beats river musky fishing in my opinion.
FL: When is the best time of year to fish for Musky?
Chris: Ya know that really is a loaded question. It’s no secret that Fall is a great time to hunt Musky, but the last few years we have been doing pretty well all season. The Springtime early stuff can be totally nuts if you hit it right. Summertime early morning/evening topwater fishing is hard to beat. Working for it in the fall with every article of clothing you own on has its perks too!
FL: What are some adjectives that come to mind when you describe a Musky?
Chris: Savage, Ruthless, Big, Mean, Green, Angry, Frustrating, Discouraging, Smart, Violent, Defeating, Rewarding
FL: How old do Musky get?
Chris: There have been documented fish in the 30 year range
FL: If you had to choose one fly to fish for Musky what would it be?
Chris: Such a hard question because like any tool they are not universal. Each one has a time and a place where it shines. To me, they are so situational. But, have to choose one… I would have to say a buck-tail game changer. One of my favorites to tie and fish. Unique swimming action, along with the bouncy to keep it up off the bottom of our shallow rivers. Ask me again in a week, the answer might change.
FL: What kind of gear are you using to target these fish?
Chris: Having the right gear for musky fishing is huge! You want to have a Musky specific rod, it really helps. The extended fighting butts really help you figure 8 and with the backhand casting. Anti Fatigue Factor is really important with casting musky flies all day. Paring your rod with the right line is key, as is the fly to the line your using. Everything has its time and place. Your leader set up is super critical. I demand wire bite guards on my leaders. It’s not an option. No matter what pound fluorocarbon or mono leader you risk the chances of a bite off. Could be the musky of a lifetime! Extra Large landing nets, long pliers, hook cutters, jaw spreaders all need to be on hand. These fish are fragile, they need to be handled properly and with the right release tools.
FL: Do you have a favorite pair of Costa’s to wear on the water?
Chris: For me, the Permits in the Copper Silver Mirror are my go to. That lens is really great on our tannic water. The Sunrise Silver Mirror is a must have though for cloudy days, early morning and late evening. Seeing following Musky is really important. You need to be able to see the fish to be able to figure 8 properly.
FL: Do you have a favorite fish you have caught?
Chris: My favorite musky, well ya have to love them all but this one really stands out. Tim Fischer and I were doing our annual Wounded Warriors in Action trip in October. WWII takes Purple Heart veterans on outdoor sporting activities to honor their service in our military, and these heroes chose musky on the fly. Most of these gentlemen had never fly fished before, including Tyler in my boat. Throughout the day he thought maybe he had a fish a few times, snagging some branches and the bottom a couple times, we had some false alarms. The final “I got one” of the day was pretty insane! Tyler was in the back of my skiff and as I look back over my shoulder to see what he had going on I see this GIANT fall Musky. I started barking at Tyler to keep the line tight and the rod low, don’t stop pulling, don’t give it an inch, just hold it, use the rod! The fish fought amazing, but Tyler held his own even after the fish went under the boat and bent the rod in half… Fish hit the bag and I remember saying sorry for yelling, and Tyler from Texas said “Hell, that ain’t yellin!” A hilarious moment after sure chaos of a first Musky Measuring 48 3/4′ and I am sure was in the 30-pound class.
FL: Tell us about the Tiger Musky, where does this breed come from?
Chris: Tiger Musky is a sterile hybrid from Northern Pike and Musky. They can be made in a hatchery or happen naturally in the wild. They generally grow faster than a pure strain musky, but do not live as long. For us in our rivers they are a rare treat, they are naturally occurring. Not seen too often and always cherished when they hit the net. Extremely gorgeous fish with vivid markings and vibrant fins they really are something special.
FL: One tip that will make people a better musky fisherman?
Chris: The best advice I can give to be a better musky fisherman is to just go. Go as much as you can. Cast a lot, then cast some more. The more Musky you see, the better you can read their movements and convert the following fish into the eating fish. The more you can recognize patterns of where the fish sits and why it’s sitting there the better off you will be. Musky fishing is really Musky hunting, it’s important to remember that.
FL: Favorite beer, Movie, Song?
Chris: Whiskey, Tommy Boy. Song…depends on how the fishing was that day…