You’ve probably heard the old adage “Never bring a knife to a gunfight.” This proverb loudly rang true during a mid-winter muskie float with my buddy, Zaz. The weekend forecast was set to be another one of those “unseasonably warm” ones, and we knew we had to take full advantage. This trip out to central Pennsylvania was meant to be an exploratory fishing break from winter steelhead up north in New York.
The night before our first floating day, we got the Flylords’ Flycraft into fishing shape to chase some muskie in bigger waters. The following morning, we hit our favorite breakfast spot, loaded-up on snacks and headed to the water to shuttle cars and get on the water in our first float in the ‘craft.
The launch went smoothly and after a while, we entered a piece of water that we know holds muskie this time of year. We started covering water the moment we pulled into the hot zone, throwing large flies and focusing on the banks. We saw plenty of muskie holding along the bottom but none seemed too impressed with our flies, so we set down the big-fly rods, and reached for something with a bit more finesse, to fish the lower half of the “muskie section.”
With only a couple of casts left before we drifted out of the zone, I tied on an articulated streamer that I had originally tied with trout in mind. After a few unanswered casts, I finally saw what I was hoping for, a decent-sized Muskie hot on the trail of my streamer. I held my breath as my knees went a little weak.
The fish turned away from the fly right before I had a chance to get my figure-8 going, so I made a quick cast and dropped the fly back in front of the fish. The fly fell straight down in the fish’s field of view. Out for blood, the muskie did a quick 180 and came right back towards my fly. I gave the fly a twitch, another free fall and the fish nosed up and sucked the fly into its jaws.
Everyone knows that situation when you have a fish eat the fly right in front of you. You’re repeating to yourself, in your head, to not hookset as hard as physically possible. Well, I couldn’t resist the urge, and strip-set as if I was burying my fly into a meter-long GT. As I did the wet rod-grip slipped straight out of my hands. I watched all the tension leave the line and with a simple handshake, the fish spit the fly out of its mouth right next to the boat. Idiot move on my part.
As we floated out of the section, the scene kept playing out in my mind, and I knew we needed to hit the water again tomorrow for redemption. We originally planned on a different float for trout the next day, but after seeing some big fish and f**king up a boat side eat it was time for round 2.
The following morning we revisited our morning ritual, launched the boat and anxiously began our downstream journey towards the “muskie stretch.” Since we had had success with smaller flies the previous day, we set aside the big rods and stuck to what we knew got responses from the fish. As we came upon the juiciest part of the float, I switched back to the 6 WT with a floating line, and the same trout streamer to swing the fly through the pockets where we had seen muskies the day before.
On around my 10th cast, I made a far cast across the hole and let the fly sink, twitching it along the river bottom as it came through the meat of the channel. Twitch, twitch, Sink. Twitch, twitch, sink…twitch and my fly stopped dead. I strip-set, lifted the rod and the fish took off.
I didn’t really know what I had hooked at first but when the fish took off downstream and came up to the surface, I realized what I had just hooked on a very underpowered rod. The fight was on. Zaz quickly rowed us over to the shallows where I was able to hop out and hit creek bottom chasing the fish downstream on foot.
I don’t know many people that can say they’ve seen their backing on a muskie, but I have, twice. After 5-10 minutes of putting the max load on the rod, and hoping the 30# fluoro bite guard was going to hold, the fish finally came close enough where Zaz was able to net the big girl.
I couldn’t believe what we had just done. This was the biggest freshwater fish I had ever seen. After some quick hero shots, we taped the beast out at 44-inches (111 cm) and sent her back to her hunting grounds.
Safe to say, muskie fishing has now been completely ruined for me. Now to find that 50″…