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Featured in Musky Hunter Magazine, October/November 2022
As summer starts to wind down, the evenings across much of Musky country are already starting to cool off, and water temps are next. For most of us, fall is the time of year we look forward to all year long. As temps begin the steady slide toward ice up, large females start the race to put on as much weight as they can before the long winter.
The last month or so before hard water presents your best chance all year to bag a giant. This is the time of year we get to fish the big stuff…
Whereas we’ll usually err toward flies on the smaller side (5-7 inches) in the early season, for much of the summer and into fall, many of our go-to flies are singles in the 7-9 inch range. As we progress later into the season, many of the flies we swim for trophy-class fish are 10-18” long, have multiple articulations, include considerable weight tied in, and may require specialized heavyweight rods to cast.
With that in mind, an important yet surprisingly-often overlooked consideration to account for when choosing big flies is the rod(s) we’ll be fishing with. As a general rule, we usually recommend minimally using a 10-weight any time you’re targeting Musky. But whether you’re using a 10-, 12-weight, or something else, confidence in your double haul or a well-practiced two-handed cast is a must. Oh, and especially with big stuff on single hand rods, make sure to always keep your rod arm elbow tucked to your rib cage to protect your rotator cuff.
Okay, back on track now, Musky fly selection is a very personal thing…
A given Musky pattern can usually be classified as either a turn fly, jig fly, or a glide fly. As water temps start to cool, each swim type is particularly effective at triggering eats from mature fish in different scenarios and for different reasons.
Some familiar examples of turn flies are single patterns like the Bulkhead or Buford and articulated patterns like the Smoker or 747. With their spun head, these flies are particularly effective at “pushing water”, turning after the strip, and suspending. If you’ve ever watched a small baitfish, they usually kick/turn/glide, rather than kick/turn/stop, so a little bit of moving water helps these patterns with a more natural presentation. Turn flies like the 747 are well known for presenting an easy target for a following fish, and they belong in every self-respecting Musky angler’s fly box.
A couple well-proven examples of jig flies are the River Pig, the War Pig and their larger, multi-articulated big brother, the Hillbilly Deluxe. These patterns often walk/turn as part of their action, but most of the magic happens from jigging and the resulting erratic rise/fall presentation. There are times where the action from jig flies triggers eats like nothing else. Large patterns like the Hillbilly Deluxe also offer another important option for turning follows into eats. A productive tactic to mix things up with these flies is to have one angler jigging while the other figure 8s after each cast. Another great addition to your bag of tricks, one we’ve seen work for fish that are engaged in the 8 but reluctant to commit (or if you’re having a hard time making the turn wide enough for a really big fish), is letting the fly drop straight down. It often results in an eat on the fall or just after your fly touches bottom.
Glide flies are a personal favorite. They include characteristics from both Turn and Jig flies, and tied properly, they can do things in the water that were previously thought only possible with lures and conventional gear. Examples of Glide flies include single patterns like the Mechanical Bull or Magic Bullet, and larger, articulated patterns like the Pig Sticker or Glidezilla. Every fly mentioned in this article is tied most sparse in the tail to most dense in the head. Where and how we’re tying in weight is the primary difference between glide and jig flies. Another important consideration when tying or selecting glide flies is finding the right balance between making sure they’re dense enough to hold a profile yet sparse enough to cast comfortably (for traditional single-handed rods).
One caveat to fishing big flies is knowing when to mix things up and/or not fish them. Especially on higher density, smaller fisheries, it’s never a bad idea to match primary forage size. But if your goals this fall include catching your new personal best, then now’s the perfect time to make sure you’re ready with big flies for big fall Muskies.