In the South we are guilty of thinking of fly fishing as either trout or saltwater. There’s a few specialty groups that search for striped bass, largemouth, or bluegill. However, in the darkest recesses of the fly world there is the musky crew. This incredibly discrete group of anglers typically travel to eastern Tennessee or Virginia for their desired catch and utilize 11 wt rods to throw giant flies. Fly fishing for musky is incredibly challenging but when you watch a huge musky crush your fly it will all be worth it.
Big flies require a proper rod. An undersized rod will wear you down since musky fishing is an active hunt. Ideally a 10wt or 11wt rod is what we recommend. Some anglers will use a 9wt and enjoy it since it’s a little easier to grip but they are also throwing smaller streamers. G-Loomis IMX and the Sage Payload are our current favorite rods. If you have been trout fishing for a few years we recommend getting some practice with big rods. Going from a 4wt to an 11wt will cause joint and muscle issues so get some healthy reps before your trip. If you have a buddy with an 8wt getting some casting practice with that is also a good idea.
When you hook into a musky your first thought is they will be runners but they aren’t. Musky are fighters so this means you don’t need a super large arbor reel or crazy drag system. You do however need a reliable reel that can handle a long fight and is comfortable to handle all day. The Lamson Guru 9+ is a great budget reel but it’s only recommended for 10wt line. The Nautilus CCF-X2 is a heavy duty reel that can handle musky and plenty of other toothy critters.
Line and Leader Setup
Big streamers require sinking line with short heads to launch big streamers. Most lines recommended for large streamers are heavier than box rated and this is due to the fact that modern fly rods are incredibly fast action so they need a little extra help loading up. When it comes to the business end of the line wire is king. Fluorocarbon is used by some anglers as it can handle bites from toothy critters but it’s not bite proof. All anglers know that gear always fails at the worst time so we always recommend wire as it’s bite proof. A basic leader set up is 36inches of heavy mono followed by 18inches of wire. There are also pre-made rigs that have all this done for you but they can get pricey since they have to be hand made.
We won’t go very deep into fly selection because fly selection is highly based on who you talk to. Some anglers are happy with 8-10″ while other refuse to throw anything smaller than 15inches. When first starting out we recommend something in the 10inch range. With the right rod setup anglers should be able to cast all day with little fatigue. Remember when your ego gets big and you want to throw an 18″ streamer that something that big will feel like throwing a wet sock in about 45 minutes. Color selection is also very controversial. A good basic color assortment is fire tiger, cream/tan, and all black. Tying your own flies is fun and rewarding but musky flies can be tricky. Musky flies require expensive materials and are time consuming so we recommend purchasing a few flies to start. There are many local tiers that can make flies to your exact liking or an even better idea is to tell them what area you will be fishing so they can tailor your flies to that region.
A key piece of gear that is often overlooked till you need it is pliers. A fly in the far corner of a musky’s mouth is not a place you want to put your fingers. In a perfect world the musky would stay perfectly still, your hook is debarbed, and the fly would be stuck in an easy to get place. This will probably never happen so have heavy duty pliers handy. Hatch and Simms make great pliers that can also cut wire tippet and probably open a beer. If you’re a real dirt bag stop by the hardware store and get some pliers. We want everyone to come home with ten fingers.
Now that you have your basic set up it’s time to get out. A local musky guide for your first trip would be incredibly helpful to shorten the learning curve or a trusted buddy that’s familiar with musky fishing. Remember if you do get lucky and catch a ghost don’t tag any locations on social media. The quickest way to never get a second trip is to tag the river. Musky take a while to grow large and there are only certain rivers that contain them so there’s always the chance for over fishing. Tagging responsibly helps everyone, especially our fishy friends.