Thursday, September 22, 2011

FALL MUSKY PREVIEW - The Anglers' Report 2011

   Predictions are in for the ‘Fall Bite’ by those hot on the Musky trail!  While I can’t say I received the well-rounded Midwestern fly angling responses that I’d hoped for, I received great responses from N. Wisco anglers and from a Minnesota guide.  I’ve even included a report from a non-fly angler & wish I had time to hunt down a couple more.  
   Now on to business.  I posted the fly anglers’ responses below from northern to southern regions & by state.  To keep them as timely as possible, I would’ve liked to have posted responses as soon as I’d received them.  However, I felt it wise to post all responses at the same time.  Predictions for a good fall feedbag were generally high, but the early season fishing success was quite variable.  Why?  I dunno; too many variables & not enough responses to even make a good guess.  However, I’ll make a bad guess and say that regional weather took a big slice out of my fish pie.  My warm water fishing this year bit…& it was almost the only thing that did bite.  Even the Smallies frequently snubbed my flies & the closer to home (further south) I fished the less time I spent with a bent-over rod. 
   I hope you take a gander at the responses below & let the anglers get you powered up to hop on the Musky Trail for the big ‘Fall Bite’!  While you’re at it, check out the anglers’ websites to learn a little more about where and how to fish for Musky.  I wish everyone fun & successful fishing.  I know that when the opportunity strikes I’ll be hitting the water every chance I get!  (Posted 9/22/11. Thanks anglers! ~Twitch)

Brad Bohen (
   Brad heads up Musky Country Outfitters in Northern Wisconsin.  He spends May through November getting fishy on the flowages, lakes and rivers of the Hayward Lakes Area.  Brad is a full-time guide, angler, and fly fishing educator who believes that MCO & its guides provide anglers ‘a professionally hosted fly fishing experience second to none’.  Brad & MCO offer  3-day Musky fly fishing classes throughout much of the fishing season.

Bill Sherer (
   Bill and his wife, Dawn, own and operate the We Tie It Fly Shop in Boulder Junction, WI.  Through his ‘Northern Adventures Guide Service’, Bill guides fly anglers across N. Wisconsin, especially for Muskies.  Bill also teaches fly tying and fly fishing classes, and he designs flies for various manufacturers.

Pat Ehlers (
      Pat is the owner of The Fly Fishers Inc., Milwaukee, WI.  Pat has taught fly casting and fly tying classes & has been a speaker and instructor at shows & seminars throughout the U.S.  Pat’s other pursuits include the development, for warm water fishing, of a line of fly rods, & a series of fly lines(for Bass and Musky). He is a contract/royalty fly tier & is a writer for various fly fishing media outlets.

   Kip heads up Wildwood Float Trips, based out of Monticello, MN. He is a full-time fly fishing guide. Much of Wildwood’s guided fishing occurs on Minnesota’s Upper Mississippi, St.Croix, Rum, Kettle, and St. Louis Rivers. Kip also holds seminars at most of the major shows and offers tying and casting classes. In October, Kip plans to host a 3-day, 3-river, Minnesota Musky Tour.  

Steve Ruhmann (
   Steve is the president of the Flatlanders Chapter of Muskies, Inc.  He has been fishing for Muskies for 14 years & primarily uses baitcasting equipment.  He strictly fishes for Muskies most of the open water season.  Wisconsin areas fished include Lake of the Woods, otherwise he’ll be fishing every weekend at either Madison Chain of Lakes, or waterways in Polk, Vilas or Oneida counties. He landed his personal best 50” Musky this August.


[BRAD]  At Musky Country Outfitters we have experienced an exceptional spring and summer as far as musky on the fly has gone in 2011.  We have had to work for the fish at times...but have been consistently bringing both numbers and quality fish to hand.  If this trend continues as expected MCO will shatter its best season ever (2010) with the number of boated musky on a fly.  Typically this musky on the fly season has been challenging and rewarding for both the MCO guide staff and our clients.  I'd rate the 2011 spring/summer as a bit above average.

[BILL]  In the past 15 years I have averaged between 150 and 200 muskies per year, my lightest year was 145, the most I ever boated was 192, so if I continue on the trend I am on now, I should get very close to or exceed my best years...  I had an exceptional year for all species of fish this year, but then I fish a much larger geographic region than most anglers do.  We had the best Walleye bite I have experienced in quite some time this spring, the trophy trout fishing extended even into late June, then we had exceptional Smallmouth Bass fishing all the way through August, I had one of the best Pike years I have had in a long time, and from late spring to present I have experienced some excellent Musky fishing, all of this fishing is on the fly of course.  We had some slow times during high water or cold front times, but these typically only lasted for a couple of days and were not really a factor in my overall fishing success this season.

[PAT]  River muskies have been pretty good to us this summer. I filmed a show, LL Bean's Guide to the Outdoors with Tim Rajeff this past July. We had 3 days to film and were affected by a major front going through, 98 to 78 degrees in an hour and it messed up our smallmouth fishing some. We were able to pick the river apart and get some good film. On the third day I took us to a river with muskies to try and hit a home run on the last day and Tim caught one around 30" for the camera. It really enhanced the shoot. So we've been able to catch a few this year when we have gone out.

[KIP]  I think this summer has been slower than I would have hoped.  I think that it had everything to do with unstable weather patterns throughout the summer and the extremely high water that we had a good portion of the summer.  I don't think the fish could settle into the happy spots and eat like we want them to…I was happy just to dial in some Smallmouth for most of the summer.

[STEVE]  Fishing has been very streaky this year with smaller windows.  One day they are on and then the next day with what would be ideal conditions you can’t even buy a follow. 


[BRAD]  Yes this exceptional spring and summer have set up the autumn to have big, healthy and feisty predator fish.  Great forage producing conditions such as we have been experiencing this season stack the deck in the favor of great autumn conditions as far as fish health and vigor are concerned.

[BILL]  We are definitely drier than last year, especially since early August, which changed the way I approached my Musky fishing late in the Summer and into this early Fall.  ..I think we started into a fall pattern earlier than normal on the rivers I fish, since mid-August the fish have definitely changed their feeding patterns - this is probably due to the change of season and the low water conditions we are experiencing.
   Most of the regional rivers are very low due to the slight rainfall we have had recently, low water means clear water, and the fish are taking very bright flies right now.  In the past month I have been exclusively using a 4/0 Perch colored Figure-8 and catching lots of Muskies.  When I change flies to a Sucker or Smallie color, I can't even get a follow, but when I change back to the Perch, the fish jump all over it!  I believe the fish will stay on this pattern until we get some significant rainfall and the water gets higher and cloudier, then they will immediately switch over to the Sucker colors, they may switch without the rain if we get significantly colder conditions, but usually that coincides with some decent fall rains.

[PAT]  I don't think the weather this year will have any effect on the fishing this fall. I think it will depend on the weather that we get in the next 2 months.

[KIP]  I think the weather will have an effect on the fish this fall; how can it not? 

[STEVE]  The heat of this summer made the fishing very tough.  As things cooled down towards the end of August, the fishing improved.


[BRAD]  It's silly in my mind to predict something like this.  The best advice I can give is to get out there and give it a whirl whenever you can.  An old time musky guide once told me...They are all good...some are just better than others.  (I took it to mean days on the water;)  Fall is always Prime for this fall...I'll predict it for you in December after I have a better handle on it!

[BILL]  Currently I have 109 Muskies in the boat for this season and I don't see that letting up anytime soon; the "Fall Bite" is already on as far as I'm concerned.  With a little luck and stable weather conditions we may have the best extended fall Musky bite we have seen in recent memory - let's hope so!
   (Excerpt from update on 9/23/11:  Get to the Northwoods asap, this ride won’t last forever, but it will be great for the next few weeks - hopefully through the middle of November!
   Currently we have 126 Muskies in the boat for this season and the best is yet to come, we saw 24 and put 10 in the boat in the past 2 days!  Go out and get em')

[PAT]  I don’t see why we won’t have good fall fishing.  Once that cold weather hits the apex predators start to eat and I think this year will be the same as long as there’s no weather curveballs thrown at us.

[KIP]  Things are finally settling in and this should set up for a very good fall bite.  If the weather and the flows on the bigger rivers that I concentrate on remain for the most part steady things should be good.  Now that the water is low, the fish should begin to concentrate in the deeper water and when that water temp begins to really drop the alarms should go off for them.  Musky are somewhat a creature of habit (when they’re not acting like moody muskies) and once they're happier and more content they should begin the fall feedbag.  Muskies are a lot like kids, they don't like when their surroundings change.  Let's hope the fall is steady as she goes and they get happy. 
  Good luck to all fall musky hunters it should be if nothing else, interesting.

[STEVE]  I think the fall bite is going to rock.   Too many inconsistencies throughout the spring and summer should have these fish rev'ed up this fall...... I hope.   

Thursday, September 8, 2011

THE CALM BEFORE THE BITE ~ The WI-MN Diaries (Part 3, Sept 3-4, 2011)

   Prime Musky season is quickly approaching.  The sun is warm but the wind is crisp and delightful.  The green of the trees and weeds are just past their prime.  The grass no longer grows at a lawnmower-burn-out pace.  Fall is nearly here & two nights past, I dreamt of Musky follows. 
   In honor of Labor Day weekend, a good buddy and I worked-out our casting arms with 10wts on Wisconsin’s Flambeau and Chippewa Rivers.  On Saturday, we’d planned the Flambeau float with a mid-afternoon stoppage for meals and rest.  Then, back to Musky water before dusk, to allow our eyes & other senses to adjust to the waning light, while continuing to fly fish into the night.  However, too little discipline (or too much passion) birthed 12-hours of casting and rowing, accompanied by fatigue and empty bellies.  Soon it was 830pm, darkening, with a waning moon and only one small light to guide our casting, rowing, fly changing… potential fish landing.  Dang!  Our fun and earnest hunt for the apex predator kept us from realistically and smartly exploring these creatures’ night-time habits.  We headed back to camp after loading the pontoon on the trailer.  I truly hope for another post-afternoon opportunity.  24-hrs on the fly/night fishing for Musky is on my bucket list, for good or bad, sane or crazy reasons. 
   Did I mention my buddy landed a Musky?  It was small enough that he didn’t want a photo to commemorate his first WI Musky on the fly.  However, I noted he sat back in the pontoon with a satisfied look about himself and his primary focus then appeared to be setting me up on good Musky water.  Now that’s a mighty fine friend.  He also fished successfully with an 8wt landing Smallies.  I kept to the 10wt and ended up dry, as far as Muskies go.
   Sunday greeted us with rain and a late start.   Throughout the day, the skies would cloud over and it would rain.  Then, after an indeterminate amount of time wearing hood-covered hats, we’d look up from our fishing and note the skies were blue yet again.  Hoods on, hoods off.  We’d also broken out the waders; another sure sign fall was on the way.  All in all, however, it was a lovely day. 
   No Muskies landed on Sunday.  However, at the start of the float, in deep, fast water I had a ~40” Musky follow my fly.  Figure 8 but no take.  Yet, the line was shooting out beautifully, the fly was hitting the targets, & I had a follow.  I was stoked!  The only fish landed Sunday on the Chippewa was a Smallie on a Musky fly.  We tried a variety of flies, but the Musky, the Musky follow, and the little Smallie with a Musky appetite all came on the ‘Supercharger’.  This fly is a Jared Ehlers creation; a quick tie which presents with a large profile and excellent action in the water along with a nice ease of casting. .  The photo shown is a Supercharger but with an added orange marabou collar.
   The weather patterns varied throughout the weekend so how did that really affect the fishing?  After our final day of Musky hunting, we stopped in at Wannigan’s in the town of Winter for broasted chicken.  Greg, the owner whose business is next to a popular take-out spot on the Chip, told us that the fishing seemed to have been slow this year, attributing it to the hot summer temps.  So I’ve been wondering, what has Midwestern Musky fishing really been like this year; a typical year, slower than usual, or ???  And, will this year's spring and summer weather have any effect on the upcoming Fall Bite?
   I’ve decided to take these questions to the folks who have been fishing for Musky as much as I wish I could.  I’ve e-mailed Midwestern Musky guides, and also fly shop owners who cater to those who crave the pursuit of toothy critters.  Of course, the hope is for a good response.  (UPDATE:  The Fall Preview post, including the anglers' responses, is posted on my general posting (or Home) page. It will remain there until the end of November.  After that time, I will move it to the 'Featured Article' page. -Thanks, Twitch. 9/22/11)

   As for my predictions:  I believe the Musky Bite was slow this season & that their prey did not flourish due to the same suboptimal weather conditions.  If so, the Musky were able to feed adequately, but their typical body mass for this time of year is on the low side of normal.  With that in mind, Esox will have enough stored energy to aggressively pursue their forage base and will do so.  They will instinctively understanding the need to play catch-up in order to have the stored energy reserves available to survive the winter and be ready to spawn in spring.  To get to the point, I predict the Musky will behave like dogs left alone in meat markets and the fly angler will simply need to locate those markets.