My angling pal, musky guide Brad Bohen, told me he had been in need of turkey feathers for fly tying material. Do people who fly fish for musky always prefer a difficult path? He told me he smacked a flock of turkeys the other day. One big turkey dented the front end of his Land Cruiser. His rod holder rack, loaded with rods, was knocked off the suv, but my pal got his tying material. A few days later, he smacked a buck. I guess he needed buck tail as well. When I got in his vehicle I put on the seatbelt, secretly happy he doesn’t tie his flies with elk fur.
On Friday, November 2, we were the only humans on the West Fork of Wisconsin's Chippewa River & the solitude was appreciated. I spotted a large buck and, later, Brad spotted otters poking their heads through holes in thin ice hugging the shore. The bearded, cigar-smoking musky hunter, known to proudly display his esox-bloodied fingers, grinned while he made ‘schnuffling’ sounds – otter calls. I smiled & relished one of the main reasons I enjoy being around my fishy male friends.
It was more than chilly that morning on the water, but by the time my cold fingers had warmed and the wet gloves were stripped away, the musky and me had thawed enough to do battle.
We had 4-5 musky strikes and the first 2 were boated. We also had a follow. The third strike pissed me off. The fish should’ve been boated, but was missed due to my quasi salmon-trout set. I knew it’d be a let-down if the musky attacks ended on that note. But later, during a possible strike, a splash occurred behind my fly. On a firm strip set… the fly snagged a branch. False redemption. The last attacker of the day was a mini-musky – a super-sized Polish sausage with a big appetite and a bad aim. It lunged over my fly during its single strike.
My first missed strike, or that ‘son of a bit%$’, as I called it (since those words seem to come out of my mouth at no other time except when I lose a fish), taught me a lesson. I lost that fish simply due to my poor position in the boat. Earlier in the day, I’d come up short with casts due to line catching under my boots. So, I stripped line and kept my feet planted while twisting my body to keep the rod tip pointed at the fly. It’s hard to do a strip set when your elbow is jammed in your ribs, so the quasi salmon-trout set occurred & the musky was lost. Lesson learned.
Of course the successful musky hook-ups were exciting things! We were fishing along a ‘belly’ of the West Fork. Both fish attacked within 10’ of the boat. On the first fish’s strike, my set did not take and I plunged the rod tip in the water and began the figure 8. The fish immediately struck again and my strip-set was hard. After a brief fight, we boated a thick-bodied musky. Brad and I celebrated our first musky success together, passed a flask, & then took pictures. While that first fish had been out of Brad’s line of sight, the 2nd musky attack was visible to both guide and client. It was classic! Almost casually, strip, pause… strip, pause… in the water. The next moment the Beauford fly was slammed by a finned torpedo with teeth! Strip-set!! Yelling erupted from guide and client, and the more active fish fought hard against the long rod. It took Brad a couple tries to lift the fighter from the water. With the musky in the boat, I breathed more deeply. We had not wanted to lose that fight. Bite marks on our fish’s back from another musky were examined. Brad took more pictures, and I released the toothy torpedo.
We excitedly re-lived our musky moments, then I reported that all we needed was a good follow to obtain the trifecta of musky takes.
I don’t think more than 5 minutes passed and this occurred.
I was stripping in line & my fly was at least 20’ out when & I silently questioned, “Is that a follow?” I kept quiet, doubtful, yet trying to shift fully into ‘predator-mode’. Moments later, my doubt turned into a statement: “I’ve got a follow!” Actually, I think Brad and I announced it simultaneously, but a couple seconds were a blur. I do remember him adding, “And it’s a nice fish”, with a controlled excitement in his voice.
It was a chunky musky over 40” long and landing it would’ve met one of my goals for the year. What replays in my head now, is what followed the follow. I hesitated on the strip just prior to starting the figure 8. Somehow that tiny pause was different enough from the rhythmic ‘strip-pause’ which had kept the creature’s interest for at least 20 feet. I’d been presented with one slim opportunity to hook a larger musky. During the brief moment that my thought had over-ruled my instinct, the finned predator had won the game.
The day had been great in so many ways. For most fly anglers, good fishing and good company can’t be beat. Yet, briefly, I was frustrated. For the second year, I hadn’t met my musky goals.