So you think you want to target Musky?

Musky are traditionally known as the fish of 10,000 casts! So just take your fish of 1,000 casts (our beloved steelhead) and multiply by 10. Okay, okay, it’s not quite that bad for most folks. Once you figure out where, when and why you’ll raise those odds (well, the why is often still a mystery because we’re a sick breed).

These are a couple fish from friends I've taken out and managed to get them into their first musky, first trips for both! So stoked for both!


This one turned out to be a nice 44" fish! This kid is just known as "boy wonder"....dude is fishy as hell (you can find him somewhere fishing around the Bend area...maybe even one of those local shops).


Where should you start?​

Let’s start with the when. Short answer? Whenever you can. I’ve personally caught tiger muskies nearly every month of the year, partially to prove a point and partially just because I really love targeting these huge predators. Late Spring through early Summer tend to be the best for seeing the most fish, but you’ll also see the most people these times. If you’re just starting out, this is the time that I would recommend because of the visuals of seeing where fish are holding in addition to far more active fish in general, not to mention the weather is typically outstanding (nice air temps, nice water temps, etc). I could get into moon phases here as well, but in short, majors and minors are your friends as are several days around a full or a new moon. Once you’ve got a few under your belt, then you can start trophy hunting or fishing for them more on your own terms. Much like their midwestern counterparts, Fall will put out the largest fish of the year, generally speaking. Personally, my half dozen largest fish have come late October through November (except for one outlier—there are always outliers in every population—there’s a reason every single population has a bell curve, but I digress) & while you definitely will not see nearly as many fish as earlier in the year, chances are really good that the size class will be an entirely different level.

Moving on to the how.

Tools of the trade:

For rods, I prefer a 10-11wt, moderate action. I happen to be a glass geek and fish an Epic Bandit & Steffen Brothers 10/11wt for much of my tiger musky fishing (yep, I’m weird that way and that type of a rod definitely isn’t for everybody), but your favorite moderate action 9-11wt will work just fine (for many of the flies I tie, I could use an 8wt if I were so inclined). The rod isn’t really for the fish, it’s more to easily cast the flies that you’re fishing since you’ll be casting all day long to structure (or to fish if you’re fishing weed beds and other areas where fish are easily visible). That said, you'll be thankful for a 10wt if you hook that fish of a lifetime.

For reels, I’d recommend something that balances out whatever rod you’re using. Drag is not important at all. If you’re fighting a fish off of the reel, that very well could be a lost fish. While muskies (and by extension, tigers) do pull hard, they are not going to ever be ripping line like a steelhead and you can’t be afraid to really put the screws to them because as soon as they’re hooked, they’re going to head to the closest structure. If they get there, it’s game over for you (and sometimes the fish). Basically, a line holder is what you should be looking for in a reel

For lines, if you’re primarily fishing Spring and Summer, an intermediate shooting head (OBS, Cortland Compact, SA Titan) type of line is going to be your go-to line because of most of the areas you’ll likely be fishing. For me, I’ve come to prefer using a type 3 and a type 6 (I’m partial to Cortland Compact lines) for the majority of my fishing with the intermediate coming into play on the flats where more sight fishing takes place. I’ve found that by fishing a little deeper, with our water clarity, simply puts more fish in the net plain and simple & for fish that don't come easily, this can be important.

For leaders, I keep it simple. 3-5’ of straight 40lb fluoro. That’s it. The longer side of that if it’s on the intermediate and the shorter side if fishing a sinking line. The terminal end is always going to be a large loop (large enough to pass a fly with attached bite tippet through). Then, for a bite guard, I tend to use either a .018” black coated 7x7 wire or a heavy hard fluoro (there are a few out there….not all are created equal)… okay, exit the fluoro/wire debate here but suffice it to say, if you're using a heavy fluoro or hard mono, it's not a matter of "if", but "when" you get bit off (I haven't yet on fluoro....knock on wood...yet), so I'd recommend wire.

Additional tools: Long pliers, hook cutters, jaw spreaders, hook hone. I think that these shouldn’t have to be mentioned, but knowing how my own brain forgets things, I’m mentioning them. One tool to NOT bring are boga grips. They are great at ripping holes in musky mouths. Learn the gill plate grip. There are lots of YouTube videos on it, so I'll not really touch on it much more here. Bottom line, it's far safer for the fish.

For a net, you really need the largest knotless, rubber coated, deep bagged net that you can both afford and have the room for. A cradle works great, but only if you have another angler on the boat with you.

For flies, we’re not fishing dirty Midwest musky waters, so typically you’re not going to HAVE to throw something super big. My best all around size is right in the 7-9” range pretty much year around (that said, smaller in Spring is king!). That’s not to say that larger flies won’t work, it’s just that in my years of targeting these amazing fish, this is what I’ve settled on based on success rate (eats, not follows).

If you’re tying your own or even purchasing from a reputable shop (I tie my own as I just don't trust the action on any local shop flies--I can, however give recommendations of specific tiers if interested--DM me), I would implore you to pinch those barbs. It will both make it easier for the hook to penetrate the bony mouth of a musky and easier to remove (or if you happen to bury a 4/0 into the back of your head, easier to remove). It should also be noted that if you're tying your own flies, it's pretty important to use really strong hooks because while these fish don't rip line, they do pull hard, really hard.

Some of my top producing flies:


What to look for on the water: Spring-Summer, weed beds (until they start dying), rocky drops & underwater reefs, submerged stumps, down trees….look for wood & boulders. So basically, structure, then look at other structure, and then look for additional structure. These fish are ambush predators just like bass, so treat them as such. That said, your casts don’t have to be IN the structure to get them to react. They know your fly is there as they have a very sensitive lateral line (no banging around in the boat & no music in the boat will up your a lot), it’s just a matter if they care or not (often it’s not). It can also be useful to look up contour maps of the lakes you're planning on fishing as this can speed up the learning curve of finding structure, pinch points, is your friend, Google Maps.

Pinch point fish:


Ledge/drop fish:


For retrieves, I experiment throughout the course of the day. I happen to love fishing flies that have more of a “walk the dog” type of action, with an extended pause & I put a decent number of fish in the net every year. That said, one of my mentors happens to fish longer leachy patterns with a super slow (painfully slow) twitchy retrieve & just doing that, he’d out-fish me 2-1 easily. I have too much ADHD to do that, but you may not.

Let's talk boat-side: It has often been said that our tiger muskies won't eat boat-side, but I’ve caught enough tigers over the years right next to the boat, that I’ll often do at least one figure 8 (or large L or oval) right next to the boat just in case a fish is hanging out way down there watching. It doesn’t cost you anything, so why not? It could mean the difference between bagging a fish vs getting skunked… again. As far as setting the hook is concerned, please don’t trout set. Strip set, strip set, strip set & if you’re not sure, strip set again.

I purposely didn’t really mention boats. you’re going to need one. It’ll be best if you can stand, but I’ve seen folks fishing out of float tubes out there and they do fine. Personally, I fish out of an inflatable with oars but that also has a cutout so I can use fins & I love fishing that way. Basically, if you have something you can float around on a lake and fish out of, you’re in the game.

You can fish out of anything that floats...don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


Photo cred: Mr. Chin

Photo cred: Mr. Chin

This fish in the images above was actually caught on a boat-side eat later that Fall...I was fortunate to catch it again the next year when it went all of 48".

One final thought, this is really meant to be a general guide. Sometimes muskies, being the contrarians that they are, will not play by the rules.

You know what? I never did touch on the why…that was on purpose. Once you go, you'll know why you’ll either stick with it, or decide why it just isn’t for you.

Ok, the FINAL final thought, it has been said that the difference between disaster and adventure is your attitude...



(brought to you by @Jake Watrous)--Probably the best part of this article!

Hark! Dost yearn to tempt the Muskie bold, a fish of legend, fierce and cold?

A thousand casts for steelhead fine, for Muskie, tenfold must you twine.

When to pursue this beast so grand? All seasons beckon, understand.

From spring's first breath to summer's heat, the Muskie rise, a sight most sweet. But crowds abound in sunlit days, for novice hearts, a daunting maze.

When autumn's chill paints landscapes gray, the titans rise, for them to prey. My trophies grand, from late Oct's hold, a tale of giants, to unfold.

The tools of war, now hear my song, for taming Muskie, fierce and strong.

A rod of ten or eleven weight, of moderate grace, to conquer fate. Though glass I prize, a choice most queer, a nine or eleven, quell your fear.

For reels, a balance, strong and true, resist the drag, it naught will do. They fight with fury, yet not steel, a steady hand, their course you'll steal.

Shooting lines, for spring and tide, to pierce the depths, where Muskie hide. A type three, six, for varied quest, to bring them near, and put them to the test.

Leaders simple, no need for fuss, three to five foot, of fluorocarbon's trust. To flies it leads, with ample space, for battle fierce, a winning chase.

Forget the Boga's cruel embrace, it tears their mouth, a dire disgrace. A net most vast, with knotted grace, to cradle giants, in its embrace.

For flies, no monstrous need, I say, from seven to nine, throughout the day. (Though springtime whispers, smaller size, a cunning lure, to claim your prize.)

Barbed hooks pinch, a kindness shown, for easier release, when victory's known.

Seek structure's hold, where shadows lie, rocks, fallen trees, where Muskie nigh. Like bass they lurk, for prey unseen, a cast well placed, a vibrant scene.

Retrieve with art, a playful dance, a "walk the dog," a fleeting chance. Slow twitches too, some find success, a patient heart, to quell distress.

Figure eights by boat, a final plea, lest slumbering giants fail to see.

And setting hooks, with practiced hand, a strip set true, throughout the land.

Boats are best, to roam the wide, though some on tubes, with courage ride. A floating craft, with fins to roam, a choice for all, to find a home.

The "why" I leave, a mystery grand, for once you chase, you'll understand. The thrill, the fight, a story told, of Muskie's might, and hearts of gold.