A few weeks ago I found myself in a boat with fishing guide Stephen Wisner. Before we even shoved off, he reached into the cooler and sternly told me, “These fish are the working man’s trophy; this is the fish that your grandpa fished for. There’s no fancy-pants beer allowed while fishing for these fish. Hamm’s is a high percentage beer. If the bottle has some sort of thing that talks about the hop rating, save that for trout fishing.” At nine in the morning, Steve took a sip and announced that it was time to go musky fishing.
Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) go by many names: water wolf, ugly pike, and (my personal favorite) river nazi. But in the areas around Hayward, Wisconsin, they’re simply Musky (with a Y). This fall, we took a trip to the heart of musky country to try to find one of these toothy critters. While we were up there we ran into a few characters who told us how fishing for musky has evolved over the past eight decades from bait, to gear, to fly. Make sure to check it out.
“I actually started guiding when I was 12 or 14 years old. My dad went throw me in the boat and I would make 20 bucks a day. I’d row them down the river and show them how to fish a little bit. I usually out-fished them. I had maybe three baits in my tackle box, a stringer, and a pliers. That was about it.” -Joe Flater, the owner of Flater’s Flambeau Resort in Holcombe, WI.
“When we started flyfishing up here in 1998 for these fish a three or four-inch fly was just unbelievably huge; just unheard of; just crazy. A 3 inch fly!” -Larry Mann, the owner of Hayward Fly Fishing Company and one of the pioneers of flyfishing for musky.
“It’s such a vicious vicious, crazy, fast, mean, nasty bite out of nowhere most of the time that it just about stops your heart.” -Lucky Porter, owner of Far Out Fly Fishing in Duluth, MN and early musky-on-the-fly devotee.
This week’s field notes come to us from Chris Johnson, the owner of Living Waters Fly Fishing in Round Rock, Texas. For more information on some truly legendary rainbow trout fishing on the Guadalupe River, check out this post.
Many thanks to Stephen Wisner of Eau Claire Anglers and Timothy Simonson of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for their help.