Fly fishing for Muskie is no easy task and while the rewards are high and full of body vibrating adrenaline they do not happen often.
Muskie fishing, particularly with a fly rod is a game of patience and persistence, it will stretch your mental game to the brink of collapse. But. all it takes is for muskie to follow your fly to get your mind back into believing it’s possible.
So what does it take to actually be successful when fly fishing for muskie? Here is a guide to help you along the way.
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What fly fishing gear do you need for muskie?
When you consider that the size of a trophy muskie can push upwards of 50 pounds in weight and over 50 inches in length, that’s a big fish, you’re not going to be catching them on regular freshwater trout gear, that is just a recipe for failure.
Muskie require a saltwater fly gear approach, and even though you’ll be fly fishing in a lake or river, it’s necessary to handle the size of these fish. Even the conventional gear people use is made for saltwater and your fly gear should be the same. You can see our post here on Saltwater Fly Fishing Gear for a more in-depth guide.
What weight fly rod for muskie?
At a minimum, you will need to fish with a 10 weight rod around 9 feet in length for muskie. Some fly anglers looking for a serious trophy even go up to a 12 wt rod so they can hold a muskie of 50 pounds with ease.
It’s not just about the weight of the rods your choose either. Fly fishing for muskie involves constantly blind casting at pockets to cover a lot of water for hours and hours on end, so you’ll want a light rod with a fast action that makes casting all day long a little bit easier.
See our posts below for more selection of fly rod weights:
- Best 3 Weight Fly Rod
- Best 4 Weight Fly Rod
- Best 5 Weight Fly Rod
- Best 6 Weight Fly Rod
- Best 7 Weight Fly Rod
- Best 8 Weight Fly Rod
What size fly reel for muskie?
The right fly reel for muskie has to match the wt of rod in the first instance and then it needs to have a solid drag. Now, the reel doesn’t need to have a saltwater drag as a muskie isn’t going to disappear into the distance like a tarpon or a GT, but you will need to be able to hold and lift the fish when it comes to landing it.
For a full breakdown, see our post here on the Best Fly Reels.
What fly line is best for muskie?
When you go fly fishing for muskie, it’s all about having sinking lines and you’ll want at least two of them. Muskie tend to sit deeper in lakes and rivers, waiting patiently to snap up any food and fish that come just a little too close. To get your fly into the feeding zone you’ll need sinking lines.
It’s best to carry two lines, one that is a fast sink line at around 250-300 grains, and one line that is an intermediate sinker. This will allow you to fly fish different depths more easily and hopefully the result is that you catch more fish, but with musky fishing that is never a guarantee.
Check out our full breakdown of the Best Fly Line Reviews.
What leaders should I use for muskie?
We have already discussed the incredible size of these fish and you’re going to need a leader with enough strength to match. A muskie fisherman should use leaders with a minimum strength of 40 lbs and sometimes up to 60 lbs, and it has to be fluorocarbon, as muskie are smart fish.
A muskie leader is usually around 5 feet long and is not tapered. Between the heavy fly line and the big flies, a taper isn’t needed to turn over your flies when you cast.
Which bite tippet is best for muskie?
Muskie, just like their smaller cousin pike, have big sharp teeth that will slice through regular fishing line like butter so there is a need for a bite tippet but what type is a point of contention for muskie anglers.
Some anglers prefer single-strand steel wire, others use steel cable, but the best in my opinion is 80 – 130lb fluorocarbon. By using fluoro, your flies still get a good action through the water, the fish can’t see it and are more likely to be convinced it’s food, and anglers who use it swear they get more eats.
What do muskie flies look like?
A musky fly can look like a bird they are so big. It takes quite a lot to get a musky to even think about looking at a bait, and when you hold a conventional musky lure that is covered in extras like a rattle, spinner, and more, how the hell do you get that kind of luring attraction in a musky fly? You go big or you go home.
A musky fly will be 8-12 inches in length, tied in various colors, have a pile of flash on it, and be in a serious hook like a 2-O. A musky fly doesn’t quite compare to a conventional lure but they will push a lot of water and get the attention of a musky, hopefully enticing it to follow and maybe eat.
Where are the best places to catch musky?
Musky fishing is available all over North America from as far south as Tennessee and as far north as Ontario in Canada. But, since musky are one of the hardest freshwater fish to catch when fly fishing, you have to increase your chances by fishing the best areas.
The best musky fishing can be found in clear cold water as they are visual feeders like trout and pike. The best states for that are Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York, with the best area being the rivers and lakes of northern Wisconsin.
Here’s our full full guide to Fly Fishing in each state in case you’re planning to have a trip:
- Fly Fishing Arizona
- Fly Fishing in Colorado
- Fly Fishing Connecticut
- Fly Fishing in Idaho
- Fly Fishing in Maine
- Trout Fishing in Iowa
- Fly Fishing Michigan
- Fly Fishing Minnesota
- Fly Fishing in Montana
- Fly Fishing New Hampshire
- Fly Fishing New Mexico
- Fly Fishing Oregon
- Fly Fishing in Pennsylvania
- Fly Fishing South Dakota
- Fly Fishing in Utah
- Fly Fishing Vermont
- Fly Fishing West Virginia
- Fly Fishing Wisconsin
- Trout Fishing in Arkansas
- Trout Fishing in Missouri
- Trout Fishing in Oklahoma
- Trout Fishing in Texas
- Fly Fishing Washington
- Fly Fishing in Wyoming
Which season is best for musky?
Musky can be caught all year round but when it comes to fly fishing, you will want to avoid the winter season as the water is too cold and the fish are sluggish, slow, and not feeding very aggressively which leaves summer, spring, and fall.
One of the best times to fish for musky is in early spring. Early spring sees the water temperature go up in the rivers and lakes, and this is a sign for the musky to start feeding hard to make up for the slow winter season they have just had. When fishing in early spring, it’s best to fish in the late afternoon when the water will be at its warmest.
Summer fishing for musky can also be productive but the time of day is important. During the middle of the day, the water will warm up a lot and the musky will go deeper into a lake or river and slow down their feeding. Your best time to be on the water is the first two hours from dawn, the last two hours before sunset, and make sure you fish into dusk until you can’t see anymore.
The best season to fish for musky is the fall. Musky are more aggressive than ever during the fall as they are consciously packing on the pounds so that they can survive the winter. Fall is also the time when most trophy musky are caught as they become more concerned with food than being wary of flies that have a hook in them.
Is it worth fishing with a muskie guide?
Yes, it’s 100% worth getting a guide when fishing for musky. These fish are partciucalry hard to catch on a fly and by fishing with a guide you’ll remove close to 90% of the guesswork when trying to find them in a lake or river, you’ll have the right flies on, and a pro telling you exactly where to cast, how to retrive and how to hook a musky.
A guide will be able to take you to the right part of a lake or river, have a boat if you need one to access the right areas, and they are great moral support. Believe me, once you have made 1000 casts in a day, you’re going to want someone on the boat who feels your pain and keeps your motivation high.
Fishing for musky will be an entirely new sport to you if you have only ever trout fished, so getting a guide is a great idea for the first few muskie trips you go on.
Where do muskies like to hang out?
If you choose not to chase muskies with a guide then you’re going to need to know where to fish for them. Muskies love to hang out around structure from which they can ambush their prey. By structure, I mean fallen trees, boulders, drop-offs, sunken trees, and so on.
Look for depth changes in lakes and rivers, slow water and big pools hold fish, and if there is some structure in there too, then you have a great chance.
When you find fishy structures, be sure to cast with a foot for a few feet of them and then begin your retrieve. Cover all the water around the area with your fly before you move on as there will be muskies lurking somewhere.
Tips For Muskie Fly Fishing
Now that we have covered the main points for catching musky on a fly, here is a tip or two for getting ready for and succeeding on the water.
Get casting fit
Having been a fishing guide in saltwater, I can not stress casting fitness anough. If you aren’t used to casting heavy flies, with heavy rods, and heavy fly line, then a day of making casts for muskies is going to break you.
When you go for a muskie on fly you should expect to cast and cast and cast until you can’t anymore. Make sure you get fit for this by using your musky gear in the garden and getting your shoulder ready for what’s coming. If you can make a 40-50 foot cast accurately every time with large flies, then it’s all about having the fitness to keep going.
Make sure your retrieve is erratic
To entice muskies to take flies you need to make them want to eat them. This means your retrieve is needs to be weird and erratic. It’s not a constant smooth strip that will get one to scoff the fly at the end of your line, it’s a random long strip with few jerks then another long that will get them going.
At the end of your retrieve, it’s time to go into a figure of 8 retrieve. Muskies will follow your fly all the way to the boat or bank, to within a foot, half a foot, or even inches of your rod tip. If you continue to strip long, you’ll run out of line, which is a slow figure of 8 is needed at the end.
Strip set & never lift your rod
If you have never fly fished for anything but trout, then a good hook set in your eyes involves lifting your rod. If you do this with muskies, and with any saltwater fish for that matter, you will lose the fish almost instantly.
The reason for this is because when a big fish eats your fly and you lift your rod, you immediately create slack in the line without having driven the hook deep into its hard mouth. This is why a strip set is a must.
To strip set, just keep on stripping after the fish has eaten the fly, and don’t stop until you feel the fish start taking some line. The biggest reason muskies are lost and not caught is because of a rod lift when it’s time to hook up.
Keep your cool, if you can
When a fisherman sees a fish chasing their fly that they have been wanting to catch their whole life, they often fall apart in the moment.
I’ve seen it thousands of times when a fisherman is on the bow of the boat, they make a good shot, a musky rushes their fly, and they freeze in a kind of panic. The fly stops moving, the fish loses interest, and it’s 100 casts more to find another similar opportunity.
It can’t be taught or coached, but you have to find a way to stay cool in the moment when fishing for muskies or you’ll miss a lot of chances.