In Search of the Elusive Esox……

17 Nov

On days like today (pouring rain and windy as hell) I seem to find myself lost in cyberspace looking for something to entertain or educate myself in the vast cyber-world of fly fishing.  Today I find myself lost in the secret yet not so secret world of the Esox Fly Fisherman.  New flies, destinations, gear, technique, photos, and film will dance in my head until the beer  and benadryl put me to sleep.  I ran across this great post on the north american fly fishing forum by one of the boys from Afton Angler (better know as Zero 2 Hero).  It’s a long read but it paints a picture in your head as if you were on the trip sharing their excitement with them.

Click the image to open in full size.

Thunder and Lightening on a Clear Day

Like a bolt from the blue your life can be changed in a fly fishing instant while on the trail of the mighty musky. This elusive predator provides a special challenge to any angler taking up the task of taking one on a fly. Where I come from we live by the motto Zero to Hero as a way of reminding ourselves how quickly fortunes can change on the musky trail.

On October 16th 2008 the fortunes of three fly anglers changed forever in the blink of an eye when a very fishy moment brought them and the changing face of the sport into a new light. I was lucky enough to have a seat on the crazy boat that day and I am still tingling from the aftershock.

Looking at the digital timestamp on the images taken on my camera that day tell me it was 2:04pm when Hayward Angler Derek Kuehl hoisted the first of a pair of trophy musky we had just landed up for a hero shot. Guide Tom Greenup had moments before slipped the big net under the other fish I had hooked first, simultaneously fought along with Derek’s and subsequently landed last.

Fly fishing for muskies is slowly gaining a glamour status in the changing landscape of our sport and is beginning to raise eyebrows as a force to be reckoned with even in the most traditionally minded fishing circles. In northern Wisconsin the muskellunge is a celebrated species having communities name their geographical slogans after this tough fish – Musky Capitol of the World in the case of Boulder Junction and Home of World Record Musky in my adopted hometown of Hayward.

Musky fishing in northern Wisconsin has always held a high profile place in the sporting spotlight. The fish of 10,000 casts has launched at least as many fishing fantasies every summer for the last three quarters of a century. Tales of extraordinary catches spread like wildfire each and every summer and occasionally one of these catches holds true.

Growing up in Wisconsin as a fishy little critter I had always idolized the Northwood’s legends of musky anglers – men like Louis Spray, Cal Johnson, Ray Kennedy and Tony Rizzo. Not to be left out in the hunt to cure musky fever were women like Delores Ott – Lapp and Gypsy Rose Lee. These were folks who battled big fish in epic fights and had their tales told by campfire and bar light all across the fishing landscape.

I dreamed of an encounter of my own one day. I literally have been haunted by visions and dreams of landing an epic musky. My lust to find myself in the fighting seat has shaped my entire existence and to be honest with you I doubted I would ever be part of truly epic catch until that afternoon when we finally had both fish in hand.

Tom Greenup and I work the same water and have always said “Hey lets fish together sometime…” as guides tend to do when they run into each other. We had been say this for years but that is how thing roll. You either have to make it a priority to get together and make time or rely on serendipity.

Serendipity Knocks

Well I got a call from good fishing buddy Derek from Hayward Derek is a full on musky junkie and I row for him several times a season. Derek had a trip booked with Greenup and his partner cancelled out so D-Rock calls me up and wonders if I want to run as tailgunner…

The ball was set in motion and here is my play by play

I had a day off coming and was like – “Hell Yes!”

I love fishing from the back seat! Some of the greatest driftboat catches ever have been from the backseat eh.

Ol Greenup is a pros pro too. Great guide and has his game AJSQUAREDAWAY. Knows his water very well.

Connected you might say.

We drew a tough slot. Beautiful fall day. Fishing was rugged! I farmed out a nice 20# class fish that struck savagely and deeply bent the rod but came unpegged instantly – two hours into the float.

Lots of casting. Retrieve all the way back to the boat. Every time.

Time your shot. Derek is the prince of the boat. You are the one with the head on the swivel. Batting clean-up. Taking the angle shots. In the rear with the gear…

Throwing ungodly backhanded stuff.

Strip, strip, strip, pause…

Man these flies are cool. They move they shimmy they shake…how can they not get pounded? Focus, believe…

Derek boated a small northern and had very neutral follows from a couple of fish. I missed another muskie that struck deep coming at me…and then kept coming after inhaling the fly.

Bumrushed we call it. Oh ****…strip, strip, strip…sweep set back…go high…lipstick…****…headshake deep mouth open…shake, shake, shake…gone!

Great take though. 32″ish and super barred. Would have been a cool fish.

Four and a half hours in. Doubt creeps in a little. wee little mind you. Only natural.

Been something like five years since I had a real day off on-the-water…as a client treated to a professional row down a cats-ass piece o water. My fishing generally comes in small bursts…scouting trips, guides days off, dawn/dusk get-aways…you know dropping by the jobsite.

I was in HEAVEN mind you. What with the ducks and grouse and timberdoodles and complete lack of any human being…just three guys on a river each playing their role well. Taking their licks…earning chops…

We were getting beat up though. Getting dealt a hand of junk is just another day at the office on the muskie trail.

Derek is prone to lots of verbal “wondering” and second-guessing in the silent spells. Everyone copes how they may.

I brood and stalk and focus more. I like the toughest possible situation. The one that makes 99.9% of the angling population want to wipe their behinds and take a nappy poo…

“Shut up and keep casting. We can be heros today. Everythings in place. It may be ten minutes of glory time but we got all day.”

We had all day. Wow. I really liked that.

Agreed. Put in another dip o cope. Hit some vitamin C. Refocus.

After lunch we approached a place we call “Old Glory”.

All day Tom, Derek and I recounted places fish were caught, seen, missed, heard about…imagined, **** it was fun getting mostly skunked with those two fellas.

Derek was babbling about Old Glory all day. He is prone to getting his constitution all mucked up the night before a muskie hunt. Gets all amped up.

Night before he was up. Having spells. He gets these muskie energy vibs…puked twice in the early AM before dawn. Showed up game though…tough little ****er for a fabric hawker…

Old Glory…Old Glory…

We heard about Old Glory from the get go. He was hearing a low vibe…a sub migrane hum…approaching as the day wore on…

I had been tossing mainly big, double patterns…chickens, articulated Beaufords…things I call Double Trouble most of the day.


I got both my black eyes on single hook patterns. Black and purple. Tough day flies.

Spent two and a half hours working Double Troubles and two and a half hours servicing smaller patterns…working off of Dereks whims…he switches flies randomly and erratically…like I say he is prone to “wondering” and second-guessing…I need to pay attention to what and where he is working and do my best to play off it and counter it.

Covering every inch of the river I can reach – doing it well is one of the toughest acts to pull off in all of freshwater angling. It is physical and mental and you can not give an inch. Greenup was putting me down some dangerous water and I had to come up with the goods.

Had to. Blind casting a ten weight for 5 and a half hours and getting spanked and asking for more. More!

Being the tailgunner is playing for slop…using the front man and the guy on the sticks as fodder…bring em in boys and I’ll close the dealio…

Water is very low and very clear. We are seeing structure all day for the first time – junk that is almost always covered with water and/or stain. Learning.

Always learning.

Logic has had me working neutral and natural patterns most of the day. Match the hatch stuff.

Five and a half hours into it and now I am going to lock down and have fun. I am going to fish it home for me.

I know what is in front of us and I have enough mustard left to cover it all like an ace relief pitcher. I am going to work it all hard. No one else exists…just me and the river and the fly.

I go with the Orange Beauford. A new version on a big fat assed 6/0 I got down at Thorne Bros. last time I was in the Cities…I liked the way the heavy hook allowed control with the buoyant fly on a sinking line – just the right amount of sink and swim.

You got to be a total control freak in this stage of the game. You have to know every angle and how to get your puppet to swim through it just so…

I made sure the hook was sharpened to almost illegal levels…

Booby Fishing.

English call fishing a buoyant pattern on a sinking line Booby Fishing.


Heck Ya!

Like I said I was fishing the way home for myself. Orange Beauford. Boobies.

I love starin at em both!

Well old Beauford was fishing well. That orange was painting a good swath.

Greenup agreed. I caught him watching it back to the boat more often than anything else all day.

I lost track of Derek for about fifteen minutes or so it seemed. When you hit a zone things more than a few feet away can fade.

I lots track of everything. In that grand way that only a fully immersed fishing fix can provide.

Then it happened. Off the bank. River left.

Like a deer way too far out in the headlight to be sure. But instinctively you know. Your guts tighten.

Like a big buck way out there. You know.

You can feel the evil fish. It moves more like a serpent than anything.

You exhale “OOOOOO”

The other two humans look over at where you had cast. Greenup is holding the boat above the rapids that lead into Old Glory and Derek has just made a cast 45 degrees off the front down on the end of the bank.

They are looking over as she swims into sight behind Beauford.

“This is a big one boys!” I say.

They know. They know.

I got the speed and the room to close the deal. I had backhanded a good shot up on the rocks and the fish had moved within the second or third pull.

When you throw up close the fish can swirl from either side of the fly…sometimes they face downstream it would seem to us…but the slack eddies often run counter to the main current up close to shore and the fish face “downstream” but into a slight eddie current.

Othertimes they are facing upstream properly.

Well this one was below the fly and I had shot a 60 foot backhand off the back of the boat on river left. The cast was just ahead of the oarsmans 90 so I was kind of stripping it back at the boat…past Dereks 45 rear and right off Greenups left…

The fish charged, once! twice!

****. What SPORT! ****!!

This is where everything slows way down. Way down.

Instinct takes over. Many many years and hours of fishing. Of all varieties – bait casting, spinfishing, fly all meld into one.

Hours and hours of watching from the oarsmans seat.

It’s now. It’s in the moment when the one of the biggest musky in 30 years of hunting them…shows behind your fly…you got to keep it together sportsfans. You got to keep it together at this point.

Time is suspended. You all three agree on this after the fact.

I hang that junk out there. I have tied it and tried it for this situation. It’s purebred. It’s spectacular.

Twitch. That mean ***** is coiling up and wow does she have a HUGE head!


Glitter, Glitter‚ Fluff…


She just inhales your ass-like a piece of popcorn into a Dyson!.

Fuuuuuuuuuuupppp! Gone.

Well long story longer.

I stick. Fish freaks. She is ON!

Derek and Tom and I realize we have a Game On situation.

Derek returns attention to his previously made cast. Strip, strip…



He screams and the hawg he just stuck starts thrashing down in front of the boat above the rapids!

No ****.

Muskie Double on a fly. BIG muskie double on a fly!

Greenup is brilliant. Almost 100 inches of fresh river muskie on in difficult skinny water above a rapids.

He rowed up out of harms way and around and around while our fish went nutso.

Mine was just all over the place but I kept her tight and tried not to panic her. Just nagged and kept her in check as best I could.

Derek put the wood to his fish. A very hot and heavy 45” class fish.

I had to watch as it all went down holding a 10weight with a full sinking line high up attached to a huge 50”+ fish that was taking a backseat. Derek fought it well and Tom made a quick netjob. Lordy there was a million things that could have went wrong up till now and we are ½ way there!

Tom drops the net on Derek and gets back on the oars to keep things in check and rows over on my fish a bit and gives me a break.

Derek is out of his fish quickly – with a brief hand from Tom…fish goes into the bottom of the boat and it is still pissy and a bit green and whomp fest insues up front as she protests the act unfolding.

But all eyes are now on the other big beast.

She is angry but pretty well beat. I worry about the flouro bite guard. She has been on a while now and has been way out thrashing and there is no sight of the flyâ₦only leader sticking out of her mouthâ₦

A couple of drive bys and then Tom gets the net under her!



The moment and the realization come together and we are all overjoyed. What Sport!

Man Zero to Hero in the blink of an eye.

I told Tom after we had revived and released both fish “Man, if I was trout fishing or wading in somewhere and I got into something like this I would just sit down and then go home. How do you top something like that?”

“I do not know. But you are going to keep fishing. We have some good stuff ahead.”

Like I said the man is a true pro.

I kept fishing and got another nice fish – a 38”er that took a double beauford and fought hard. Pulling the boat around and making us laugh. The fish pulled like a beast.

Like a beast.

It was a fun capper to a tough and ultimately rewarding day. But I was on cloud nine and you coulda poured cold water down my back and punched me in the gut and it would not have spoiled my mood.

It was one that I will have seared into my memory for as long as I am alive. I’ll remember the quality of air and light. The beauty of the woods and the water. The camaraderie and stories we shared.

And of course I’ll remember the fish. Those glorious and mysterious creatures. It’s all about them really. We are just actors in a big drama that they are the stars of.

I did fish the rest of the way home. I did it for me. It paid off and I got to be a part of something grand.

Thunder and Lightening on a Clear day is how Derek put it.

I agree.

Click the image to open in full size.

3rd fly from left to right is what caught the beast.....the framework is being built in my vice at this very moment.

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