Musky: “enticingly preferred side attack angle”
Converting follows to eats.
By Rick Kustich

As I retrieve my fly a dark olive form takes shape a few feet back. Moving completely into the picture the musky’s general demeanor appears lazy, somewhat unimpressed by my offering. I quickly move into my boat-side repertoire attempting to alter that fish’s mood. Unfortunately, as my heart races the encounter ends with the big fish slinking back into the depths.

Muskies tend to operate with swagger, which is found in most top-of-the food-chain predators. The trick is to flip the switch, turning the fish’s aloof attitude into one of a trained killer. Developing strategies that trigger a last chance musky eat will dramatically improve your success.

On any given day you can encounter musky at different stages of their feeding cycle. Place a fly in proximity of a laid-up fish in a feeding hold, or on prowl for a meal, and a grab or strike can simply be impulsive. Right place, right time. It’s the neutral fish, the one that shows some interest but doesn’t fully commit, that can drive you crazy. With additional coaxing, however, anglers can often get that fish to eat.

Many of my musky hookups occur in the first 10 feet of the retrieve or the last 10—fish that decide quickly or others that need to be convinced. During the retrieve, fly action and movement is the key element. Most top predators focus on the weak and injured; musky are no different, preferring a fly with erratic movement, which indicates distress and vulnerability. Also, flies with a more side-to-side movement give a musky an enticingly preferred side attack angle. An erratic fly motion results from both fly design and retrieve style.

Fly styles that push water, leaving a void behind, tend to move side-to-side or up and down. Head design or building weight into the body of the fly works toward gaining this enticing motion. Utilizing a snap or acceleration at the end of each strip can also add to an erratic action.

Two good patterns for side to side or erratic action that combine well with the figure-eight are Blane Chocklett's Gamechanger and Matt Grajewski's Yard Sale. Instead of a bulky head design the Yard Sale gets its movement from weight in the rear of the fly that tends to create a jackknife effect.

Where things get really interesting is when a musky follows all the way to the end of the retrieve. With most fly designs, I use a figure-eight or oval movement at the end of every retrieve whether I observe a musky following or not. Often a fish follows deep, out of sight, and can be drawn into view with a few rotations.

When I see a fish following, my go-to strategy is to roll quickly, without hesitation, into the figure-eight or oval. I strip the fly up to the bite guard so that it is within approximately 18 inches of the rod tip, which maximizes maneuverability. I prefer using an oval movement, making it more likely that a large musky can keep sight of the fly as it changes direction. The wide turns of an oval also give the fish a more broadside attack angle as each turn begins.

The key to a successful boat-side eat is being decisive—if you quickly go into your figure-eight or oval the fish is distracted from your’s and the boat’s presence. Continue to speed up the figure-eight or oval and accelerate into the turns. There are few things more exciting in outdoor sports than seeing a large musky engulf a fly at the end of your rod tip

There are some instances where more of a “tease” converts a follow into an eat. Flies that give the appearance of a stunned or severely distressed fish work best when they continue to offer that appearance—so subtle movements or simply twitching the fly can get eats. Moving this style of fly quickly at the boat can look unnatural. Reading the musky’s body language can provide clues as to the preferred approach.

For the more stunned, subtle look, Joe Goodspeed's goop-head flies are the best example. For lack of a better name he calls this design the Musky Thriller.

There are no rules when it comes to musky—fish with a purpose and never let your guard down. And don’t shy away from experimentation with flies and new boat-side techniques.


Working the fly close to the boat

Rick Kustich

Rick Kustich lives in western New York and has been in the fly fishing industry for over 30 years. He is the author of Advanced Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead and Hunting Musky with a Fly.