Toothy Critters Love Flies
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This 42" Lake of the Woods, Ontario, musky ate a Red & White Marabou 10' from the boat.
                       Read a short Excerpt from Chapter 9
                   Excerpt from Chapter 9

With most classic fly-fishing for trout and bass, you cast your fly to a place for a good drift over likely holding water in a river, or close to structure or the shoreline in a lake. A short retrieve takes the fly out of the “strike zone,” so it is picked up and cast again to another likely spot. Pike and musky fishing is different. Toothy critters are curious characters and will often follow a lure for as much as fifty feet. As the fly nears the boat, it begins to rise, as if about to escape, and this often triggers a strike. Most of my largest fish have been hooked within fifteen feet of the boat. Musky especially will strike right at the gunnel.
Catering to this quirk is the difference between a good trip and a mediocre one. The fly must be worked all the way to the boat, bringing the leader-to-line knot right to the tip of the rod. Even then, your work is not done. Because of the length of the rod and leader combined, your fancy feathers are still not along side, so you must continuing working it, sweeping the rod to one side, then continuing to draw a “figure 8” (or more practically, and ellipse) with the rod tip, next to the boat. The streamer will surge up and down as it skitters back and forth erratically, often drawing an explosive strike that will set your heart hammering. You’ll be amazed at how many big Esox boys are hooked this way, so be vigilant. When a twenty-pounder boils up, throwing water in your face, then bolts off, often under the boat, if you are not ready to handle your rod and loose line, he’ll be gone, leaving you with heart palpitations and maybe a broken rod tip.
Don’t be in a hurry to pick up the fly for the next cast. Many fish are hooked with the streamer just dangling in the water. In fact, when I am preparing for my first cast in a new spot, I strip off twenty to thirty feet of line and toss out the fly while I pull out the rest of the line I intend to cast. Keep the line snubbed under the forefinger of your casting hand while you prepare for the first cast. I can’t tell you how many good fish I’ve hooked with the streamer just dangling in the water, the marabou wings breathing softly.
If you see one of these sleek torpedoes follow the fly but refuse to hit, make another quick, short cast in whatever direction to which you think he swam off. I’ve seen what appears to be the same fish follow a fly two or three times to the boat before finally eating it…or just swimming off. Muskies are the biggest offenders of multiple follows.
Now let’s talk about properly working the fly. Classic traditions say pike and musky like fast retrieves. Typical spin and bait-casters crank their spoons, plugs and spinners at near-sonic speeds, but that is necessary to get most of their lures to work properly. No matter how fast you reel, a toothy critter can catch it if he wants. More recently hardware-chuckers have switched to soft plastics like Sluggos, big leeches and jerk baits…lures that can be worked more slowly…and they are cleaning up on big fish. They have seen the success of flies, and are copying the method as best they can.
Streamers, especially the marabous, should be worked with about six to eight-inch strips, pausing some of the time. A typical pattern would be: strip, strip, strip, pause, strip, pause, strip, strip, longer pause, strip, pause, strip, strip, strip, etc. The consecutive strips should be quick some of the time, or more deliberate others. Create your own pattern, but there should be variety throughout the retrieve. Keep the rod tip close to the water, and the line passed under the forefinger of your casting hand to retain control. When bringing the fly along side the boat and doing the figure 8, it should still be twitched, using the rod tip, not just dragged across the surface. That will work some of the time, but making the marabou wiggle and breathe enticingly will ultimately be more effective.
A red & White Marabou streamer, with a wire weed guard
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