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Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Freshwater Reports from near and far
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Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby AMJohnston » Tue Oct 18, 2011 1:35 pm

I fished 5 days in the Hayward Wisconsin area from 10/10-10/14 with Musky Country Outfitters. MCO, headed by Brad Bohen, has spent the last 4 or 5 years figuring out the musky on the fly puzzle in what is widely regarded as one of the prime musky habitats. Brad and his crew have done a remarkable job. Brad is behind the filming of “Zero to Hero”, an award winning DVD on musky fishing and the fishery. Although MCO has a lot figured out, they continue to work on the puzzle. For instance, because of what Brad read in some old journals written in the early part of the 1900’s by famous musky fisherman of the day, Brad now regularly fishes fast moving rapids. This tactic paid off for me on day 4 fishing with Brad as I caught a nice fish in that very type of water.
The Locale: Hayward is in the northwest part of Wisconsin-about a 3 hour drive from Minneapolis. I’m from Northern Wisconsin originally so I can make these observations freely: this part of the world is “quaint”, almost a throwback to the ’70. The kind of place where they still have “supper clubs” and the supper clubs have full sized urinals into which ice is regularly thrown so we have something to do while we pee (men who are reading this will get this) and diners are open for hearty breakfasts and lunches and notable places (like supper clubs) are marked by white arrow signs with black lettering on the side of the road and everyone knows everyone. Gas stations sell night crawlers and beer and there’s a bait and tackle shop every few miles. Sausage (bratwurst, knockwurst and summer sausage) is a food group and Friday fish fry (fried walleye (including walleye cheeks)) is a weekly event. It is remote--cell phone service is spotty and you can drive for miles at night without seeing a street light. County roads A-Z and AA-ZZ run in straight lines (with an occasional 90 degree jog around a landmark and then a 90 degree jog back). And you spend a lot of time just getting around.
The Habitat and the Fishing: I spent each of the five days on a portion of the Chippewa River. MCO fishes other bodies of water, including some local lakes and other rivers, but various parts of the Chip are the primary fishing grounds. The Chip is a gorgeous body of water running though wooded areas or farm land depending on which part you are on. Wild life abounds. I saw a black bear, many deer, more than 20 bald eagles and two river otters on our floats. I just missed prime color time but even so, some of the poplars and birch still had pretty yellow leaves on them.
MCO fishes from drift boats with the guide handling the oars. The fisherman fishes across fast moving waters will navigating thru rapids, slack water eddies and current lines below fast moving water and then fish deep water along banks and near structure in the slower moving water. You could occasionally see fish depending on light conditions but in general, the water was dark and the fish hidden so most of the day was spent blind casting in the slower waters.
Given the size of the flies and the number of casts made, I was sore from day one—this is not for the faint of heart nor for those not in shape (although frankly there’s not a way to get or be “In shape” for this—you just have to do your best to slog through when your arm goes numb or your hand freezes up).
The Fish: The Chippewa holds pike and smallmouth and I caught a few of each (although it was late in the year for smallies). Smallies can be targeted in the summer. Pike hang out in the same spots as musky. There are walleye in the river and the week before I fished, an MCO client caught a sturgeon.
Musky are at the top of the food chain—the alpha dog. They are the show. I have done a good deal of pike fishing but musky are at a different level. Pike are like the 13 year old kid who’s border line ADD with too much energy for his own good. Musky are like that somewhat odd uncle we all had who was unpredictable and could be a little “off”-- aggressive sometimes, curious at others, always to be respected. A very strong fish—I had a 38” fish whip my ass and actually pull our boat upstream. And stealthy—they can be anywhere without being seen. They can hang out in fast moving water with little energy usage or skulk on the bottom in 15 feet of water.
Gear: I used the gear MCO provided. Ten weight rods, some custom made. Integrated shooting heads, some with intermediate heads, others with fast sinking heads. Leaders were 60-80 pound fluorocarbon with loop to loop connections.
Flies were tied by MCO. They were BIG. Some single hook, some double hook. Some had spun hair heads, with long deer hair collars and bodies and long feathers for action. And flash—lots of flash. Colors were white and grizzly and orange and white, red and white but lots of combination
Weather: October is prime time for musky in Wisconsin. But the weather can be brutal. I was fortunate—I had three days of flip flops weather, one day of clouds and rain but not cold and only one chilly, cloudy day. But you had to be prepared for anything

So how did I do? In terms of pure numbers, I saw 34 musky, had shots at 22 and caught 11. I lost at least 3 fish I should have caught—all due to bad hook sets. I caught a couple of smallies and 7 or 8 pike. We did not measure the musky but my smallest musky was estimated at 30 inches and the largest was 43. I had 2 40 inchers and 2 38 inchers. I had an estimated 45”+/25 lb.+ fish on but lost it after a not so great hook set and 3 jumps. The MCO guys tell me that these were really good results for 5 days of fishing
In terms of action, some days were active (saw 12 fish), others were slow (saw 4 fish twice). We were generally on the water for 8.5-9 hours.
You have to be “on” through your entire cast from the time your fly hits the water until it is hanging in the air beside the boat. I had a musky come out of the water at the fly before the fly landed on the water. My first 3 landed musky were hooked within ½ second of the fly hitting the water. And you know that “figure 8” thing that gear guys do at the end of a retrieve? Well fly guys are supposed to do it too and I’m a believer because I caught a 38” musky that I had no idea was there until he hit while I was doing the figure 8.
But numbers tell only a small part of the overall story. Other vignettes round it out:
• The 43” fish was caught with a short cast flipped out to the sunny middle of the river side of the boat after 10 or 12 casts to the shady bank side. The musky came in hard and ferociously and in clear view.
• We came across two long logs in the middle of a river bend that were parallel to the bank. At the downstream end of the logs, a musky was snout down/ tail up rooting out crawfish. We watched her for a while and then took some casts to her. She disappeared.
• The 45+ fish that I lost came at the fly from behind a large submerged boulder and it hit the fly so suddenly and so hard right at the boat, it was almost frightening. And the jumps were amazing.
• We were a quarter mile upriver from a bridge and saw a huge musky (50”+) chase a large sucker out of the water 2 or 3 times around one of the bridge abutments. A few moments later, it appeared several times downstream of the abutment thrashing and tail up out of the water. We chased it but could not find it.
• I really enjoyed handling the fish, which are landed using a big net. Each of my fish “behaved” for the photos and with a couple of the fish, I could feel their heart beat.
• If I had to pick one defining event of the trip, it was this: Just before we were going to break for lunch, I was fishing around and under a downed tree and had a musky flash on my fly. Brad decided to back off, break for lunch to see if we could get the fish to settle down and come back. While eating in the boat—maybe 20 feet from shore and 40 feet upstream from where the fish flashed on the fly—a musky came out of a small pocket downstream of an upright tree at the edge of the bank and chased a sucker out of the water right up against the shoreline. After wolfing down my sandwich, I cast at the tree starting on the upstream side. On my third cast, just on the downstream side of the tree and just above the small pocket in the bank, the fly bounced off the bank into the water. I striped it once and a 38” musky hit the fly. I was able to hook and land the fish.

The whole experience was very challenging. You have to be “dialed in” and ready all the time, from moment one, no matter whether it’s your first cast (in fact I missed a fish on my first cast one day because I wasn’t ready) or your hundredth without a bite or a swirl. The mental challenge is at least equal to the physical challenge. But it’s an amazingly rewarding experience, one I’d head off to do again in a heartbeat.

I am having trouble gathering photos but will post a link with what I have soon. If you can't wait, e-mail me and I'll send you what I have on hand now.

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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby meatstick » Tue Oct 18, 2011 3:10 pm

Andy, you are now the Musky King !! On top of being Pike King, and Laker King. The list could go on but we have board members who read slowly.

No reflection on you, but I really was not prepared for the level of Musky success you had.

Excellent work !! :mrgreen:

The fish of 10,000 casts ? Ha !! ... for you, the fish of one cast.

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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby AMJohnston » Tue Oct 18, 2011 3:42 pm

Days 4 and 5 I saw 4 fish and there were looooooooooong stretches of nothing but blind casting. Probably not 10,000 casts but it seemed like it...

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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby Todd » Tue Oct 18, 2011 3:59 pm

I think 11 fish in 5 days is remarkable. Outstanding work.

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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby BCflyfisher2012 » Tue Oct 18, 2011 6:16 pm

Wow. That's awesome. I knew guys up there this summer who pounded the lakes and streams all summer and came up empty handed.

"Spend it while you can, money's contraband, you can't take it with you when you go" ~ Jimmy Buffett

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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby Emerson » Wed Oct 19, 2011 7:04 am

Great read that really gave me a true insight and made me feel as if I was there. Bucket list worthy trip.
Thanks for sharing
expelled by el Compressor


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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby bhorsley » Wed Oct 19, 2011 5:52 pm

excellent Andy

Just finished a blog for Rio on Scott--so was thinking of you
now you need a CApe Lookout Albie
growing old ain't for sissies

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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby BlueHeron » Sat Oct 22, 2011 9:50 am

Thanks Andy!
Great narrative and photos
Thanks for letting us all enjoy it vicariously.
No doubt your ability to stay "dialed in" contributed to your success.
the bus came by and I got on
that's when it all began

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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby Wahootom » Thu Oct 27, 2011 10:10 pm


Thanks for the report. Grew up in Minneapolis area. Go back to a couple times each year. Fly fished Duluth area a couple years ago and caught some nice size northerns. Your report and reference to MCO will be helpful.


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Re: Wisconsin Musky Adventure

Postby AMJohnston » Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:30 pm

Wahootom--email me if you have a chance.


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