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Observations in Pan-Fishing, Part 4

Fritz Fratz
By Randy Fratzke, Iowa

Northern Pike and Muskellunge

Most fly anglers who go after northern and muskies on purpose are usually in a whole different class than the rest of those in Pan Fishing. Most do it for the sport, catching and releasing nearly all of their catches. Most use heavy rods and lines, usually in the 9 or 10 wt. category and, if they use tippets at all, they're usually of the steel variety. If you've ever been fresh water fishing for bass or crappie, had one mean hit and felt your line go limp, reeled it in only to find the line sheared off by something that resembles a knife you can probably assume it was done by a northern or musky. These fish are notorious for their sharp teeth and gill plates and can cut through monofilament line like a warm knife through butter! On the other hand, if you're geared up for them and trying to catch them and have the skill and luck to lay into one be prepared for something like hooking onto a freight train once you set the hook. I'm talking about screaming reels and Nantucket Sleigh Rides!

I've personally watched large northern come up behind a hen duck swimming with her young hatchlings and pick them off, one by one, from the row behind her. You also hear a lot of stories about Muskies being "the fish of a thousand casts." So what do you use for equipment and flies and where do you find these "freshwater barracuda?"

For rods, the smallest I'd recommend is an 8 wt., medium fast to fast, at least 9 feet long with a fighting butt for leverage. You can also go with the traditional Spey, or two handed rod, in the 12 to 14 foot range. The rod should be equipped with a large arbor reel, about 150 to 175 feet of heavy backing material, a good quality fly line, followed by an 8 to 12 foot leader made of something in the 30 to 40 pound test category. I prefer the Kevlar or braided lines over monofilament because they have a smaller diameter per line test and are harder for a northern or musky to cut though.

One tip I'll pass on, and some will argue about it, is I make a loop connector at the end of the leader. I do this because I pre-rig all of my northern and musky flies with a 12 inch steel leader that is crimped onto the hook and has a loop crimped on the other end. I then keep the flies on a stretcher board to keep the lines straight and untangled. When I want to change flies I pick one off the stretcher, make a loop to loop connection and I'm back fishing within seconds. Plus, the stretcher board is great for drying the wet flies that I'm done with.

What type of flies, what sizes and colors do I recommend? In a word, BIG! Neither of these fish seems to waste time or energy on snack food. I'm sure that most of you have heard stories (or experienced it first hand) about someone pulling in a fish and having the whole thing swallowed by a northern or musky while they were reeling it in. My smallest fly hook for a northern or musky is size 0/1, nickel or chrome plated. I go up as far as size 0/4. Most of the flies are 5 to 9 inches in length and some have a smaller, "stinger" hook in them (I prefer catching to fishing). Most of the flies I build are larger variations of streamers, others smack of salt water. I've caught both species on "traditional" looking flies which mimic local bait fish and I've caught them on orange/chartreuse/blue color combination Clouser's. The only thing in common is that they all have heavily epoxied heads. If you want to use a fly more than once on northern or musky then you have to apply epoxy at least down past the threads. Even then, many times the fly will be torn up so badly that it's not repairable.

How and where do you find and fish for northern and musky? They range over most of North America and nearly coast to coast. They live in everything from small streams to large lakes and both stained and clear water. During the heat of the day they generally can be found along shady outcroppings or weed beds. Pure muskies have a smaller range usually from about the Mason Dixon line to the southern 200 miles of Canada. Some newer hybrids, like the Tiger Musky, can live in warmer water and smaller lakes and ponds but don't get nearly as large as the traditional muskies. I've caught most of mine early in the morning or in the evening, when they come out of deeper, nearby water to feed in the shallows. That's not to say that neither of these species can be caught during the day, they feed when they're hungry and they feed on what's available! I've also caught these predators at high noon, along a shoreline, when it was 90 degrees in the middle of August so don't feel you have to wait for the perfect time of day or weather. The things that seem to be common in nearly all the northern and muskies I've caught is that they were in water less than 8 feet deep and most hit either a surface or floating fly or one that was less than a foot under water.

The last bit of advice I'll give you is not to put your hand anywhere near the mouth of these critters. Use a long hemostat or long-nosed pliers to remove the hooks and a sturdy landing net to control them. They've been known to reduce fingers and hands to something that resembles hamburger in a matter of seconds. Now go have fun and be sure to play nice! fritzfratz@earthlink.net. ~ Fritz Fratz

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