I spent the Fourth of July weekend fishing Lower Manitou Lake, Ontario, Canada, with friends, primarily for muskies. Members of the pike family, muskellunge are apex predators. They’re distributed primarily throughout northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the Great Lakes region, northward into Canada and the St. Lawrence River drainage. Typical fish run 28 to 48 inches weighing upwards of 30 pounds, although fish approaching 60 inches and over 60 pounds have been recorded.
Difficult to catch, muskellunge are sometimes referred to as the “fish of ten thousand casts.” Dedicated muskie anglers will spend endless hours casting eight to twelve inch lures, or larger as lures upwards of two feet are not uncommon.
During my six day stay at Weather Station Lodge, most fished for muskies. While my fishing buddies fished conventional muskie rods and lures, I opted to fly fish, using a hodge-podge collection of pike and salt water patterns supplemented with a few muskie patterns I’d purchased. While not the magnitude of the typical muskie lures, the flies ran from five to ten inches in length.
For rods I used seven weights for the smaller patterns, nine weights for the larger flies. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken my ten weight also, as even a nine weight was a bit light for a couple of the flies. I had a collection of lines, floating and sinking, that allowed me to fish a variety of depths and speeds. For leaders I used 10 to 15 pound test monofilament to which I attached a short section of 40 pound “bite” tippet.
During my stay, I depended heavily on the experiences of Matt, Carl, and Chris, our guide for one day, as to where to fish. Over the years they have learned which spots muskies tend to favor, such as large, deep weed beds (10-20 feet of water), points, reefs, submerged rock, and other types of cover. The typical day was spent moving from one high probability spot to another, making sufficient casts to cover the water thoroughly, and then moving on to the next. This particular trip, most of the fish were seen on “reefs”, large submerged rocky structures and large deep weed beds.
Notice, I said “seen”? Every day fish would follow the lure without striking, although the excited angler would do his best to entice a strike by using a figure eight retrieve at the boat as long as the fish lingered.
Most days one or more fish were landed. Matt’s best was 48 inches; Tom had one of 36 inches and lost a better fish. Me, well, while preparing to change rods, I had a small muskie take my fly right at the boat. Unprepared, I failed to set the hook in a timely manner and missed it. I also lost a muskie I’d guess would approach the 40 inch mark. I fought it a couple minutes before it came unbuttoned. I failed to get a good hook set. It hit and then made its initial run right at the boat, I saw it under the boat, and then it made a strong run away, leaving my fly behind. However, the trip wasn’t fishless as I managed a number of small and largemouth bass along with a fair number of northern pike, catching something every day.
What I came to appreciate by week’s end was, one, how difficult muskie are to catch. And two, just how addicted muskie anglers are to their sport, willing to spend hours, even days, fishing, never giving up hope, knowing the next cast may be the ten thousandth that results in the fish of a lifetime.
First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan Sunday, July 10.
IceFishingFool, CO 7/12/2016 3:28:28 PM
Nice water wolf pictures, Dave Maybe next trip you will score a PB.
esoxrocks, CO 7/12/2016 9:41:08 PM
Yup, yup and yup...those shield lakes are famous for lots of follows and few hook-ups. You can see a dozen fish in a day and maybe get one good strike. Figure 8s are your friend.
Fugowee Guides, CO 7/14/2016 3:02:32 PM
sweet fish and read. I was in north west ontario from june 23-july 1 also fly fishing for musky. We had a cold front that really turned the fish off. had lots of follows but no takers. Still awesome though and still lots of pike and smailles.
Matt, CO 7/17/2016 9:14:24 PM
We might have experienced the same front you did Fugowee, with similar results. We actually had lightning hit our camp June 24 around 11pm, fried a bunch of the main lodge's solar and battery power system. Never heard such a thing before - so close, no boom, just a huge POP. Weather was off and on the whole time we were there, nothing much steady but for a few days. Saw some really big fish though, even got hooks in a few, just couldn't seal the deal! Thanks Dave and Tom for coming - was a blast!