By Brian Porter
Watching a thirty pound fish inhale a fly and bend a ten weight to the cork probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when northern Wisconsin is mentioned, but maybe it should be. An extremely aggressive predator with sometimes fickle and notoriously unpredictable feeding behavior, musky have been the focus of countless angling obsessions since people began specifically targeting them for sport around the turn of the century. Fly fishing for them isn’t a totally new phenomenon, but drive through Hayward, the epicenter of Musky Country in northern Wisco, towing a driftboat with a roof rack full of fly rods and the odd looks and confused stares you receive might make you think otherwise. Put some time in on any of the multitude of musky lakes and rivers in the area though, and you will probably start to realize that these freshwater sharks are more than willing to eat a giant bucktail fly, you just need a healthy supply of patience and a boatload of time on the water to try and make a little sense of it all.
For a number of years now I’ve been fortunate enough to spend nearly all my time studying, chasing, catching and photographing muskies on the fly with a growing group of world-class musky anglers dedicated to innovating and improving our methods for chasing them on the fly. They say cocaine is addictive, but musky fishing is a hell of a drug. One vicious, out-of-nowhere attack a few feet off the rod tip can justify days and days of blind casting ten and eleven weights with heavy lines and huge flies because once you’ve seen it, you can fully believe that it will happen again, it’s only a matter of time. The list of fish that can have your knees shaking simply by swimming casually by the boat is pretty short, and the adrenaline high that comes with a big eat and battle with one of these beasts can be truly life-altering.
The wild waters of northern Wisconsin surrounding the historic lumber town of Hayward have been home to muskies much longer than people, and this heart of the fish’s native territory runs deep with musky history as a result. Pictures and mounts commemorating the record catches and angling careers spawned in the region decorate many of the plentiful northwoods taverns that help keep the backcountry watered. Hunting such a fabled creature with relatively new and slightly experimental methods while floating through beautiful, sparsely populated forest is a little like going back in time.
Getting the chance to observe any fishery on a day-to-day basis is a pretty special thing, and musky fishing is no exception. Numerous boatside eats, a ten-minute follow, and duck hunting are just a few of the musky encounters that I’m sure I wouldn’t believe if I hadn’t seen for myself, and never would have seen from an office or a couch.In the course of promoting and growing our guide business, Musky Country Outfitters, we’ve had the chance to meet a lot of really cool folks from all over who seek and appreciate the same things we
do. Sharing our region with such anglers, especially those who’ve never been to this part of the country is really one of the best things about our job.Crossing paths with the Beulah boys gave us a huge boost in the gear realm this season, as we found their Bluewater series to be very well suited to the big flies and heavy line systems we’ve worked out. The 10/11 wt has really opened the door to a wave of bigger and bigger patterns that were previously on the edge of what could be comfortably casted, bringing the hunt for that super beast to a whole new level. And the Surf Rod series has been great in a lot of situations up here as well.Watching our tools, methods and fishing tribe evolve and grow over the last few seasons has been nothing short of incredible, and it still feels a little like we’ve only just begun. Musky Country is truly a remote, domestic destination with one of the most uniquely challenging, yet rewarding native fisheries on the globe. Those who’ve experienced it can tell you what the mention of Northern Wisconsin should bring to mind- Beer, brats, cheese and MUSKY!
Brian ‘Lucky’ Porter