In Search of Musky in Algoma

The fish of a thousand casts: catching musky on a fly can be a total grind.

Musky have always been a mystery to me. They’re the “fish of a thousand casts.” They look like pike but don’t eat like them. They live in mysterious dark waterways, and although I’ve fished for them before I’ve never caught or even hooked one.

My name is Yilma Campbell and I co-host a fly fishing podcast called "So Fly." We’re based in Toronto, so my musky outings have consisted of day or weekend trips to the Kawarthas. I was super excited to be heading north to chase these toothy and aggressive fish. They say everything is bigger up north and musky are big, to begin with. Sign. Me. Up.

Catching a musky can be a total grind. Catching a musky on the fly? Potentially even tougher. Luckily, we had an ace up our sleeve – our guide Adam Vallee of Angling Algoma. We were staying near Iron Bridge at Birchland Cottages and Adam grew up in the area. Adam’s not only an extraordinarily knowledgeable guide, he’s also a wicked boat companion and all-around friendly fellow. Spending a few days on the water with Adam was a treat. He conveniently lives across the street from Birchland Cottages so coordinating meeting times was beyond easy.

Adam came over to our cabin the night before fishing to go over maps and the plan for the following few days. He explained to us that musky feed on a certain cycle. Although you could catch a musky at any point of the day, the best times coincide with the moon rise and the moon set. The best times are referred to as “majors”. In our case, our majors were very early in the morning and right in the evening. So, the plan was to hit the water the following morning before sunrise. We wanted to hit the lake just as dawn broke over the water.

Our alarms woke us up sharply at 4:30 am. It was time. We slept very little and packed probably more flies than we needed, but within 15 minutes Adam was at our door.

They call musky the fish of a thousand casts. They’re not kidding. Musky are a lot more selective and require perseverance. We crept onto the lake as the sun was climbing over the hills. The Lake, although a secret, is not without cottages. “People swim in this lake,” Adam tells us. “I wouldn’t.” We all laugh.

It was a statement that foreshadowed what was about to come. We’re using big gear. 10- and 11-weight fly rods with “flies” the size of our forearms. We were’re fishing through the first major when my fly passed what I thought was a log. Well, that log started following my fly. And it followed the fly all the way to the boat but didn’t strike. My heart was about to pop out of my chest. I started to swim the fly in a “figure 8” pattern by the boat. No take. I was beat. Shaking, but beat. This could potentially be my only shot of the day and I didn’t get the take. I had to keep going.

We fish through the majority of the morning and stop for lunch. We had 3 follows but no takes. Adam informs us our next best window is at 6 pm but since we’ve spotted several large bass in the shallows why not spend the time bass fishing? To be honest, I was there for the Musky but the plan just made sense. I couldn’t help but have that feeling that maybe today wasn’t my day for musky.

After landing a few bass I take a half-hearted cast to a likely-looking boulder. All of a sudden, a flash of silver and green came rushing toward my fly. I barely have time to react and I set the hook purely on instinct and shock. It was a flippin’ musky. YES! I hooked a musky on a bass fly. And this fish went for it. It took off like a bolt and put up one heck of a fight. I was able to get him in the net fairly quickly, thanks to Adam.

People go a long time without catching their first musky and here I was, releasing this beautiful fish on my first real trip chasing the species. I was lucky to have the guidance of Adam, an expert musky angler and guide. Now, don’t get me wrong. This was a musky on the smaller side. It wasn’t the classic giant fish you see online, or in magazines. But it was a musky. And it was beautiful.

As I released it I realized this was my brief moment to take in how beautiful and wild the fish was. The fish slid back into the depths and I was grinning from ear to ear. Musky fishing is hard work. It’s a ton of casting and waiting. But man, the payoff is epic. The fish kicked off and it was time for a celebratory snack. I grabbed a granola bar and sat back. 6 o’clock was fast approaching, and our next major was right around the corner.

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