Words by Matt Hartman (@mattjhartman) and Images by Justin Faunce (@jdfaunce)
Editors Note: This is Part II of a two part series. If you missed Part I, please jump back to the blog or CLICK HERE.
After fishing hard for several hours, it was time to stop for lunch. Realizing we had only covered about a quarter of the water planned for the day, it was time to change tactics. This was small water, truly just wide enough for two anglers to fish out of our boats. Instead of covering everything with a fine-toothed comb, we decided to fish quicker and work the deep bends slower with more casts and figure-eights.
Swiftcast Rod Holders At The Ready
Figure eights are crucial when you’re chasing musky. It’s half of your presentation. These fish are apex predators and usually take some serious convincing to eat a fly. After you cast and methodically work your fly back to the boat, you need to work it in a large figure-eight or oval to give these fish every possible opportunity to eat your fly. Some anglers hate the figure-eight. Personally, I love it. It’s consistent. It’s methodical. You have to trust the process and have faith that at some point a fish will come out and play. Cast to the bank, retrieve, figure-eight, and repeat.
This is the program.
Although we saw some pike in a few of the back eddy pools, no musky showed themselves on day two. It was a little tough to hear that anglers downstream had made contact with several fish despite things being slow. It’s funny how a short conversation at the boat ramp can get into your head and make you question the time you’ve put in. I know it did for our group as our plans for day three quickly changed.
After a steak dinner the group talked the day over. I could see our confidence had begun to dwindle. Confidence can be everything in fishing. Sometimes you have to call an audible and switch things up. Hearing that anglers had seen fish lower in the system had everyone thinking, and I knew that’s where we needed to go for our last day.
I had seen this water before, and I knew just how big it was. Unfortunately, the wind we woke up to was about the last thing I wanted to deal with. We packed up our camping gear and headed out early to squeeze in as much fishing as possible before making the long drive home. Motoring out of the launch, everyone’s eyes were wide seeing the river was now five-times larger than what we had been fishing. The wind instantly began to punish us as Joe motored us upstream with the plan to work back downstream. This plan was quickly abandoned. Once we cut the motor, the wind started to blow us further upstream. The amount of effort it took to work downstream was simply not sustainable.
The group all laughed at the reality that we needed to motor downstream in order to work with the wind that would push us upstream, back to the ramp. I know I felt the looks from the locals as we towed the raft around. Despite the wind, however, I could feel genuine anticipation and excitement return to the group. This is the water that they all pictured in their heads. This is the water where you know river monsters lurk.
After the reset, we again found our rhythm: cast, retrieve, figure-eight, repeat. What a great setting to bond with people. You get to see your friends work together, problem-solve, and deal with adversity. As the takeout got closer and closer throughout the day, I think reality began to sink in for each of us. We had to face it: it was time to pack it up and head home empty-handed.
They say that musky are the fish of 10,000 casts. As I drove home, I couldn’t help but do the math. The numbers didn’t lie: we put in a lot of work over three days on the water and fell short. Anglers always want to fish one more stretch, one more bend, and one more cast.
I love that optimism in this sport. It’s that mentality that seems to reject the idea that fishing can be a simple equation and boils things down to the real truth of life: time is everything. Musky or not, this was time well spent—three days in the north woods with good friends throwing big flies for big fish.
Matt Hartman is an angler, photographer, and shop manager based in Traverse City. He's also a Riversmith Ambassador. To learn more about Matt or to read his full bio CLICK HERE.