Esox Escape

We all need some an escape from our daily routine, even if that routine involves fly fishing for trout in the beautiful northeast. Trout fishing is my life and my livelihood.  I teach fly fishing skills for trout at Pennsylvania State University and spend most of my free time conducting onstream lessons for trout. If forced to decide upon fishing for only one species for the rest of my life, trout would be my immediate choice. You can say I may be trout-obsessed, but even the most fanatical trout anglers need an escape from the routine of chasing wild and native trout in beautiful locations. 

I look at trout fishing as my true love, and as Gabby Reese (wife/partner of big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton) puts it, “everyone needs a fling.” For Laird, that means chasing big waves. For me, that means chasing the elusive musky on the fly. I don’t look at it as cheating on my beloved trout. It’s more of a short-term separation from trout, which will do nothing but increase my appreciation for fish with spots. 

Amidea, my beautiful wife, ties down the boat straps before heading home. Sometimes you come up way short on the water, but this is a common feeling when musky fishing. In other words, musky teaches you how to become patient while enjoying the journey.
The use of snap swivel makes changing out patterns a breeze and allows my expensive bite wire to last longer before needing replacement.

Maybe what I enjoy most about fishing for musky is the unpredictable nature of these fickle creatures. While it can be said that all fishing can be unpredictable, there’s a higher-level element of the unknown when targeting musky on the fly. With trout, I feel there’s times when I can pretend to be Babe Ruth calling out my shot, as I accurately predict where and when I’ll catch my next fish. Granted, it doesn’t happen often. But it can occur during our peak spring season. As for musky, I would never feel comfortable calling my next musky shot, even during the best of conditions while fishing the best locations. With musky, the only guarantee is knowing you’re going to put forth your best effort, try to be a strategic as possible and hope for the best.

This shot was taken by my brother, Chris Daniel, several years ago. Today, my musky fly selection is approximately 1/3 of this. I guess the saying “the more you know-the less you need” does hold some truth with musky.
My best fish of 2022. Not sure about the weight, but the fish was approximately 46″- a great size for my local waters. I had lost this same fish the week before and stuck in the exactly same location 6 days later.
Even when conditions are less than desirable (e.g. muddy water), I still enjoy the opportunity to seduce an apex predator. Such efforts are usually in vain, but sometimes I strike gold. And that one moment of success provides just enough hope during the countless fishless days that are sure to follow.
During the coldest months, we’ve modified several mono streamer rigs to achieve a slower/deeper presentation for musky.
Another great shot taken by my brother, Chris Daniel. I think one of my best tips for anyone wanting to get into musky fishing is to practice casting wind resistant flies with heavy lines and fly rods. The river is not the place to practice casting.

My musky season begins when our trout begin spawning, often starting early November.  Not only is it a welcome break from trout, it’s also an intentional decision to give our wild and native trout some space while they attempt to pass on their genes to the next generation. By the middle of March, I’ve developed golfers’ elbow and our musky population begins its reproductive cycle. My winter fling comes to an end, and I’m more than happy to pick up my trout rod again and rekindle the old flame.

You always remember your first musky on the fly. One of my best friends, Brian Wilt, admires his first PA musky after countless days and hours of pursuit.
I’ve switched to using single hook point streamers with musky. Although most of my musky streamers have several shanks, I only keep or use one hook point on the pattern. Often musky will literally inhale the entire fly, making it difficult to safely remove the hook if multiple hooks exist on the pattern.
To be on the safe side-I prefer to use wire of FC/nylon to prevent getting bit off.
This is the view I’ve seen so many times, suddenly appearing out of nowhere as I figure-eight my musky fly boatside. It only took two years before I stopped freaking the hell out when seeing these freshwater alligators near my fly.
Sometimes musky fishing does feel like you’re trying to find a “needle in the haystack.”
Probably one of my favorite eats of all time. This fish pinned my friend’s streamer against the boat during his second figure eight. The scene was similar to a horror movie when an unsuspecting actor leans over the canoe and suddenly a croc’s head lunges out of the water and attacks without prior notice.
Keep your hooks sharp! The musky gods only provide so many opportunities, and the last thing I want is to blow an opportunity due to a dull hook. I would say I spend 5X the energy performing gear checks on my musky gear than any other species.
I believe most of the musky I catch on my home rivers could easily be played with a 9 or 10 weight. I use the mass of 11 weight fly lines to cast miniature size chickens (aka musky flies).
I think some of my happiest days are when I hear the sound of a two stroke motor, see the moody cloud clover, and feel the hope that I may find a toothy critter.
As of this writing, I cannot think of any greater feeling than releasing such a prized game fish back into the water. As the late Lee Wulff once wrote, “A gamefish it too valuable to be caught only once.”
Several smaller waters here in PA have been receiving fingerling stockings over the last few years. The results are some quality species ranging from mid-20’s to mid-30’s sized fish.
This is what the late Bob Ross would call “a happy accident.” Although I shouldn’t be, I continue to be amazed on how many great smallmouth bass I catch on musky flies during the season.

Contributed By

George Daniel

George Daniel considers himself a teacher first and a fly fisher second. He has authored three best selling fly fishing books and has authored dozens of articles for national fly fishing publications, including Fly Fisherman Magazine. He continues to travel the county conducting lessons and workshops for private groups, corporations, and conservation organizations. George is a former Fly Fishing Team USA competitor and captain. He’s a brand ambassador for a number of fly fishing companies. George is currently the Director of the Joe Humphreys Fly Fishing Program at the Pennsylvania State University. George currently lives on an old farm homestead with his wife, two children, and boykin spaniel. 


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