Muskie on the Fly
Author: Robert S. Tomes
Reviewed by Capt. Mark Dysinger "Muskie are a lot like northern pike except - you can actually catch northern pike!"
- Anonymous Canadian fishing guide
Wild River Press has set a standard with their Masters on the Fly series of books. Dec Hogan's A Passion for Steelhead and Rich Murphy's Fly Fishing for Striped Bass are the two species-specific books in the series. The latest addition to the group is a stalwart volume that is the first complete work ever composed and dedicated to the dogged pursuit of catching muskellunge on the fly.
Robert Tomes' Muskie on the Fly is more than worthy of belonging in the Masters series of books. Tomes is a man who has spent decades chasing these elusive fish with a fly rod, and the experience that he has gained in that time makes him uniquely qualified to write this book. Muskie on the Fly covers the sport from top to bottom, and in many cases it does so with stunning visual support. There are no stones left unturned here.
The book starts by giving us some autobiographical information about the author. In many cases this might seem to be a bit self-serving, but for the subject of muskie fishing it's good text because it paints a picture of Tomes' background and how he came to pursue such a difficult fish on the fly. He is an accomplished angler in many rights and has successfully pursued gamefish around the world. When it comes right down to it though, he'd rather be chasing the toothy giant, the fish of 10,000 casts. It takes a certain type of person to relish in this kind of quest, and suffice it to say that the author is not only the type, but may very well be the benchmark.
After an obligatory chapter on the biology and life history of the species, the author presents what is arguably the most important chapter in the entire book, aptly titled "The Mind Game". Muskie are large apex predators, and because of their ecological niche are rarer than other gamefish. Long days on the water without any action can lead to apathy and mental fatigue. Tomes harps on determination, confidence, opportunity, and visualization as elements of the sport that are as important as any piece of gear that may be used. In fact, an angler can have the best fly gear available and still not maximize the potential of a fishing situation if he or she doesn't have the right mindset.
The gear chapter is as thorough as they come. Tomes does not fall into the trap of brand loyalty here - he recommends rods and reels that fall into premium, mid-range, and value-range costs, and provides the rationale for choosing the setup that works best for this type of flyfishing. Lines and terminal connections are discussed, as are essential muskie flyfishing knots. Additionally, this part of the book includes accessories that are unique necessities for dealing with large toothy fish: jaw spreaders, long-handled hook removers, boga grips, cradle nets, etc.
Need to set yourself up with some muskie flies? The fly chapter not only tells the reader what attributes make a muskie fly appealing, but what materials can be used to create successful patterns. Tomes shares his "Deadly Dozen", the twelve patterns that he wouldn't be without on the water. He shares background information, recipes, and color variations for each pattern. It's also worth noting that in the initial description of each of the twelve flies, the pattern images accompanying a few are sized to the actual flies. With names like Tiktaalik, Muskie Marauder, and Muskie Cowgirl (to name just a few), these are not your customary fly dressings; rather, they represent a portion of a family of large flies meant to fool large apex fish.
Chapters on fly rod skills, presentation techniques, converting follows into strikes, and fighting these leviathans once hooked make up the meat of this volume. These sections in particular present the photographic and illustrative support upon which the Masters on the Fly series of books have built their reputation. Chris Armstrong's illustrations in the presentation chapter deserve special mention for their clarity and conveyance of information. The learnings contained in these excellent and enticing chapters are too comprehensive to adequately review here, but suffice it to say that they will most definitely get your angling juices going. You might also be convinced that in many ways muskie are meant to be caught on a fly. This is wonderful stuff!
No work this comprehensive would be complete without a chapter discussing seasonal strategies, and Tomes does not disappoint. He dissects all open-water seasons for both lakes and rivers, large and small. Every season has its appeal, but each also has its own set of unique issues that must be solved in order to ensure consistent action. These details are identified quite thoroughly, as are reliable tactics for dealing with each.
Muskie on the Fly concludes with chapters on regional muskie guides and fishing hot spots. Also, Tomes shares some Q and A with a handful of highly experienced guides who are willing to share some insights into their resolute pursuit of these fish. For what it's worth, these folks repeat much of the information that is presented in earlier sections of the book, thus reinforcing the fact that the author truly is the authority on the subject.
Possibly the biggest compliment that I can give to Tomes is that he hasn't watered down this work with rudimentary flyfishing information. For example, he doesn't offer up a myriad of knots, just those that you would need to be familiar with in order to handle heavy gear, heavy flies, and heavy toothy fish. Furthermore, he addresses fly casting not from a basic level, but from the perspective of specialty casts that can be necessary when dealing with large flies being thrown for distance or into tight spaces. There are too many books today that spend pages of text conveying basic information to readers who already know it - this book is not one of them. It targets established flyfishers who are looking for the next challenge.
It's been a long time since I have been so invigorated after reading a flyfishing book. Kudos to Robert Tomes for this superb work. A first-time muskie angler, armed with knowledge gleaned from these pages, would be well on his or her way to a winning fishing campaign for these difficult fish.