Big Bite: Catching predators with a fly rod requires a new set of skills
February 28, 2016 1:07 AM
Musky Fly Rod World Champion Todd Deluccia released this monster muskullunge.
By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Forget everything you know about fly fishing for trout when you’re after predators that can eat trout.
It’s all different -- the flies, the rods, the lines, the casting and retrieves. And when you set the hook hard on a big honking muskellunge, expect a different kind of fight.
“I always fished for trout and then I started fishing for other species -- panfish, largemouths, smallmouths. One day I wanted to try for pike and muskies,” said Todd Deluccia, winner of the 2014 Musky Fly Rod World Championship and owner of Keystone Predator Outfitters guide service in Emporium, Cameron County.
“I got lucky. Eight fish in seven nights -- ungodly lucky,” he quipped. “That pretty much ruined me for life. Now, I fly fish for predators.”
March 6, at the Pittsburgh Marriott North, Deluccia will explain his passion for fly casting to muskies and pike during a seminar at Cabin Fever, an annual fly fishing expo that raises funds for Penn’s Woods West Trout Unlimited.
Knowing how to read the water is vital for any kind of fishing. Deluccia said experienced trout anglers trying for predators often mistakenly look for trout habitat.
“Pike and muskies are ambush species. You can find them sometimes in open water, but more often they’re trying to hide behind a rock, under timber, in a weed bed,” he said.
Hardcore musky anglers troll lakes with giant plugs at calculated depths and zigzag patterns. Fly fishing for predators in lakes is a different experience.
“You’re basing where you’re fishing on personal knowledge [of the waters] and depth finders,” said Deluccia. “In a lake, you have to make really long casts with sinking line, and it gets really hard.”
Some lake-fishing fly anglers “hunt” for muskies by stealthily walking the shorelines of quiet, shallow coves in search of structure most conducive to the feeding tactics of big ambush predators.
“I prefer rivers,” said Deluccia. “You can minimize guessing on rivers by finding disturbances in the water and setting up the boat correctly -- reading the flow to see how it reacts off rocks, finding a little backwater eddy off a hard riffle. You can float down and make medium casts instead of bombing everything.”
Sometimes, he said, fly anglers can swing lures into position in ways that can’t be done with spinning and casting gear.
A fly-fishing trout angler might be happy to pull out a feisty 16-inch brown or feel the hard smack of an 8-inch native brookie. Deluccia’s musky flies are 8 to 16 inches long.
“When the fly’s that big you have to use the lightest materials you can find, otherwise it’s like casting a wet tube sock,” he said. “The flies are neutrally buoyant and you use sinking lines to get them down. With light flies you can control the depth of the fly line and can fish as deep as you want -- 20 or 30 feet.”
Deluccia's flies are mostly bucktails made from deer hair, some flash and chicken feathers. Deceiver-style articulated patterns add the illusion of bulk, he said, without being bulky. Instead of tying the front of the fly over wire or two hooks, he prefers using an articulated shank -- sort of an eye and shank without without the bend, barb and point.
“Some guys use two hooks. But it’s extremely hard to set the hook on a musky. For me, they were getting off too often with the second hook,” he said. “Tie the back half of the fly on the hook, then slide on the open end of the articulated shank and finish the fly.”
Deluccia will show how it’s done during a Cabin Fever tying demo.
Weighty musky and pike flies are sort of lobbed into position. Deluccia’s lighter patterns can be easier to cast. Heavy rods are a must -- “10- and 12-weight saltwater stuff” is recommended, but the fly fishing industry is responding to angler interest in predator fishing with new lines of musky-specific fly rods. Some have extended fighting butts that make it easier to finish retrieves with a boat-side figure eight.
“Pike don’t like the figure eight as much, but with muskies if you’re not figure-eighting you’re not catching fish,” said Deluccia. “Muskies are not afraid of anything. They don’t care. They’ll follow the fly and come up to the boat. The figure eight triggers them to strike. Then set the hook hard and hang on.”
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