Good Article by Chris Willen

Fellow Towee Pro, Chris Willen getting some love in Coastal Angler Magazine (Middle Tennessee Edition)

North to South…They’re Still Musky

By on March 31, 2014

Musky on the Fly

For that past few years, after the New Year, I’ve been making the pilgrimage south to Tennessee from the north woods of Wisconsin. Despite the temperature change I’m going to chase musky. I was lucky in the sense that I didn’t go into this venture completely blind. The musky fly fishing world is a small one and most of us are willing to help. My first outing the musky gods shined down on us and we were able to put a solid three footer in the net, a savage eat right off a breath-taking rock wall. Well, breath-taking for a Yankee like me, par for the course for anyone who has spent any time in middle Tennessee. The fish ate a sucker-colored double nickel streamer. Two strips into the retrieve and she took it leader deep and was hooked solid, even with the barbless hooks she had no chance to escape. The fish hit the net. So where am I going with the hero story? Nowhere. That was just the introduction to southern musky for me.

Anyone whose gone to a new venue to practice their ability to capture would probably agree that the first few outings it can be hard to think about anything other than the possibility of a catch. Despite my excitement a few big differences were pretty obvious. The main one being that the waters of northern Wisco, for the most part, are tannic (coffee stained) while the waters of Tennessee are about as clear as the home brew that most likely is being distilled not far off. For me this was a big change. I usually can’t see a fish chasing my fly until it’s right in the figure-8 or swimming away, refusing my boat side tango. In Tennessee water as soon as a fish moves on the fly it becomes visible. This can both help and hinder a musky angler. Buck fever is most definitely a real thing and it’s hard not to get a little shaken up when you see those water wolves moving to your fly. Muskies are king of any watershed they occupy, so just because they move doesn’t mean they will eat. So with this my approach slightly changed.

The Collins River in Tennessee is where I’ve spent most of my time and it’s a bit smaller than the rivers I’m used to. It’s easy to just be on top of the fish before you know you’ve found one. My good friend and fellow guide, Brian Porter, always says, “Fish in the future,” which simply means stay in front of the boat with your cast. This couldn’t be more helpful in the Collins. The goal is to get that fish to key in on the fly before it ever notices the boat bearing down. If you can see the musky they can see you. This doesn’t mean when the fish gets close to the boat that the game is over. You need to figure eight or do some sort of direction change at the boat. To date our biggest fish in TN was taken on the figure eight. The key with the eight in any water is to never give up. Keep making your turns and depth changes. That fish is still watching. Even if the fish peels off sometimes they’re just going to get a better vantage point to make the kill. It’s important to be doing your boat side moves after every cast. Yes, you will most likely see your target in the clear water but ya never know they can just appear. In Wisco I’ve had them crash water as you pull your fly to make another cast. If you’re not figure eighting you’re really only making half a cast.

Musky fishing is a grind; there is no denying that. You need to be persistent and not be willing to take no for an answer. One cast, one eat, one fish can turn the day around very quickly. Keep your nose to the grindstone and just keep on casting. They call the musky the fish of 10,000 casts for a reason, so start chipping away at that number and believe you me, once you get hooked up you’ll be just that. There’s no bigger accomplishment than going out knowing that you’re targeting a low-density fish and having one of those brutes hit the net.

Chris Willen has been musky fishing most of his life and guides musky in Northern Wisconsin from the end of May until early November. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone more passionate about musky fishing. You can learn more about his full time guide service at

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