Dr. Musky’s Stand-Up Fish Tips
By Ben Duchesney
Neuropsychologist by day, musky fisherman every minute, Mike Small may be clinically obsessed. "They say it's the fish of a thousand casts, but I've also heard 10,000 casts," he says.
Small chases these large predators from a late version Old Town tandem kayak, suited specifically to his taste. "I ripped out the seats and attached outriggers with PVC so I can stand and cast."
He fishes the waters of the St. Lawrence River Valley in Upstate New York, close to the Canadian border, a two hour drive from his home in the town of Long Lake.
The musky doctor is a skilled fly angler. He broke the Freshwater Hall of Fame's 30-pound tippet catch and release musky fly fishing record in July 2012—from a tin boat, not a kayak. He took that muskie out of the Grasse River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence River.
Small's favorite tactic is to hit the lily pads and weeds, casting 30 feet past them. "Then bring it back towards lily pads and weeds real jerky," he says. "The strike is ferocious and they fight like a freight train."
His arsenal is loaded with high-end fly rods in weights 9 to 11. His go-to combo is "a 10-weight St Croix saltwater rod, because it has more oomph in the tip for throwing big flies." Those big flies are also hand tied by Small himself, sometimes taking hours to tie a single one.
"All barbless, Gamakatsu hooks, sizes 3/0 to 6/0. You realize how tough these hooks are when each barb takes a few minutes to file down," he says. Small keeps a spinning rod in the kayak just in case he comes across a trick cast or his arm gets tired. "You need to visit the doctor the next day after throwing the 6/0 flies."
Serious fish need serious rigging, so Small uses a hand tied leader that means business: 80-pound fluorocarbon down to 60 and then 50. He then adds a "swivel, then a titanium bite guard with a snap lock swivel at the end to change flies faster." All of this is attached to shooting head line and a sink tip.
Small has fished with plugs, spinners and bait, but he says, "I've got more action on the flies, they produce over and over." It's no wonder these patterns are producing, especially with names like Rainbow Leech, Sting Bee and Slide Winder. “Most muskies range from 28 to 38 inches, but I've also caught several in the 40-50 inch range,” Small adds
“They’ll break your heart the way they charge the fly without taking it, follow it to the boat and turn away, spit the fly after being hooked, or bite through the leader." Small says he now fishes with wire leaders after losing too many nice fish.