A Muskie Venture Saved By Plan B

Featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

On The Fly Freshwater

by Jimmy Jacobs

February 2021

It is said that the steelhead is the fish of 1,000 casts. That sounds pretty discouraging, until you find out that the muskellunge is often referred to as the fish of 10,000 casts. But, for a lot of us anglers, that just sounds like a challenge!

The crew from On The Fly South was in southwest Missouri’s Ozark region targeting trout, when we got an invitation to try some warm water action. In this case, “warm” referred to the type water the fish prefer, not the actual temperature of the water. Although it was not yet November, a cold northern claw already gripped the region, featuring near freezing temperatures, wind and spitting rain.

Battling the elements on the casting deck. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Since we were already in the area, we wanted to try for a muskie on the fly. We had heard that several lakes around there held these brutes. Thus, we found ourselves at Stone Creek Lodge near Stockton Lake, preparing to head out with guide Kris Nelson.

Once Kris heard what we had in mind, he admitted that though he was a fly fisher, he had never ventured out after muskie. He explained that he was mostly a bass angler when it came to warm-water species, often even entering local tournaments for those fish.

On the other hand, he recounted a number of experiences when fishing in those competitions he had gotten a hard strike that convinced him he was hooked into a big largemouth that would anchor his stringer and place him high at the weigh-in. Only problem was, when he got the fish to boat it was a muskie.  Bottom line was, he didn’t target those fish, but he knew where they were on the local waters. That was good enough for us.

Kris chose Pomme de Terre Lake for our outing. For those of us from the Deep South, we’d have simply called it Tater Lake, since its translation from French would be Potato Lake. The 7,820-acre reservoir lies a few miles to the northeast of Stockton, but it is an impoundment where he has had multiple run-ins with muskies. That is not really a surprise. The lake, which was built in 1957, has been stocked with the fish since 1966 and sports one of the highest catch rates for muskies in the country.

Kris Nelson taking a turn in the front of the boat. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

The bitter weather had not let up as we drove to the boat ramp, each of us bundled up to the point we looked more appropriate for skiing than fishing. Fortunately, or unfortunately, these cold, dreary conditions are often the best for getting a muskie to bite.

Once on the open water, we began cruising points and shelves along the shore where Kris had hooked muskies in the past. The side-scan sonar on his boat picked up large fish laying on the shelves in just 2 to 4 feet of water. On a couple of occasions, we even saw the long shape of muskies in the shallows on points. The fish definitely were there.

Now all that was left to do was toss our 10,000 casts. The set up we were using was a 10-weight rod and reel matched to an intermediate sinking line. On the end we had a big minnow pattern that stretch to 8-inches in length. For some muskie fans, our fly would have been considered small.

Needless to say, battling the wind with that type of gear is a tiring challenge. Polly Dean and I took turns on the casting deck, with Kris also stepping up when our arms were going numb. After a couple of hours of pounding the spots that were showing fish, all we had to show for it was one vicious missed strike during one of Kris’ turns casting. All told, we probably made about 400 to 500 casts.

When Kris finally asked if we had enough and wanted to catch a fish, our interest was piqued. Particularly, since we still had another 9,500 cast left on our muskie search.

Polly Dean with that first Pomme de Terre Lake crappie. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

In these conditions, I couldn’t imagine we had another option. Soon the boat was stationed along side a brush pile that just barely broke the surface. We now were casting 8-weight set ups with floating lines and a strike indicator on the leader. Tipping this rig was a small Clouser Minnnow in a grey and white color scheme.

As Polly worked the strike indicator across the top like a popping cork, it disappeared beneath the surface. Tightening up, she brought a slap crappie flopping to the gunnel. According to Nelson, this type of fishing is a year-round option on all the surrounding waters. Catching crappie is a staple of local fisheries.

Taking these papermouths on a fly in freezing water came as a complete surprise to me. Yet, it was not an unwelcome change from  the labor of casting a 10-weight. It also proved that having a good guide with local knowledge can always provide a Plan B that pays off.

To arrange a day of guided fishing with Kris Nelson for small or largemouth bass, crappie, white bass – or even a muskie, check out his website for Tandem Fly Outfitter.