Wisconsin's Most Extreme Angling Experience

By Ted Peck - October 1, 2014
Serious muskie and fly fishers are generally considered extreme by the mainstream angling fraternity. The concept of chasing muskies with flyfishing gear takes the concept of extreme angling to an entirely different dimension.

"West Fork" Jason Stewart caters to this unique segment of the angling fraternity, guiding clients out of a Clackacraft drift boat on waters like the St. Croix, Flambeau and Chippewa Rivers-all pristine waters about as far from the main stream as conceivable.

Like most fly fishing purists, West Fork Jason ties his own flies. But crafting a muskie fly is much more involved than tying up the basic wooly booger or even a #18 Royal Coachman dry.

Each fly takes hours to perfect, tied on giant 5/0 or 6/0 hooks. The most intricate creations have articulating bodies. Discriminating fly fishers who purchase these creations from exclusive fly shops don't even blink at paying $35 per fly.

This price doesn't seem extravagant when pursuing the "fish of 10,000 casts". If you don't think throwing a $35 hair-and-feather bug at a precise target up to 10,000 times while bouncing through rapids while standing up in a drift boat is extreme, West Fork Jason is a guy you need to fish with.

I spent two days floating the Chippewa River in Sawyer County last week. Trees along the shore of this dark but effervescent stream were just being touched with splendorous hues of crimson and gold. This is about as close to fishing heaven as an angler with a pulse can ever experience.

The first day noted Chippewa Flowage walleye guide Dean Elmer joined us in WFJ's Clackacraft. We boated three muskies-two small ones and a respectable fish with considerable saavy which jumped out of the boat before I could grab the camera.

The second day Tom Letke stood behind the bow casting brace of the Clackacraft. Letke is from Bozeman, Montana. Fly fishing is a way of life out there.

Wafting a muskie fly for a perfect drift past a mid-stream boulder with an 10 wt. Echo Prime rod is worlds apart from casting a small streamer with a limber 4 wt. wand at western trout.

"It's like trying to play ring toss with a wet sock at a target 50 feet away," Letke mused. "Dynamics of setting the hook are entirely different, too".

Trout anglers are accustomed to raising the rod sharply when a fish inhales their fly to drive the hook home. With a hard-charging river muskie the key to hooking up is keeping the rod tip low and stripping in line with speed and purpose to initiate the dance.

We boated just one fish on day two. Like most muskies, the fight wasn't over when she was led to the net. This fish almost knocked both my rods in the foreboding Chippewa, slimed the lens on my camera and bit me before she could be gently returned to the water from whence she came.

The combat was recounted in great detail an hour later when we stopped for a fly fisher's lunch: sliced turkey breast on fresh baked chibata bread, a kale salad with slivered almonds and bleu cheese, homemade macadamia nut cookies and a bottle of single source spring water. I used the linen napkin to clean fish slime from my Nikon's lens.

This is a far cry from the venison jerky, Gatorade and granola bar I feed clients on a Mississippi walleye trip.

The Northern Lights Motel in the little hamlet of Winter was my base of operations for this adventure. I like staying at obscure, mom-and-pop motels on trips away from home.

All an old fisherman needs is a good shower and a clean bed. The shower at the Northern Lights motel looked like a good one. It was only a three day trip. No need to dirty a towel or change clothes.

The only thing which made me feel dirty was eating a kale salad with slivered almonds using a silver fork. I wonder if that's how West Fork Jason got his name.

Time to shower now. No scent soap and shampoo. Dry with a scent free towel, pull socks and underwear out of a scent free bag and sneak out in the woods. The best definition of "living the good life" is autumn in Wisconsin.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.