Story by Casey Birkholz
My fascination with Tiger Muskie started about 15 years ago. Growing up, I lived breathed, and did anything that could get me close to fishing. I got lucky about 20 years ago and moved to an area that had a lake with a great population of Tiger Muskie. My first 5 years of fishing for these fish was so incredibly frustrating. I literally started from scratch in not knowing anything. I didn't have a boat that would work well on a big lake. I don't even know if I had the right gear. And I'm pretty sure I didn't have anything they were interested in eating. I think about year 4 or 5 it finally happened I caught a 35" Tiger Musky on a little trout streamer, probably by pure dumb luck. And that was it; that one fish turned from me already being hooked into being absolutely addicted to Tiger Muskie.
Slowly, I started to figure these things out and once that happened I started to figure out what they like, how they react, and how they eat. Believe it or not, it starts to get easier in time. Over the next 10 years I really started getting into it, I would catch 15 to 20 of them a year. I've been a flyfishing guide in Idaho for almost 20 years and I started to take the first couple weeks off of the June guide season every year just to target Tiger Muskie. I think the next big milestone, after actually catching one, is to catch a 40"er. In the lakes around my stomping grounds I think a 40" Muskie is where you start to get into the "Big Boy Class" of fish.
One year was an exceptionally good year, most of the fish I was catching were 40" or bigger. That year, I caught a 48 incher that weighed 33 pounds and was absolutely a giant. I honestly had never heard of a bigger fly-caught Tiger Muskie in Utah than that one. I never thought I could top that one because it was so rare to even see fish bigger than that, let alone get them to eat a fly.
Then the next year, low and behold I found a fish that looked so big if not bigger and I would fish to him every day and he stayed in the same spot day after day. He never would eat and was extremely spooky; I thought this fish could not be caught, period. One day my buddy Drake was out with me and we went right to where this fish lived. I found him right off the bat in the same spot. I threw a cast to him and he charged my fly and actually ate it! I strip set perfect, he gave me two head shakes and then spit the fly. Devastated I watched the fish swim off leisurely about 15 to 20 feet away and lay on the bottom. Drake tossed a cast out front of him and the fish plowed his fly! We bring it to the net and it ends up being 49 and a 1/2 inches. In my opinion the Holy Grail of muskie is 50 inches on the fly, he had barely missed it and it was the largest Tiger Muskie I'd ever laid eyes on.
The next couple years were just average fishing, no giants. A lot of mid-30 inchers and low 40 inch fish. Then the year 2018 happened. The lake is 100% full, which in my opinion, makes it harder to find fish. It was probably my 15th day on the lake this year and I had caught around a dozen fish up to that point but nothing over 40 inches. This particular fateful day I invited a 'Tiger Muskie Virgin' to come fish with me. After putting the boat in that morning, I had an agenda that I was going to follow as to where we would fish and in which order. We started driving across the lake and as we are going to the first spot I looked over my shoulder to a point that I know holds a lot of fish and at the last second, I decide to say, "Hey let's just go fish that point for 10 minutes first."
The night before I had tied up a brand new fly with some new materials and colors that I never used before; it looked super sexy on the vice so gave it a try. Once I got to that point, I put on that new fly made one cast to watch the action of the streamer and thought to myself, "Oh yes, this fly is a killer!"
20 to 30 casts into the morning, I tossed my streamer out over some deeper water that has deep piles of brush and sunk weeds and out of nowhere I got an ambush eat. My first thought was it was a 45 incher because he immediately went deeper and started bulldogging me in the weeds. About a minute into the fight he came up and jumped... Holy sh**!!! Another minute later we slid him into my giant musky net and it was the first time ever thinking, even after catching around 150 Muskie, that my net was not big enough. I knew that he was close to that 50" mark so we motored over to the only sandy beach in the area. We got out the boat took a few pictures with this monster and put him on the measuring board. He was 50" on the dot.
I knew this was a very special fish we took some more pictures and slid him back in to be caught again. . .
To my knowledge this is the largest fly caught muskie in a state of Utah. But to be honest with you, I consider it a lot of luck. Yes, they are super hard to catch, in fact I have caught way way more 30" trout that I've got 50" Muskie. It just goes to show that you just have to be out there to get "The Holy Grail Fish" and I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right mojo that day.