Guide: Kip Vieth
Wildwood Float Trips, Guide Service

October 2022 – If you’re interested in chasing muskellunge with a fly rod, the idea of floating the Mississippi river in Minnesota is likely to come up. Muskellunge or muskie, sometimes shortened to musky, is the largest member of the pike family. Musky, often referred to as apex predators, continually patrol habitat in search of food. Most often targeted on the bottom of river channels and in weed beds, musky can appear anywhere in native rivers and lakes patrolling for unsuspecting prey.

The mighty Mississippi river in Minnesota might be the biggest span of native water where they can be found. I’ve fished with Kip Vieth from Wildwood Float Trips previously, targeting trout (watch our episode on fly fishing The Driftless Area, Wisconsin) and finally booked a day to float with him in his Clackacraft drift boat searching for Musky on the Mississippi out of his home base, Monticello, Minnesota about 2 hours from the twin cities.

This adventure was my third day of musky fishing on a fall 2022 tour, following 2 days in Wisconsin with my traveling partner Larry Carlson who’d been dropped off at the airport in Minneapolis after 8 days on the road. The second leg of the trip was in full gear when Jeff Wilder (out of Los Angeles) joined as Larry departed.

We arrived in Monticello early enough in the day to find a public golf course and play 9 holes. Then made it in time for dinner at a local sports bar that featured a betting pool that drew serious attention from the regulars. Monticello is a thriving town with about 15,000 residents. It didn’t have much to offer on a Monday night, but we found a place called Foul Line, ordered a couple of burgers and a local IPA and all was well.

Jeff Wilder, hitting the long ball in Monticello
Clackacraft drift boat on the Mississippi river in Monticello, Minnesota

Up early the next morning, we met Kip at a local coffee shop and followed him for about 45 minutes to the put in. Dropped the drift boat trailer in a parking lot then rode down river about 8 miles to a military base where we parked my rig, returning to the put in where we launched his Clackacraft at about 9am.

The Mississippi is a big, deep, fast-moving river and our day consisted of eagle watching, casting big flies and learning the tricks and intricacies of Minnesota musky fishing from a seasoned pro.

Clackacraft drift boat on the Mississippi river in Monticello, Minnesota
Colin Ambrose fishing the Mississippi river

As often is the case in this pursuit, we caught no musky. Kip stressed the importance of keeping a fly in the water all day as the big predators can be anywhere. He also recommended employing the figure 8 whenever possible, that’s a tactic where the angler sticks the tip of his/her rod 2 guides deep in the water toward the end of the retrieve to move the fly back and forth, up and down prior to removing from the water to recast. It’s been said that as the float boat moves down river, curious muskellunge can swim under the boat and remain for a long period of time only to hit a fly when the angler least expects it. One can only hope.

We did hit one area of the river toward days end where the water was moving slowly on a large eddy off a small island. At the end, entangled with tree branches a large weed bed had formed in the slowest moving water. As we approached, Kip pointed it out, directed me to cast my big articulated green and orange fly in the middle of the weed mass and sure enough a 20-inch small mouth was waiting. Hungry, the big brown fish took my presentation. I’d hooked a “tank” and it made my day. Jeff was not so lucky; his time would come on the next river in another state.

Kip Vieth
Jeff Wilder