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Getting ready scouting day - Photo by Jake Ament

Ok. This years inaugural World Musky Fly Fishing Championships went off at McMinnville, TN this past weekend and our JK team rocked it!  Here’s the story, keep in mind that this is a fishing story, so multiply everything by a factor of -2 (except for the fish sizes of course).  50 competitors signed up for the tournament from 13 states and the 53rd state (Canada).  One of the competitors was rumored to be Elvis’ last bass player, Tommy Hensley… how cool is that!?

As any tournament starts out, this one began with a bit of scouting the local river system.  We were to be 4 competitors in total for the show, myself, Jake Ament, Robert Rubino and Andrea Sommerfeldt.   Jake, a long-time whitewater boater and instructor and a musky guy, and I were first to the region, arriving in time to head out for a scout on Thursday.  We took the new Big Tuna and headed for the Calf Killer River… a tributary to the Caney Fork. The Big Tuna for Jake and I was awesome.  We each took turns fishing while the other guided … with a paddle in the water for even more stability, this boat proved its worth on the river as a dory-style float and fly boat, especially with current!  We were able to ferry on the upstream Vs and stay above each drop allowing the casting person to nail both the pools above the rapids and the eddies below.  These were the hot spots this weekend and we saw a few follows that first day.  Took us little time to form a routine in the Tuna.

Amazing Coosa region! Photo by Jake Ament

Day two we went with the Coosa and Big Tuna to the Collins River, another tributary in bounds for the tournament.  This river had 3 sections upper, middle and lower… the upper and lower had a gentle current, while the middle had a bit more umph to the run.  We hit only the lower section with a shuttle set up and headed out.  Immediately we got some follows.  The water was very clear, nice Azul-blue in color and the shadow of a musky to the line was awesome to see and got the heart pumping.  Jake and I didn’t have our tournament flies going for our warm ups so we were tossing large pike flies I had with me… we got follows, but no real blow ups.  Like the Calf Killer, this river is beautiful!  Spring bloom was everwhere, cool moss hanging down from cliffs… super nice float!

Game Day!
Andrea and Robert showed up at 2am and by 4:15 we were all up and heading towards the tournament check in meeting in McMinnville.  Jake grabbed the Cuda making this the first official tournament for all three boats in the Jackson Kayak Fishing fleet!    Joining us was Jase and Brandon.  Jase is JK’s first employee in Sparta and guides with fellow Jackson Kayak Fishing team member Cory of Stone’s Throw Adventures here in Tennessee. We were the luckiest folks on the earth that day with these two cats showing us the way.    There was a great mix of boat types in the parking lot, from tinnies, big-ole-bass boats, Towee boats (a great local TN company too!), dories and a few kayaks. Under the watchful eye of Todd Gregory of Towee Boats… the opening meeting took place.  We got the rules reviewed:  barbless, no trolling, nothing but fly, longest total catch wins and make it back by 5 if you have something to weigh in!  Off we all went.

Indiana James with the winning fish ON! - Photo by Jake Ament

We planned on three sections of the Collins as that was the high recommend from Jase and Cory but when we heard that the top section was inundated by competitors we headed for a put in Jase knew of at the top of the middle section… right above some of the best musky spots I’ve ever seen!  A good musky day is “a few follows”, a great musky day is “a few follows and a blow up or two” and an INCREDIBLE musky day is “a few follows, a few blow ups and a fish on”.  This was better than incredible!  We must have had 20 or 30 follows total, with at least 4 fish on and one fish to the boat for measuring.  Again we found the top of the rapids the best spots for action.  The deep pools and the shaded river edge were the honey spots and fish were following immediately.

The winning fly - the NEW Indiana James Fly from The Vermont Fly Guys

The real trick for blow ups is your presentation.  The fly, the toss/position and the retrieve action are key.  A clean retrieve never really works cause musky either eat suckers or they hit hurt fish so I tended to make my flies look as rough as possible.  Such a great rule for lame-asses like me who sometimes hit trees and have a great ole splashdown with my accidental fly… fish love that accidental cast.  Gold/orange/black bucktail style was my fly.  The Vermont Fly Guys tied me one of their classics and this was the fly all the fish followed and hit.  They worked long and hard at naming it and came up with a logical “Indiana James Fly” as a monicker (Click for Indiana James for those who don’t know who he is).    Thanks to Brian Price and Ken Capsey at VFG, Jake and I used their flies exclusively and were rewarded for it.  We both dropped flies right at the rivers edge all day, gave a bit of a hesitation, twitched and stripped them in towards the kayak.  We got some great blow ups right as the flies hit the water and at the side of the boat.  There was this one ‘witching hour’ especially where action happened fast.  I had a 45+ incher on right to the boat and lost it to a mis-timed reach for the cradle… ug… but about 20 minutes later had a nice 38 incher on and brought it into the kayak.

38 inches

With Jase watching my every move I hooked him good and fought standing all the way down at least 2 rapids… awesome in the Coosa to be able to do that especially with such a big fighting fish!  I was able to ‘surf out’ into an eddy and pulled to shore so we could care for the fish a bit.  The

hook was set just inside the lip so it was an easy extract.  We quickly measured, photoed and released.  He had a good bit of energy and no signs of trauma at all… very cool.  It was great to see how all the local guides like Jase are very attentive to the release of these great fish.  To have all these follows and hits means that this fishery has some great folks protecting it!

10 minutes later it was Jake’s turn… a “holy sh—” came the call as a massive girl chased his fly (a wholly chartreuse double hook set up by Ken called the Tallywhaker) from the shore to the boat in a quick dart and hit it right at the boat.  The fight was too short unfortunately as a massive jump beside the kayak allowed the musky to break the line.  I think it must of nicked the line with the teeth cause it broke easy.  Luckier still, the hook shook out and Jake chased the floating fly down the river… that was kinda funny to watch.

Meanwhile Andrea and Robert had a few follows of their own, but nothing on.  That became the line of the day as we started catching up to other fishermen… “lots of follows, nothing landed”… hmmm.

Foglight scene - Todd rousting the crowd - Photo by: Steven Seinberg SCOF

Weigh-in and Win
Ok… so imagine trucks and cars all over the river, kayaks at the take out, and 1/2 hour to get our measured fish to the tournament lead.  I won’t go into details, but besides almost running out of gas and having 4 of us in different parts of the region, we got to the weigh-in with 2 minutes to spare… and to our surprise, the 38 inches was the winning length just ahead of Jarrod White of Tennessee!  Team Jackson, our illustrious guides Jase/Brandon, the Vermont Fly Guys, Jake, Robert, Andrea and the Jackson Coosa all won their first musky tournament … this was a great team effort!  A World Championships at that!  Sweet!  We all headed down to the illustrious Foglight Restaurant at the Rock Island bridge and enjoyed an amazing meal, Calf Killer beer and were entertained by awards, tons of raffled stuff (including a Coosa!) and much more.

Your feathered World Champion 😉 Photo by: Steven Seinberg SCOF

So there you have it… a great day for the team.  Special thanks to Jase and Brandon who again were stellar in their help.  To Jake who logistically helped me out all weekend and made things uber fun and to Robert and Andrea for taking out the Big Tuna and having rounded the day off with so many laughs!  Super gang.  The organizers, Todd Gregory of Towee Boats was great in all he did for this event.  He spread the money around to the Foglight and a number of other great eating and drinkin’ spots and made sure the regional economy truly benefited. The prize money was donated to help with initiatives directly impacting the local Musky fishery so that made things sweeter.  Congrats to all who competed.

See you all next year in WI – the defending champ will be there baby!!!