Fish any fly you want, as long as it’s an Urban Fly black and orange double…
Like most things in my musky fly fishing experience, I more or less tripped and stumbled into it. The early musky fly season had given way to the guts of summer, and to be honest, the fishing had been lukewarm at best. Long days on the water with even longer stretches of inactivity had caused a deep audit of the fly box in search of a pattern and presentation that might trigger reluctant fish. After fishing small baitfish patterns, giant poppers, and the biggest and most broad-shouldered bugs we could find or tie without a ton of success (a few fish here and there, follows but no eats, etc) my fishing buddies and I began toying with the notion that a slimmer head and narrower shoulders could trigger reluctant fish in a way that some of our more bulldozing patterns simply weren’t at the time.
Around the same time, our collective attention was caught by the patterns that Mark Burns was tying up at Urban Fly Co. Close friend, awesome musky fly guide, and frequent fishing partner Josh Smeltzer had procured a pink and white Urban fly pattern and upon inspection the fly just screamed upper midwest musky eats. The bugs seemed to be the perfect intersection of the elements we were conjuring up on the river while chucking meat with a much bigger footprint. His flys seemed to have a big enough profile to trigger large fish, but a slim, sparse enough design to cut and twitch erratically through the water column instead of just plowing through it like a lot of larger water-pushing designs do.
As a crew we figured we’d spent a lot more money on a lot worse ideas over the years, and pulled the trigger on Mark’s articulated pattern with a pair of 6/0 predator hooks and a slim “river style” head. By some combination of wisdom and dumb coincidence, we landed on a black fly with an electric orange tail flowing out of the back - mostly because it totally passed the eye test, and seemed like the color scheme meant you could fish it effectively in cloudy or bright conditions. We added a couple to the cart and fired off an order. And that could’ve been the end of it, honestly, because the flies came, landed in the box, and we continued hammering through the peak of the summer, grinding out long days in hot weather targeting reluctant fish.
But, it was absolutely not the end of the story. On an early fall day on a river in the heart of musky country Cody Kinart and I found out the fly had a lot more in store for our season. It was the kind of day that lets you know it’s about to be autumn proper by the crisp pre-dawn air, but makes sure you know it’s not quite there yet as temperatures try to touch 80 degrees. At first light we were on the water and by luck and chance, I grabbed the Urban Fly Co. orange and black double. Within 100 yards of the launch, the fly moved a fish. And then another. By midmorning I had moved two muskies and boated a small, spry, bright colored hammer handle.
As an avid subscriber to “Don’t Fix It If It Ain’t Broke Quarterly”, the fly stayed on my leader after a riverside lunch. And it continued to induce strikes. Not those infuriating, apathetic “meh..” style strikes. I’m talking about the kind of no nonsense assertive eats that only a musky fly fisher familiar with the agony and despair of a reluctant, disinterested follow can truly appreciate. These fish were coming hot off the bank and eating with authority. The design allowed me to impart an erratic, broadside dart on the strip, hang enticingly on the pause, and speed into a figure eight that seemed to be driving the fish to strike violently. On multiple occasions throughout the day we watched fish move several yards like a torpedo and throttle this fly. The day culminated in a classic esox fly fishing rodeo, and the hand lining/eventual netting of a beautiful 40 inch class musky.
Because musky fly fishing lends the angler so few feedback points, the next time on the water Josh and I were both chucking identical black and orange Urban Fly Co. doubles. It was an evening in the middle of the week, and both of us were stoked to sneak out of work a little early and get on the water before the sun fell. Neither of us had very ambitious expectations, and honestly, a couple hours on the water, a couple cold ones, and a reason not to sit at home daydreaming of toothy critters was all we were after. Instead, the black and orange double just did its thing again. Less than 20 minutes after getting on the water, the fly elicited a violent boatside eat and before we even cracked the first cold beverage I was standing in the water and it was grip and grin time. Twenty-five minutes and twenty yards of shoreline later another musky ripped off a shallow bank and throttled Josh’s fly. Back in the water. More photos. Rinse and repeat. In less than an hour the fly had gotten violently attacked by two respectable muskies, both of which landed in the net.
At that point, the writing was very much on the wall. The way that this specific fly, in this specific color scheme was designed and tyed was proving to be lights out in the waters we fish. As the season progressed into mid and late fall, the pattern continued putting sizable muskies into the boat, with multiple fish just outside the 50 inch class. As late fall turned to early winter the fly rarely left our leaders, and when it did, it seemed to migrate back to the end of our line before long. The results just kept speaking for themselves. That single fly pattern out-fished the remaining sum of our fly boxes by significant margins.
Day after day, outing after outing (to the tune of well over 30 documented days on the water throughout the season) the fly stacked up an impressive collection of serious eats. Despite the minimalist design features of the pattern, it triggered explosive eats from modest sized muskies all the way up to the largest of fish, including several upper 40 inch class fish. It also triggered a violent eat and deep hook set on what was almost certainly a world class fish (which the musky gods deemed worthy of evading capture - see previous article advising the close inspection of stainless snake guides).
I certainly won’t claim to be smart, wise, or full of B.S. enough to attempt an accurate explanation of exactly why the fly led to so many eats last season. But I can tell you, and so will Mark Burns, who purpose built every aspect of the pattern to impart an action in the water that triggers eats and keeps fish buttoned, that the sparse, vertically tied design, deer body head, and minimal bulk cause it to dart erratically on the strip and turn broadside before hanging precariously on the pause. I can tell you that the two 6/0 Ahrex money makers which make up the platform of the fly make it damn near bulletproof and mean that when an eat occurs, the fish tend to stay stuck. I can also tell you that because of the way the fly is designed, any 9-12 weight rod with a decent partial or full sink line allows you to comfortably cast, retrieve, and figure eight the fly all day long, and then come back the next day and do the same. And, I can tell you that Mark ties each one by hand and will stop at nothing to provide the best possible customer service (at one point last fall Mark scrambled to tie and overnight ship almost a half dozen of the patterns so we could be back on the water attempting to set into the largest fish I’ve ever dreamed of in our fishery). But mostly, what I can say is that for me and the people I fish with, the recipe for catching a musky on the fly was simple during 2020: time on the water + an Urban Fly Co. black and orange river double.
Undoubtedly, there is a combination of variables at play in that fly, only a fraction of which I would dare to say I can understand, which cause muskies to attack them violently and end up in a net. Call it a combination of Mark’s precision engineering and the great mystery of musky fly fishing. As the 2020 musky fly season gets further into the rearview and the 2021 season gets closer on the horizon, I can guarantee that my fly box will be filled with a handful of black and orange Urban Fly Co. doubles with river heads on them. Sure, they’ll be surrounded by a colorful cast of supporting characters, and I’m sure from time to time I’ll chuck gaudy poppers, dredge heavy jig patterns (until I inevitably snag up), and burn smaller singles through plenty of holes throughout the season. But make no mistake, when it’s time to get serious about putting big fish in the boat on the rivers my crew and I fish, I guarantee it’ll be an Urban Fly Co. river double in black over orange on the end of my line.