Lateral Lines and Musky Flies
Fulling Mill fly designer Joe Goodspeed share his expert knowledge of fly fishing for Muskie and what makes this powerful predator go after its prey.
“Muskies are a freshwater predator with excellent vision and an extremely sensitive lateral line that detects vibrations in the water. While the musky can see things above and on the sides of its body, the lateral line allows a musky to detect the vibration pattern from everything in the water in all directions. This allows a musky to “feel” things in a larger area than they can see, and plays a more significant role than sight when feeding in stained water.
The lateral line allows a musky to feel things in every direction, so a musky is sensing the vibration pattern of baitfish and larger fish in its surrounding area all the time. Think of what we hear with our ears in a rainforest – a constant array of noises coming from all kinds of birds and animals and insects near and far. A musky hears/feels a constant array of “noise” from anything moving in the water in the surrounding vicinity. The vast majority of this noise vibration comes from healthy fish and other creatures, moving in normal patterns without signs of distress.
When something behaves erratically in the water, an irregular vibration pattern quickly alerts predator fish in the vicinity of a potential feeding opportunity. Anglers frequently see evidence of this when a predator fish attacks or reacts to a gamefish that has been hooked. The healthy gamefish would be a poor feeding opportunity for the predator (prior to being hooked), but suddenly becomes an exciting feeding opportunity. A different example would be a wounded minnow swimming in an irregular manner. If a school of 100 minnows was swimming behind a musky (out of view), and one of them was swimming irregular due to injury, a musky could detect the potential feeding opportunity.
A clever angler can harness an understanding of the musky’s lateral line and predatory instinct to help catch more muskies on flies. Two important questions to consider when tying or selecting a fly to purchase would be: “Will a musky easily sense the vibration pattern my fly creates?” and “Will a musky be excited by the vibration pattern my fly creates?” Vibration profile is dictated by the size of the surface area pushing against the water, the porosity of that surface, the mass (density) of the total fly, and to a lesser degree by the action of the fly.
Flies with small, streamlined heads minimize the vibration profile of the fly — even if they have multiple sections and a jointed action. These flies rely on visual cues to initiate strikes, limiting their success. Flies with larger uniform heads (like a Buford style spun deer hair head, flex tubing head, stacked dubbing, silicone) produce a significant vibration thump like a healthy living item moving through the water. These patterns are more effective than the former style mentioned, because the predator can feel and see them – but they don’t create the erratic vibrations that really excite a predator.
Flies tied with irregular shaped heads (Flat head musky sucker) move in an unpredictable pattern, producing a unique vibration pattern that begs for a closer look from any predator in the vicinity. Using complex shape flies like this allows an angler to cover a larger area with less effort, and to get the attention of lazy old muskies that look for the easiest feeding opportunities. Changing the shape of the fly head changes much more than the appearance of the fly!”
Click here to check out Joe’s Fulling Mill Muskie fly selection.