Rees began traveling to any stretch of muskie water within driving distance. He fished lakes, big rivers and small streams. He fished muddy water and clear water.
Along the way, he discovered that fly tackle seems to be uniquely suited for catching muskies in small streams, and especially in streams with clear water.
"I think flies work well in small streams because they hit the water without much of a splash," Rees said. "Plus, the hair and feathers in these flies make them pulsate, so they look much more natural in the water than solid lures.
"Clear water allows me to watch how muskies respond to flies. In some streams, I can see the fish coming from 20 feet away. Seeing how they stalk and strike the flies gave me a good idea of when to speed the retrieve up and slow it down."
Rees also credited Robert Tomes' book, "Muskie on the Fly," for helping to shorten the muskie-fishing learning curve.
"It allowed me to see how other people's flies were constructed, taught me how to properly set the hook, and how to figure-eight the fly at the boat to draw last-second strikes," Rees said.
Not surprisingly, Rees uses tackle foreign to most fly anglers.
"I use a 400-grain sink-tip line on a 10-weight rod, and with that rig I'm throwing 10- to 12-inch tandem-hook streamers. When I'm fishing 12- to 14-inch 'mammal flies' to imitate baby muskrats, I use a 12-weight rig usually intended for saltwater use."
To date, the biggest muskie Rees has landed on fly tackle measured 48 inches in length, a trophy by any measure.
"I don't know if I'll catch a bigger one," he said.
He's seen bigger ones, though. One in particular haunts him to this day.
"I was fishing a creek near Portsmouth, Ohio, and had just swung a streamer under a mat of floating debris," he recalled. "A huge fish came out from under the mat with its nose almost touching the fly. It followed the fly all the way to the boat.
"I figure-eighted the fly for close to 10 minutes, and the fish stayed right there watching it. I tried every trick I knew. I ran the fly deep and shallow, ran it hot - everything. The fish never took. It sank down out of sight and disappeared. I had to sit down. I was shaking so hard the boat started shaking too."
Rees knows it's natural for "the ones that got away" to linger in anglers' minds.
"That's why fishing for muskies is so addictive," he said. "They're hard to catch, and it's those fish you miss that keep you coming back for more. I know that once I got into fishing for muskies, all other kinds of fishing went away. I've been pretty narrow-mindedly focused on them ever since."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231, or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.