It was just a little bit of retribution on the muskies that we were after. Kind of like a grudge match; a re-match between man-o y musky-o. Actually, it was more of a match between woman-o (my wife, Kerry) and musky-o. She's never been one to go home without a fish, even on a bad day. Musky, however, are not just any fish.
The drama began last September. After the last Elite event on Oneida, Kerry and I spent some fun time touring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and ventured over into the Northwoods of northern Wisconsin. While in Wisconsin, we hooked up with a couple of the guys from St. Croix Rods, Rich Belanger and Al Mohr, for an afternoon of musky fishing.
Having never fished for muskellunge, I was amazed at the size of the baits, rods and reels that we were using. Sure, I'd seen Jerry McKinnis, Babe Winkelman and even that Zona dude fishing for musky and pike in the Far North, but holding one of these monster baits in your hand brings a whole different meaning to the phrase "Super Size Me."
In northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and, of course, Canada, musky and pike are the preferred target species for many anglers. At the St. Croix Rod Pro Shop in Park Falls, the majority of the lure selection is for musky and pike. There's some bass and walleye stuff, but the majority of the peg space is musky, BIG musky, stuff. St. Croix designs and builds rods, and has for many years, just to handle the big baits and big fish you're after when musky and pike fishing. These things make even the biggest bass swimbait rod look like an ultralight.
On our outing the previous year, we had spent a great afternoon on one of the 15,000 lakes of Wisconsin lobbing some big baits around in search of a muskellunge. The musky won that round. None were caught, hooked or even sighted. For me, it was an eye opener to a different world of fishing that I had never seen. For K2, it was just enough to piss her off and make her want to come back to catch one of those suckers.
After the last Northern Open at Sandusky Bay, we rolled into Park Falls with the first big cold front of the fall season. North winds of 20 to 30 mph and rapidly dropping temps greeted us as we stepped out of the K-Pink Mobile. What a welcome to autumn in the Far North. The wind that night was so strong, I thought it a good idea to keep the camper anchored on the Chevy.
After taking care of business in the business sense the next morning, we loaded up with Rich and Al for some business with the muskellunge. Big rods, big baits and a few suckers were loaded into the boats. Rich just looked at me when I told him to throw the net in the net storage compartment of the BassCat.
"You're gonna need a bigger boat, Short," was his reply. The photo tells the story. Yeah, we're gonna need a bigger boat.
We headed east out of Park Falls toward one of the 15,000 lakes that dot the landscape of Wisconsin. Most of these lakes are small and unnamed, some with limited access, and almost all with some amounts of fish. Many rarely see much fishing pressure throughout the warmer months, making the upper half of Wisconsin an angler's paradise. After the first front of the year, no one in their right mind would be out on the water anyway. The high was supposed to be in the upper 40's with north winds 10 to 20 mph and grey skies. The red, orange and gold leaves on the hardwoods made it seem a lot warmer.
We dropped Al's Crestliner (a REAL man's musky boat) and the BassCat (a wannabe musky boat) into the dark waters of a 200 acre lake. I have no recollection of the name of the lake (I do, but I'm sworn to secrecy). After a quick layout of the lake from Al, he and K2 headed around the first corner to start as Rich and I headed over to the far side of the lake.
Far side of a 200 acre lake — that's funny. How long do you think it takes the tackleInteractive.com BassCat-Mercury rig to make it from the ramp to the "far side" of a 200 acre lake? 200 acres is a small step above a pond in my book. We idled across the "pond" and got after the musky.
The modus operandi was pretty simple. Rich and I worked our way along a line of coontail and cabbage ringing the lake, throwing, make that "lobbing," Bulldawgs over the grass. Chunking the Bulldawg was more like casting a full grown Chihuahua with a St. Croix TM79MHF rod that's pretty much a pool cue with a reel seat and guides.
As we lobbed the 'Dawg, we were dragging a live sucker under a float behind the boat. The theory was that we could pull a fish up out of the grass with the Dawgs and if it wouldn't bite our swimbaits, it might go for the sucker swimming along the edge of the grass behind the boat. Yes, we were hedging our bets. We weren't leaving without a musky.
Rich and I Chihuahua-ed our way along the grass line for a few hundred feet while keeping an eye on the huge bobber drifting along behind us. Suddenly, the bobber bobbed several times in quick succession and then disappeared.
"Got one," RB exclaimed calmly as the clicker on the huge reel began to click wildly. I quickly reeled in my Chihuahua and he handed me the rod. "Wait to make sure it's swimming away from the boat, then hit it hard," were my instructions.
I saw the float swimming away from the boat, reeled down and set the hook like we used to when we were worm fishing with six-foot pistol rods. It felt like I was trying to jerk a brick off the bottom of the lake as all hell broke loose behind the boat.
As the musky went by the boat at a high rate of speed, I got my first look at a fish literally longer than my leg on the end of the line. Holy crap, what a strong fish. It went left, it went right, it came up and thrashed around and then RB had it in the ginormous net. My first musky was in the net! A quick call to Al and K2, who zipped over from the other side of the lake to snap a few pix, and the 38-inch beast was back in the water. Not bad for a first musky.
Within a few minutes of Al and K2 leaving us, RB's phone rang. It was Al saying that K2 had boated a tiger musky. We headed around the corner to see K2's fish. She was thrilled. As we idled back to our grass line, RB said "Cha-ching."
"We figure we sell 3 rods every time someone catches their first musky. I'd say Kerry might need her own musky rod, or rods. We could even put her name on it, you know."
"Yeah, I know. What's she going to do with a musky rod in Arkansas?"
"Guess you'd have to come back up here for her to use it."
"I'm thinking that's going to happen, even without her having her own rod."
It was a great day on the pond, and we hadn't even been on the water an hour yet.
Shortly after returning to the grass line and resetting our sucker trailer, the bobber once again went out of sight.
"Got another one" RB said.
"You catch it."
"Nah, we're not out here for me. I catch them all the time. It's yours."
I grabbed the big St. Croix mucky rod, slowly reeled down, felt the fish steadily pulling away from me and jerked with everything I had. 80-pound braid snapped like it was kite string. Damn. Forgot to check the line for nicks after catching the first fish. Simple mistake that cost us another fish. Hate when that happens.
At the end of the day, K2 and I had both boated 2 musky apiece and had numerous others follow our baits to the boat, several of which snapped at the baits before turning off to disappear in the dark water. All in all, it was a great day to fish for musky in the Northwoods and a spectacular day by musky standards.
After looking at the photos from the day, I've been poring over the St. Croix website, checking out the musky rods. Pretty sure I'm going to need at least two. Maybe three.
For more info on Kevin Short or to contact Kevin, check out his Web site at www.kfshort.com.