Friday, August 15, 2014

The Thrill of It All!

February 2, 2013

This day, perhaps the last having open "big fish green" water prior to ice up this winter, a warm gem of a day a bit odd for late January, added to the excitement and potential thrill of landing a big fish, perhaps a fish of a lifetime.  After a week of temperatures hovering in the teens and low twenties, having to deal with fog emerging from thirty four degree water complete with floating ice, proving the comfort of the weather would be experienced more positively from our point of view, not necessarily as well from the point of view of our quarry, the mighty toothy muskellunge, Esox masquinongy.
After catching some smaller muskies like this one, I was ready to break my personal best.
We launched my aluminum sixteen and a half foot fishing vessel, sporting a jet drive outboard for navigating through or around skinny water, optimistic as ever despite the sudden loss of the use of my depthfinder.  Musky fishing is hard work, but we were ready, my fishing friend Ed and I, to bring a toothy monster to our net on this day, and more if we could.  This post isn't a fishing report, but a description of one encounter with a beast, one that I would play over and over again in my mind.
This picture is from a prior trip where it was so cold, ice was forming on our rod guides, and leaving interesting sculptures on our reels.  This fishing day started off much warmer and more comfortable.
I had tossed large heavy duty lures all day long, some of which weighed three quarters of a pound or more on stout tackle and heavy line.  Such tackle is necessary for many reasons, the most important to bring the mighty musky to the boat quickly to protect the fish for a clean, safe release, and also balanced to toss lures that imitate the large prey items that muskies deem delicious, fish that many anglers would consider large to catch on an average fishing day.

The names of these large musky lures are interesting enough in their own right, arising from a culture of musky hunters across North America.  Names like Poe's Awaker, Boo Bling or Squirko prove to be foreign to the vast majority of anglers in our neck of the woods, but these are just a few examples of many such names that may reside in the massive tackle boxes of the average musky angler.  Even more foreign to local anglers is the sight and sound of these lures making that huge splash that would send just about any type of fish fleeing for it's life.  When local anglers observe us tossing these massive baits, I often wonder if those weird leers were those of disgust for spooking their fish, or just plain bewilderment, or a little of both.
Big baits like this Medussa might  help you catch a big fish, but they definitely will put your muscles to the test.
My arms, back, and shoulders ached.  Tossing big baits like this takes its toll on an aging frame like mine.  But potential rewards are worth the effort. Concentration and perseverance are key.  The day may seem long and the water fishless, but one must maintain as much focus and concentration as possible on each and every cast, for any one could result with the fish of a lifetime on the other end, and you'd better be ready.

You'd lob a cast toward your secret spot, one that changes each time depending on various factors like wind or current, with that cast placed with the pure intention of targeting that musky that you know calls that spot home, whether it is there or not.  That's the hope though, that your cast puts your lure right through his living room and it would get his attention.

The routine is the same with slight variation depending on the type of lure that you use.  Cast, crank it down a little, twitch, pull, make the lure dance, and as it nears the boat, guide the lure in a figure eight pattern, large enough that a big musky may turn, chase and attack the lure.  It doesn't have to be a figure eight, it could be an L shape, or oval, just something that changes direction.  And do it every cast, whether or not you're tired.

Focus and watch both under and behind your lure for any hint of a musky following your lure.  And if he does, pay close attention to his behavior.  Is that fish coming in hot after your lure or is it a lazy follow?  And be ready to adapt or make some sort of move to trigger a might get lucky.  It's tough to focus after a long day without action, and easy to daydream, but keeping your mind on your goal helps you overcome the odds, and put them in your favor.

So back to the encounter.  It was one of many many casts, following the same routine with this particular lure, a large relatively deep diving crankbait.  Cast as far as you can, crank it down, stop, twitch, let it rise, twitch some more, crank some more, and finish with a figure eight.  Only on this cast, when I cranked it down, two twitches and I had a fish on.  I set the hook hard once, then again twice.  It wasn't just a musky, it was a nice one.  This fish felt both strong and heavy.  Would it break my personal best, or "PB" as its known in the fishing web forum world?

Compared to most musky anglers, at that time, my personal best was rather small at thirty nine and a half inches.  I hadn't broken the forty inch club yet.  So a forty plus fish would be extremely sweet.  Any musky is sweet, but to catch your biggest one?  Words can't describe that feeling.  And I was due.
At that time, this was my PB, or personal best, at 39.5 inches.  This fish isn't big by musky angler standards, but I felt good about it.  Now it's time to improve on that.  Maybe on this warm January day.
The beast hit my lure a good distance away, and the fight took a while.  My fishing pal was ready with the net in plenty of time.  It was a big fish, and with muskies, the females mostly produce those large sizes at the mid-forties and above.  Such fish push the scales to twenty or thirty pounds, or maybe more.  I imagined this fish to be a big female.

She was quite strong, and I'd say that my heart was pounding from the excitement, but in my mind I imagined it being completely stopped.  What a fight!  She turned my boat around with her strength.  I wondered if I needed to quickly pull up my trolling motor, but thought against it for fear of giving her any slack at all to spit my hook.

Just as suddenly, she changed direction, moving around my boat from left to right, so my fishing buddy positioned for the net job on the other side of the boat.  I thought I was guiding the fish to him, but she wasn't done.  In fact, we still hadn't seen her.  She was deep and not giving up.  The head shakes were as strong as any fish that I'd encountered...ever.

Then, she decided that her current path was not the best way to proceed, so she bulldogged and shook her head, staying under the boat.  All I could do was keep the pressure on and my rod tip up.  I remained calm, just knowing that she'd soon be in my net.

A couple more hard head shakes and my line went slack.  My crankbait floated to the surface.  My lungs emptied like a child's balloon suddenly becoming untied.  I had an empty feeling in my stomach now, and it wasn't hunger.  My fishing buddy was in shock almost as much as I was, but my knees were knocking after all that, and my hands were shaking as if I'd been sitting in a freezer all day.  It was that sickness of losing the fish of a lifetime.  I lost the battle, and she won.  Who was in control after all?  Apparently, not me.

But what a thrill.  That's what it's all about, the thrill of it all.  I know where she lives, and I'll pay her a visit again some day.  Until then, I'll replay that moment time and again, hoping that I'll be out there soon.  That's what drives me.  Musky fishing is just plain difficult and challenging, and I'm up for the challenge.

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