The Long Haul
You could easily argue that I am a solid product of Rural America. My love of a simple, no frills, quiet lifestyle can’t be denied. My childhood in Southern Missouri was defined by outdoor adventure and an impossible distaste for shoes. All my “miles-between” neighbors and county school pals will be quick to tell you that fishing might well be in our blood. When my siblings, friends and I were small, our currency was tackle, our side-arms were Zebcos, and our battle hymn was the Ninja Turtles theme song. The memories of Saturday morning cartoons, followed by a mile-long trek to creeks and blue gill galore, shaped the person I am today, but what on Earth does this have to do with Musky fishing right? It’s only the beginning of it all. The beginnings of a love that takes you to your limit of highs and lows. The great hunt and the first catch.
Musky fishing has been a learned taste. A basser at heart, admitting defeat amongst a club of overachievers will never be me, so the road to reward was truly a 4-year affair. Upon introduction to the world of Musky fishing, my husband and family whisked me off to a cozy cabin deep in the Canadian wilderness. Here’s your rod, here’s your reel, good luck. Despite the odd nuances of poles longer than your car, reels that required oddly switching hands to cast and baits the size of dog toys, I thought sure…I’ll give it a whirl. And then I saw one!
Swimming between boulders the size of our house were Muskies. Nothing I’ve ever seen before and the surprise of a lifetime I can assure you. They came from every direction. They followed in every bait and strangely seemed to look you right in the eye. They weren’t discouraged by noise or boat traffic. They couldn’t care less about the prop. This was their territory and they were curious. The 2nd to last day was it for me, I caught one. It was a 31” youngin’. I held it for the camera with a gigantic smile and was convinced for a moment of my own greatness.
Three years would pass from that moment with no fish: a giant goose egg taunted me in my sleep. Not for lack of opportunity, but for lack of skill, knowledge, and attrition. Until you’ve been bested, you may not understand. I was told that the fish in Canada were dumb, but the next year I went, they proved that I was the dumb one. Two weeks of day in and day out fishing and not one fish was dumb enough to take my bait. Sure, they looked, but snubbed me time after time. I loathed them. On the last day in the last edge of light, I finally hooked one. It jumped and swarped and gave me one last tail flick before dragging me down and spitting my hook. I was bested. I was angry and broken. This 40 plus fish has been my ticket to redemption and now I had to sit through the trip home in shame, plotting my revenge.
Two more years pass with no luck. I guess I was comfortable now with playing the long game. It was forced on me. I was living out my own Shakespearian tragedy. I netted a few here and there for my husband, but where was my reward? Where was my coronation?
There comes a point in Musky fishing that you must realize, throwing out a bait and working it in a mediocre pattern isn’t good enough. It will not produce. You must put in the time. You must learn the lake, the pattern, the “hideouts”, and any small bit of information that can be collected to be successful. You’ve got to study the bait, the colors, the shadows, the light, and amongst this list, you must find the order in which to apply it. It’s a heavy price to pay for success, but with the effort, the reward will come when all the stars align.
Finally, on a cool early fall day, on a spur of the moment trip with my husband, myself and my mother-in-law in tow: I broke the streak. I made a deep cast into what looked like nothing. No bank, no wood, just a bit of open water left untouched. She was there, waiting, hungry. This glorious beast emerged from the water and took me on a ride. I had her dead to rights, and she knew it. The fight was short-lived; a few kicks and flips and she was netted. I gripped her slimy, stinky body while the camera clicked away. She was 42” of hard-earned glory. And you better believe I basked in that glory for the rest of the day.
We relieved the tale for days. She was my first love and for one brief moment I was the Musky Slayer: the tamer of a great beast. So, yeah, I get it. I understand. The moment is so incredibly short, and the victory is so sweet. The stories always come with a precursor of hope, doubt, disappointment and then the great resolve. From humble fishing beginnings to Queen for a day. I understand the soul of a Musky Fisherman as well as anyone. The laughs, high fives, nerves, and joy from a 3-minute moment in the course of one year in a lifetime of 38. It definitely sticks with you and begs you to push for more.
To become successful, you must put in the time. Don’t leave it to chance or it won’t pay out. The formula is a tried and true one, but a deep and mysterious puzzle that must be solved on a case by case basis. Individual Muskies are as particular as individual people. The name of the game is patterning. Find your fish, follow it, notate its favorite time of day, the speed of the bait, the lay of the land. Perseverance and knowledge will help you find your payoff and land a monster Musky, and, in my case, it tips the scale when you’re married to a Musky Guide.