Muskie Madness

February 13, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson


There is no rush in freshwater fishing like a giant musky.

There is no rush in freshwater fishing like a giant musky.

Wearing a pair of old glasses, I peered into the choppy surface of the lake. The gray ceiling of clouds reflected in the trough of each ripple, while the weedtops were visible in the water column with each tiny crest. Despite the weaker prescription, I could clearly see the orange pulsating blade of a well-worn bucktail working its way back to the dock from where I cast it, fading in and out giving off a rhythmic pulse like the wavelets against the shore.

Like a shadow, a greenish-gray silhouette appeared out of the ether behind the thumping lure.

“What do I do? What do I do!?!” The ten-year-old screamed at me in my mind. Fifteen feet…it’s still there. Ten feet, the fish is still following. Figure eight? Slow down the retrieve!? Speed up!? ARGH!

As quickly as it appeared, the muskellunge vanished with a turn of the tail. There wasn’t any time to watch it go, it disappeared like smoke. I wondered if the follow really happened – had my old prescription tricked me? The goosebumps, increased heart rate and adrenaline rush confirmed the it was no hallucination

What I don’t know about muskies could fill the Great Lakes, but what I do know about them is enough to hook an angler for life. They are sleek, powerful, vicious, fussy and haunting, like the cat from Pet Sematary but with a better profile. In a few short weeks, they have changed the way I fish, the way I view the sport of angling and how I view other species.

Where once a wall was devoted to bass baits in our little boathouse on the south shore of Big Detroit Lake in Minnesota, muskie lures have crept across the pegboard like kudzu. Giant hooks dangle down from wooden Suicks, rubbery Bulldogs and massive bucktails Mr. Mepps probably only saw in his worst nightmares. Behind them, bags of bass plastics hang under cobwebs. Pursuit of these muskellunge has certainly changed our tackle and our behavior.

I’ve never known my brother to be an early riser. To get him up for pheasant opener at daybreak was a chore last year. Before this summer, the only time a soul would seem him at five o’clock in the morning is when he was coming home on a Sunday morning. Now, I am his alarm clock on Saturday morning.

Some of our favorite musky stories are nothing more than a follow

Some of our favorite musky stories are nothing more than a follow

“What time will you be getting up?” He asks.

“Five, I suppose,” is my usual reply.

“How about four-thirty,” he suggests.

I usually agree and turn the alarm back a half hour.

We start in the dark, cast through dawn and into the morning, watching for shadows in the water. It is a maddening pursuit which fits him better than me. As a college student with a half-week part-time job, his Wednesday-through-Saturday schedule is perfect. As I wrote this, I received a phone call detailing the three or four sightings of fifty-inch fish that refused to strike at boatside. A forty-hour work week isn’t the cure for muskie fever, and no amount of angling for other species fills the void.

While raking the beach in front of the boathouse I find dead walleyes with missing tails and two-pound pike washed up with large gashes in their sides. Are these just steps in the decomposition process, tiny holes made bigger by bacteria and the bites of small fish? More likely they are brushes with the new dominant predator in the lake. Stocked since I was a child in the late 1980s, I have grown alongside these fish but paid little attention to them until now. Sometimes the fingerlings would be mixed in with the myriad of shiners, perch and bluegill in our seining nets. Other times stories would buzz around Long Bridge of someone catching a ten-pounder, then a thirteen pounder, then bigger and bigger as the years went on.

Now these gray ghosts have become the Moby Dicks of Detroit Lakes, a relatively water bordered on the north by the main drag of the city and ringed everywhere else by starter castles with Hummers, Escalades and thirty-thousand-dollar boats parked in the driveways. The establishment of these fish, and stories of specimens now topping 60 inches in length draw the weekend warriors from nearby Fargo and other places. I assume the fish are all the more finicky from the increased pressure.

The epidemic spreads exponentially each year. In time, it will consume many. The treatment isn’t cheap, and there is no cure. Rods, reels, and sunken costs aren’t the big concern, it’s the habitual doses of tackle that plague the pocketbook. Eight dollars for bucktails, fifteen smackers for a stickbait, and a Jackson for a life-like swimbait are the norm. But they work. At a particular place and time, each one can pay off. Where and when, I can’t tell you. That’s just one of the mysteries I’m beginning to unravel.

What I can tell you, is that it doesn’t take a fish in the boat to hook an angler on muskie fishing. All it takes is that first follow. Maybe the gills flared, maybe it just turned off, but that sighting alone warrants another hundred or so casts, and then a thousand more in other areas, and maybe even more. When the day comes where the fish does strike, you’ll have found the point of no return…in our outdoors.


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