A popular legend has it that a wise fishing philosopher once warned the uninitiated angler: The first time you fish for musky it’s for fun; the next time you fish for musky it’s for revenge.
Following my first musky trip, I suspect that truer words may never have been spoken.
It turns out that musky are a super tough species whether you’re fishing for them on the fly or with spin gear. Like another feisty, finned friend, the Atlantic salmon, it’s often called a fish of 10,000 casts.
Of course, I wish one of my (now former) fishing buddies had told me all of this before I signed up for a four-day musky fishing slog in northern Wisconsin.
In fact, as soon as the swelling in my hands goes down from the 40,000 or so, 50-foot casts I made fishing in the Northwoods, I’m sending all of them a nasty handwritten note.
Thankfully, my lab, Bo, is typing this column.
OK, maybe my fishing pals did tell me—possibly—that musky fishing would be tough, but they signed me up last November to get prime dates with the guide service, so maybe I forgot.
I mean, it was almost a year ago!
But I really started to get anxious the night before we hit the local rivers near Hayward, Wisconsin. My chums regaled me with stories of 50-inch, 40-pound piscatorial predators with mouths of concrete.
I started to wonder why I came.
On Day One, we floated the Namekagon River. Literally, after my fifth cast to the bank with a 9-weight fly rod with an 8-inch fly, the water exploded not far from the boat. “Fish on,” I yelled.
“10,000 casts, my foot...Ha! Who needs 10,000 casts?!” I thought as I fought the muscular musky. But before I could finish the thought, the feisty fish shook its huge head, threw the hook and was gone—just like that.
Thankfully, it was just inner monologue.
Not too long after, I had another rapacious take of my size 6/0 Reducer fly. The hook-up felt solid and once again, I thought, “What are these guys whining about?! This isn’t that hard…”
Thinking I was about to land a good-sized musky along with all due bragging rights, I was “rewarded” with not a monster musky, but a 34-inch northern pike. I was cool with that as I’d never caught a pike on the fly.
But it wasn’t a musky.
I landed another much smaller pike and “moved” two more musky, but landed none. My colleagues thought that just moving three musky in one day was a Herculean feat.
It was clear I was new to musky mania.
Day Two was one of those musky fishing days the fellas warned me about: An eight-hour float of a “bajillion” casts without a bite. The day on the Chippewa River was only improved by the heavy thunderstorms.
Day Three on the St. Croix River was tough, too. I didn’t move a single musky. My only consolation was a little sunshine, the changing northern Wisconsin foliage and a 22-inch smallmouth that hammered my fly.
Day Four on the Flambeau River was do or die for me. Right out of the launch, I rolled a musky. Pretty sure I didn’t sting the beast, we back rowed and let the fish settle back in.
We drifted back through the stretch again and the musky followed the fly through the dark, tannic waters toward the drift boat. The line went taunt and the fish flapped its tail on the surface.
I stripped hard and bent the rod to the side, figuring the curse had finally been broken. “40-incher!” the guide hooted as he reached for the hula hoop-sized net for landing these toothy critters.
But once again he didn’t need it.
Don’t get me wrong, a few very nice muskies were boated by my more experienced fishing buddies as well as some sizable smallmouth and a few 20-plus inch walleyes, which run the rivers up here.
My poor performance against what-I-now-call the “devil fish,” was somewhat salved by some fun Northwood’s food favorites like fried cheese curds, pike cheeks and bluegill at local supper clubs—a must-do Cheesehead tradition.
OK, all in all, the first time in “da Northwoods” for musky was fun.
But, like that mysterious musky muse who once warned innocent, ignorant and unacquainted anglers about Esox masqionongy, for me, the next time I tangle with the devil fish it’ll be all about cold, calculated revenge.