Memoirs of a First Year Musky Man

Category: article

 Feb 27th, 2007 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Feb 27th, 2007 at 12:00 AM

We Saw a Musky or Three Guys in a Rented Bright Yellow RangerMy 2006 musky adventure really began in July of 2005. We had planned a four family vacation on Big St. Germain. My friend, Zig, from California, had once caught a musky on a sucker while fishing with his cousin. He liked catching that fish, a lot, and thought we should try some musky fishing. I was hesitant, as time spent swimming, tubing, mini-golfing, and horseback riding is as precious to me as the next guy. He kept at me, and I agreed we should give it a shot. We reserved a Ranger from Heckels Marine, I bought some cheap equipment, and trip time finally arrived. Our Ranger came in bright yellow. Im not sure what model Ranger it was, but it had a great big motor so we could tow the kids, was nice and short, and did not have those bothersome casting decks. We only had time each day for a few casts, due to the tight regimen of horseback riding, swimming, tubing, mini-golfing, and backlashing. Astonishingly, Zig enticed a fish to follow a bucktail. This following fish so excited us, intense wife-husband negotiations were immediately undertaken with the goal of scheduling a men only Canadian musky fishing extravaganza for the following year. Why not? We had made one fish follow in 10+- hours of fishing. We were qualified musky men.Early Stages of The Plan or Why I Gave Up Bowling and Didn’t Renew My Golf MembershipGetting the green light for the trip required convincing the loves of our lives we were serious about such an adventure. What would the trip cost? How much gear would we need? Can you four dopes even survive a week in the Canadian wilderness? Using finely honed mathematical abilities and a charmingly persuasive manner, I convinced my love that a trip could be easily financed. I would not bowl for a seventeenth consecutive seemingly never ending season, and not renew a pricey golf membership I had only managed to utilize eight times up to that point of the season. Having destroyed any financial arguments she could possibly muster, her only option aside from utilizing absolute veto power was to trust we could venture to and from Canada with minimal casualties and limited collateral damage to the wilderness. The Plan, The Boards, The Shows, and The Spending of The MoneyMuskies, muskies, everywhere, I floundered in a lake of options. We needed a plan. We needed the The Plan. Eagle Lake, NW Ontario, was suggested by Zigs cousin. I paddled out to surf the web. Right click, left click, page up, page down. How to choose? It seemed big muskies were plentiful in Eagle Lake. Andy Myers Lodge on Eagle Lake came up everywhere I looked. We needed guides. They had guide packages. We wanted to catch big fish. They had big fish pictures on their website. I e-mailed question after question. Steve Herbeck answered question after question. I booked a trip for four in September, 2005. Four guys with no musky experience and one of the most famous musky fishing destinations in the world, a perfect fit. I was terrified. I could barely use a baitcaster. I would need to fish a few times before the trip. It seems you cant type the word musky into a computer these days without coming across a musky forum. I had never visited a message board in my life until the due diligence The Plan required googled them into my life. Equipment and technique discussions, stocking battles, name calling, world record conspiracies; it was a real cyber-donnybrook. There were lots of different personalities. The file cabinet that is my brain started to fill.The boards made getting started easy. Most board visitors have seen the type of early questions I asked; a couple of thousand times. Hi, newbie here, what reel, what rod, what line? Someone mercifully suggested the search feature, I visited the forums with increasing frequency. The Plan needed financing. Money that for years was spent on drivers, putters, wedges, and Titleists purchased a Lakewood Monster and 45 baits on Ebay. I ordered three Diamondback fishing rods after conversations with Keith Terlinden, owner of Professional Edge. Gift certificates from Smokeys Musky Shop were landed as Christmas gifts. It short order, most of my internet time was spent on MuskieFIRST. Come December, I learned of the musky shows. Half expecting a weekend filled with singing, dancing, and joke telling muskies, I reserved a room for the Tri-Esox Show. Wanting to join the party, on 1/9/06, right before the show, I hit submit, sending a thread entitled Identifying a MuskieFIRSTer to the MuskieFIRST message board. It poked fun at regulars (people I did not know) from a number of forums. Board members enjoyed it, and I entered the musky fishing world. I met a few people I skewered in that thread at the Illinois Show and The Milwaukee Show. Some offered to take me fishing. Im now a serial poster, (current count an embarrassing 650+). I enjoy writing, something I have not done for many a season. I purchased a trunk full of pretty shiny baits at the two shows, so many that some have yet to enjoy the cooling waters of a musky lake. Most importantly I built my foundation with quality custom rods and Record and Calcutta reels. Alas, I did not find a booth in either that small college basement or the expo center of the Wisconsin State Fair grounds where I could buy fishing skills. The Plan required time on the water.Early Times (not the bourbon) On the WaterMy rookie ramblings on MuskieFIRST led to suggestions I contact Pewaukee Lake Guide Mike Koepp. I met Mike at the Milwaukee show, and four early season half day trips were booked. I needed a tutor, and Professor Koepp is a master of the curriculum. His tenure on Pewaukee Lake and in the WaterFront Musky College is well deserved. He first guided me through Smokeys Musky Shop where gift certificates became even more baits. We had an intense five hour pre-season classroom session at the WaterFront. On the water he taught me the nuances of working baits, demonstrated his boat control skills, described how he broke down the lake, and explained why we were fishing where we were fishing. Muskies avoided my hooks on these trips. Promising follows were botched. Figure eights became figure stops. Baits were steered into boat side weed clumps. Rods slammed into trolling rod holders. Storms forced us into the WaterFront for two more intense off water classroom sessions. Im sure Mike didnt teach me everything he knows, but he taught me a lot. Hes fun to be around, and can expertly unhook a 46.5 musky in the dark, his head covered in white moths, assisted only by a second time fisherman barely qualified to hold the light. Before the Koepp lessons I spent one day with Joel Michel. Prior to the opener, Joel had cyber-approached me offering to take me fishing. He seemed amused and intrigued by The Plan. Did he expect the chubby middle-aged fellow waiting for him outside Smokeys with a Lakewood and three shiny new rods? Whatever his concerns, they were more than confirmed by a first cast backlash. The backlash was picked, but the bait would not retrieve. I had turned the drag completely in the wrong direction. We tightened things up, and fished for six hours. Most of my casts landed in the water, and no blood was spilled by days end, fish or human. I did see my first boat side musky as it stared down a sucker before casually swimming away.The IMTT or How I Caught My First Musky While the Clock was TickingThe Early Times imparted some confidence. I felt I was no longer a danger to my boat partners or those in nearby boats. In early June, Joel was asked to judge the first IMTT event, and invited me to join him. We should fish it, I boldly proclaimed. So we did. I enjoyed the tournament format from start to finish. More at the finish as nerves were an early issue. We moved closed mouth fish early. We had no fish and no timeouts as the clocked ticked toward the final buzzer. Joel resorted to a serpentine trolling pattern. Five minutes later I was snuggling with my first musky, a darling little 32. Forty minutes later and Joel had landed two more sub-34 beauties. This left us out of the money, but I learned tournament muskies will hit a bait trolled fast and close to the boat in the wake, landing even a small fish leaves me panting and shaky, and post event Johnsonville Brats taste fine when your clothes smell faintly from the slime of your first ever musky.I was to fish another IMTT event in the fall and collect a third place check thanks to a new partner, Mike Kretschmer, who landed a mid-day 35 fish.Relaxing Summer TrollsThe weather warmed, the water heated. Joel Michel invited me to join him and MuskieFIRSTer, Tim Shepperd, for a steamy Saturday morning troll of Pewaukee Lake. Six lines dragging baits, a comfortable seat, and good conversation, trolling agreed with me. My undisciplined, herky-jerky reeling style cost us the first fish. With a keen eye, I noted Shep reeled in fish number two with a calm and detached style, one I adopted for the next strike to land my second musky of the season. The fish had a damaged gill plate and one missing eyeball. She was beautiful. She struggled on the release. Like EMTs, the two veterans gently handled that fish, taking turns holding her while she regained her strength. She eventually righted herself and swam away strongly. It may be the most valuable lesson I carry from my first season. Several days later, Professor Koepp took me out for a summer evening of trolling. I got my third little beauty of the season. Mike also landed one, and the cold beer tasted fine. My fish tally hit three thanks to the trolling skills of these guys. I had yet to set a hook casting, which did cause me concern. Eagle Lake @ AML or Four Neophytes Destroyed by Big WaterAugust passed quickly and it was Eagle departure day. Stealth leaders and Muskie Mojo XXs arrived with moments to spare. An all night drive, a quick Herbie style conversation and check-in, and we were on the water. The first day was spent not noticing which island was which. Two out of the two boats in our party were briefly lost that first early evening. Finding no gas stations to ask for directions, we humbly approached two fellow musky anglers. They helped us without laughing out loud. We did not begrudge them a soft chuckle.Our inexperience was quickly exposed by the size of Eagle and the following fish that make her famous. We all blew multiple opportunities with aggressive fish, exasperating our guides. Without guides we saw few fish. When the wind howled and we did see fish on our own, our poor boat skills ruined promising chances. When the sun shone brightly and the day was calm, we seemed to have no chances. We could not seem to be in the right place at the right time. We tried hard. Our bodies ached from hours of throwing XXs, crankbaits, and Magnum Bull Dawgs. It was frustrating, humbling, disappointing, and exhilarating. All those adjectives applied in about fifteen seconds the day I got hooks into a fish that would have been a trophy by anyones standards. She hit a XX about twenty feet out, I set the hook, keeping pressure and reeling furiously as she swam right at the boat. She rolled, blatantly showing a fat belly to rival my own, popped loose, and was gone. I cursed, I shook, I wailed in anguish. I asked for a size estimate from the guide, then wailed some more. He assured me I did nothing glaringly wrong. A huge fish rolled free. They sometimes do. My friend Shawn saved us from a shut out on the final day. He did it in style hooking a 41 fishing in Rob Mantheis boat. Gracefully he fell backward during the hook set, his foot wedged tightly like a cartoon character on a train track. Summoning his Irish resolve, he fought the fish from the floor of the boat until Rob pulled him free, stood him up, and netted his fish. He was so shaken he had Rob hold the fish for the picture.Eagles lessons were not subtle. She exposed us brutally as the pretenders we were. At first I was crushed. The Plan had not worked. Many were quick to assure me a fishless Eagle trip didnt end The Plan. It was still in place, and because of it, I was less a pretender than the morning I turned down the long gravel drive into Andy Myers Lodge. Besides, there was only a handful of Packers games between me and my first MuskieFIRST outing.My Day with Andrew and NikkiI nursed my Eagle Lake wounds for a month before hitting the water again. Andrew and Nikki Golden were my hosts for a day on Oconomowoc and Okauchee Lakes. Since my pre-show Identifying thread, Andrew has been a behind the scenes mentor, encouraging me, nudging me in the right directions, and deleting or moving my more inane attempts at forum humor. I was excited at the chance to fish with him and his lovely wife. We did some fishing, saw a few fish, and spent a lot of time chatting and goofing around, more a getting to know each other session than a really serious pursuit of fish. The session continued as we headed back to my house where Andrew, Nikki, my wife Mary, and I consumed many appetizers, drank several bottles of wine, and solved a number of the worlds and musky fishings problems. It is and will remain one of the best fishing days Ive had. It taught me Im happy sitting down in a boat for a bit of conversation. That its not all about constantly chucking baits. No it didnt. I already knew that.The Fall Presque Isle Outing or Over-socializing in the North WoodsExcitement about this outing began building for me as soon as it hit the message board. A chance to meet a resort full of MuskieFIRST members, pristine northern Wisconsin lakes, gracious and skilled fishing partners, probable cold weather, trophy musky potential, a rustic bar. What could be better? Mike, Kent, Andrew, and Bill were all excellent boat partners. The muskies didnt cooperate for me, but the people sure did. Some things I learned: fleece keeps you warm, $10.00 prime rib tastes good after a cold day fishing (three dinners in a row), when putting all my bulk into a hook set on a sucker bite, its best to have a tight grip on the rod, Mike Winther likes a four pound sucker over the side of his boat and a BIG pile of French toast, Kent Sorenson never stops smiling, I cant have a drink with everybody at an outing three of four nights and expect to feel chipper during the day, and forty plus musky loving people can have a blast together, I need to help more in the boat, crystal clear lakes are cool to fish, Andrew likes coffee, 12 people can eat a table full of cheeseburgers in northern Wisconsin for like $30.00 or $40.00, Im older than I used to be, I sometimes act younger than I should, I’m glad Steve runs MuskieFIRST, and I want to keep fishing and attend more MuskieFIRST outings.It really was a great time. I have a specific memory of talking to almost every single person there at some point or another. Some I talked to until the wee hours, which in hindsight was ill-advised. Sorry Al.My Personal Best or How the Long and Lean One Capped off My First SeasonI fished one more November day after the outing. A chilly early Saturday morning again found me in Joel Michels boat on Okauchee Lake. Armed with warming liquids and an arsenal of suckers, Joel and I began another search for a fat Okauchee fish. By mid-morning we had mostly stopped casting, preferring to sip the warming liquids while discussing and extolling the joys of fatherhood and dragging suckers. I had found that discussing family while fishing opens a feeding window. Try it, it works. Three times during the year it had happened, and it happened again. The clicker sounded on a sucker rod. I stood up, took the rod, reeled down, and set the hook. This time with a firm hold on the foregrip. The fish thrashed, Joel yelled, I tried to remain calm. She was netted and measured at 47.5. Andrew, Mike Grudgings, and Scott Allen were also on the lake that morning. Having a few MuskieFIRST friends there made for a rousing lunch. I cant thank Joel enough for putting me on the long slippery beauty that capped my first season.The Plan in 2007I think The Plan was successful in 2006. I had set a goal of five muskies for my first season. I caught four. Three were caught trolling and one on a sucker. I did not catch a fish casting, but did coax a good number to follow, and lost the big one on Eagle. I think my lack of casting success stems mostly from inexperience. My casting improved greatly over the course of the year, but there are many nuances of working baits I need to master. That needs to be a bigger part of The Plan for 2007. At times last season I was retrieving baits with a, come on, fish, come on tenseness, especially on Eagle, and for brief periods that took the fun out of fishing. It makes my brain and body ache. My current build is conducive to relaxation, not tension. I want fishing to be a relaxing activity. Im not a grinder, I cant, and do not want to, cast for 10-12 hours without a break. If Im with you, please dont mind if I sit and keep you company for a bit if were out all day. Ill work hard, but will leave six hundred cast days for the younger fellows. I predict greater success in 2007 if I dont press.I need to be more helpful in my hosts boats. I came to this sport with very little fishing experience and next to no boat handling experience. Ive always felt messing up driving or backing in the boat of someone you hardly know is likely a poor way to secure future invitations. Now that Ive made some strong friendships and been around the lake a time or two, I want to get more involved. Joel helped a bit with this at the end of the year, and Im hoping more of that will happen with others this coming season. I hope theres a boat in my future, and a little practice could come in handy..I think I absorbed a lot about what it takes to fish a reasonably sized body of water. I may not be qualified to start writing how to articles for musky magazines, but I asked enough questions to understand why we did what we did on the water. More absorption is in order for next season. Ill be more of a sponge, less a SpongeBob.I need very little equipment for this coming year. My bait buying phase passed quickly. I need to learn to use the 2006 models before I invest in a bunch of 2007 stuff, though I’m sure the show season will result in a few purchases. You might catch me gazing with longing at the Tuffys. As a boatless man, I relied on the kindness of strangers in 2006. In 2007, I will also be boatless, but because of the people I met in 2006, I’ll be relying on the kindness of my friends. I hope to make many more in the coming season. Thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone that helped me out, approached me, or just typed LOL about one of my ridiculous posts. Thanks also to my wife and daughter. They hardly laughed at all when I said I wanted take up a sport I knew next to nothing about, and allowed me time away from the family to do it.So in 2007, if anybody out there finds themselves looking at their boat and saying you know, Id like to go fishing this weekend, AND teach somebody something while Im doing it Im your man. I’m easy to find, just click on MuskyHopeful. Ill bring some sandwiches, most of the time (sorry Mike and Kent).Editor’s Note:Kevin has added humor, insight, and has filled some serious shoes (Sponger’s, who has forsaken us for Rockfish) since his arrival in the world of MuskieFIRST. May all his golfing buddies miss him. Better yet, if any are at all like Hopeful; join him…

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