Jun 11th, 2013 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Jun 11th, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Over the last seven years I’ve involved myself in competitive muskie fishing as a means of challenging myself, meeting some of the finest muskie fisherman I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and learning more than just a few tips and tricks along the way. It was late August of 2011 that good friend and tournament partner, Abe Lang, and I headed north to Eagle River, Wisconsin, to fish a two-day tournament on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes. This would be a trip that I won’t soon forget as I was awake for nearly the entirety of the 5-days we spent there.
While the two of us try to make it up to this part of the State a few times per year, we keep tabs on the latest weather patterns and a few days of pre-fishing to help us get an edge on the bite before easing out on the first morning of the competition. This particular trip was no different.
Abe was the first to arrive late Tuesday night and was on the water the duration of regular tournament hours on Wednesday while I watched the clock at work.
It was after 7:00 PM when I finally pulled down that long driveway; the sand hidden by rusty colored fallen needles from the towering pines. As I rounded the last curve I saw the cabin, and alongside it stood Abe. He was leaning over the gunnel of his boat assembling some gear to check on a night-bite at a nearby puddle. This same little puddle would also be the destination Abe would return to a few weeks later as the leaves began to change and stick his personal best, a 52-inch behemoth.
White birch glowed along the shoreline as the last remaining light slowly gave way to night. We fished into the darkness as distant lightening silently streaked across the sky illuminating a massive thunderhead covering the moon. The winds were calm and the lake was void of summer residents except for one group. We listened as laughter brought their cottage to life, and in between the laughter was the faint hum of the trolling motor as we worked the edges of a mid-lake rock hump that seemed to erupt out of nowhere like a volcano. We slowly bumped our cranks into the rocks until they bounced off the edge, gripping our rods in preparation for the bite that never came. It was near mid-night before we left the lake that night.
The next two days we spent pounding the water on the Chain, picking up little pieces of the puzzle along the way with some active follows. The object was to put it all together before Saturday morning came, and when Saturday did come, we had our go-to spots and our line-up of lures sharpened and ready. We released a shorty and did manage one very large bonus smallmouth, but we weren’t on the board – yet.
We fished nine hours straight through the first day of the tournament to no avail and yet, we weren’t quite ready to give up. We pulled the boat out and pressed on to the Manitowish Chain of Lakes, dumped her in and burnt out the daylight long after we should have trailered back to the cottage to get some rest for the second day of the event. It’s the strangest thing – falling asleep standing up, letting our arms do all the repetitive work.
Cast… Retrieve… Repeat.
That following morning came all too early and already we were back on the water chasing our second chance at victory. It would take a good double to place or potentially win and despite feeling a bit, we knew it was only a matter of time now. Within 30-minutes of easing out that morning with a large field of competitors, we were able to put a solid 45-inch fish on the board that put us in the running. That fish would end up being the biggest of the day, but as fate would have it, shaking hands and saying hello to our friendly competition at the rules meeting the Friday before ended up sidetracking the both of us from paying into the pot that would have net us over five-hundred dollars for “Big Fish”. Still, it was nice to persevere and feel the sensation we muskie nuts often dream about.
It was a tiring drive home after fishing more than 60 of the 92 hours I spent in Eagle River, but I had enough replay action going through my head to keep me awake. Once home, a much needed dinner and a few relaxing night-cappers later I fell fast asleep. But in the midnight hour, I was there back in the bow of the boat casting like a robot. I was facing Abe jokingly asking if he’d caught anything yet before I slowly turned my head back to my lure. In the blink of an eye those big white jaws came from under the bait and ate it boatside. I reared into an exaggerated hook set like my life depended on it and shouted, “FISH!”
There was a mess of covers as my wife jolted awake – her arms flew up and her legs bucked. Her reaction was enough to bring me to my senses. There I was sitting up straight with one fist over the other as if I were holding the rod. I was bewildered for a moment, but put it all together real quick when my wife asked me what I had dreamt.
“It was nothing, honey. I just dreamt you were falling and I caught you…”