May 2nd, 2013 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified May 2nd, 2013 at 12:00 AM
It was the first week of May, the 2009 southern Wisconsin Game Fish season had finally opened days prior and I was stuck behind my desk working the day away. The boat was hooked up and waiting in the lot, which always attracts small talk from all the fishermen in the office, and the sun was shining bright with warmth in the air; just what the doctor ordered to warm up the water and get these fish more active. I was pre-fishing for a WMT tournament to be held on the lake two weeks from then and had every intention of hitting the water as much as I could possible squeeze between the opener and that 6:00 a.m. ease-out from Smokey’s Musky Shop come show time.
My wife met me at the launch and we headed out to a couple areas I had seen or caught fish over opening weekend. The day was sunny to start but the clouds began rolling in as the evening progressed and soon there was a massive, yet distant cumulonimbus thunderhead with an anvil top that blotted out the remaining sun and turned the water to oil.
Now, I’m not one to give in easy to weather. I’ve life tested my luck far too many times to admit to my wife, but it’s no secret to her that I hate giving in to bad weather when I’m in a boat on musky water, so you can imagine the quiet tension as the first crack of thunder echoed off the ridge along the cattails inside of Taylor’s Bay.
The subtle breeze had subsided to dead flat calm, and cool air fell upon us like a blanket. It was as if glass walls surrounded our boat in that moment; the silence was louder than sound. My trolling motor hummed softly as I moved us along with a tiny wake kissing the hull before tapering off. We casted on in this sort of harmonic way – no words spoken yet, just taking it all in as if this were our final minutes on the water for the night.
When you fall into this kind of a trance, the speed of a minute slows down to snail’s pace. You’re so in tune with your senses and the serenity of the little world you feel like you’re a visitor to, if there were a pause button to the clock that keeps on ticking, you’d certainly press it.
No sooner did the silence intervene the last echo of the thunder than did the second thunder crack and roll through the hills of Lake Country. A pair of Tom turkeys must have been on the ridge behind Taylors Bay and they responded immediately after the thunder crack with dueling gobbles. The chorus of the distant thunders echo combined with the nearby gobbling was awesome and inspired the both of us in the boat to break our silence to comment on what we had just heard.
The stormed pressed on from the Southwest to the Northeast, clipping the west end of the lake with some rain, but far enough to our North to keep us dry on the east end and while the thunder continued to roll, the lightening was minimal and distant enough to be non-threatening.
The dead flat calm of the lake now rippled with a light chop, and very near to the boat a wounded Sheepshead floated up to the surface right before our eyes. The fish would attempt to swim back down in circles but would only make it two or three feet before floating back up on its side exposing the very visible torn flesh and jaw outlines in the middle of its body.
We fan casted the area until the wind became too strong and soon we were tucking into the small bay in front of Smokey’s where an unusual amount of panfish were stockpiled like apples in a barrel, and it was strange to see so many dead or dying on the surface. Where forage is abundant, the muskies won’t be far behind, but this early in the year I thought that might only have half to do with it. The spawn was a little behind, but what existed in front of Smokey’s musky shop that spring seemed like a rare occurrence where a herd of lamb became penned up with parent wolves protecting their “dens”.
As we settled in, I watched how some of the panfish that were dying on the surface were doing the same thing as the dying sheepshead – spiraling down to try to regain life, only to float back up on to their sides. The musky were still here, there was no doubt about it. I recall watching schools of bluegill suspended in a cluster and seeing muskies dart in out of nowhere right through the middle of the school erupting the shallow area with wakes and fleeing panfish, and then all would go quiet again.
We deadsticked the remaining daylight we had and each caught a fish a few minutes apart from one another imitating those dying panfish by twitching down a foot or two and letting it float up and sit. Both of our fish came from the pause as we let the minnow baits float on the surface 15 seconds before twitching down again.
I remember thinking on that very night that I’d probably write about the events that took place that day. It’s those days and nights on the water that leave you replaying it over and over again in your head like your favorite song on repeat that makes it worth your while. While some boats in neighboring states have been getting slimed up for weeks and weeks now, here in Wisconsin the season is a week away south of Hwy 10 and I couldn’t be more ready for it. How about you?