MUSKY – A Fishing Story  | Koaw Nature

MUSKY – A Fishing Story | Koaw Nature

Oh, that’s a nice fish! The muskellunge is a large, sharp-toothed predatory freshwater fish unlike any other in our world. And fishing for musky is unlike any other type of fishing— Musky are crafty, cautious eaters that are not easily caught with artificial baits. This wariness and hesitation to strike baits This wariness and hesitation to strike baits is what separates musky from the other inland fishes. is what separates musky from the other inland fishes. The musky has been deemed the title ‘The Fish of Ten-Thousand Casts’ for the sheer difficulty involved in hooking and landing one of these magnificent fish. Fishing for musky nowadays is much, much harder than it was, say, 100 years ago–as over the years, with habitat loss, overfishing, and other factors, large muskellunge are now a rarity to catch with rod and reel. I am Koaw. And I have been a musky fisherman for many years, and some months back I decided I wanted to capture a musky landing on camera— but more so, to capture on camera what it takes to catch one of these magnificent fish— to share the story of the fisherpersons that devote much time, effort, and other resources into a form of recreational fishing that is absolutely unlike any other in our world. Musky fishing is a type of fishing that is physically exhausting and there is hardly much relaxation in the standard sense of the word. Someone could fish for days without even seeing a musky– —and many times when a musky finally rises, it only follows the bait, swimming away after wisely dismissing the bait as something unappetizing. A true musky fisher knows that a day of musky fishing will be anything but easy just to get one glimpse of one beautiful fish. This story begins in Northern Wisconsin— in the heart of the natural territory of Esox masquinongy, the muskellunge or musky. The Northwoods of Wisconsin has plenty of lakes with musky. When I can, I’m able to come to this beautiful part of the United States to get some fishing in. I’m heading up north with my father Tom, aka Ace. He not only has musky experience under his belt but he is also my favorite fishing partner out on the water. When up North, I usually stop here at Rollie and Helen’s the World’s Largest Musky Shop in Minocqua to add some gear to my collection I’m anything but a wealthy man and I have to restrain myself from buying more than 1 or 2 new lures and leaders, as they cost around $20 or more a piece. But browsing their wares adds to the excitement, pondering the potentialities of what awaits me in the lake’s depths. Before musky fishing, it is important to warm up with some of the easier to catch species— —and just soak in the beauty of the Northwoods. Northwoods toad. After a day or so of our fill of smallmouth, largemouth, bluegill and walleye, Tom’s brother Jim arrives with his wife Denise. Jim, aka Guido, is the best fisherperson I know of, —and Denise is a fine fisher as well, “A lot of pink and purple.” having caught the largest musky in these Northwoods out of all fishers in my family. I’m confident that with this crew we have good odds of landing a keeper musky. However, there is one downside to our expedition— we are fishing in the doldrums of summer— sometimes called the dog-days of summer, where musky fishing is anything but at its peak. Not only are the fish not that active in this time, but the number of other fisherpersons is at its highest. This will not be easy to catch a musky. We have four days to travel to lakes in the area and try and get a musky. Without wasting too much time, Guido geared up his poles and he, Ace, and I left to another lake for a chance at musky. We are testing out the waters— playing the edges near tall macrophytes, or cabbage as it’s often called, as well as trying deeper depths. Koaw: “I caught some snails.” Guido: “I think the limit is one.” We pull in a bass… Koaw: “Gotta measure it.” and even some pike… And pike are the smaller, more aggressive cousin of the musky. Koaw: “Nice fish.” but hours go by without even seeing a single musky. We move around searching for where the musky might be sitting, As musky are lie-and-wait predators, which means they don’t waste energy wandering around searching for food but rather, they let food come to them– where they use explosive speed to capture a meal. Koaw: “Alright, so we’re doing another pass where we got a few northerns and a bass. So, we’re gonna do it again.” Guido: “OHH! I had a hit!” Koaw: “And he just had another hit, so we’re going to see if we can pull up more pike and a musky, hopefully.” Guido: “Comida!” Koaw: “Cena.” Dusk approaches, so we throw on some big topwater lures trying to lure the big musky up from the depths as the sun disappears behind the tree line. I’ve got a big musky-sized Chug Bug on a lure that has gotten me a keeper musky in the past— AND WHAM! I have a fish on! Koaw: “It’s putting up a really good fight!” But, alas, it’s just a big smallmouth bass. Guido: “That’s a big boy! That’s gotta be 19 (inches).” Koaw: “Day 1, summer, no musky we didn’t see any but we caught some good fish. Day 2, Shift 2 Our morning shift didn’t bring that much excitement— except some ducks. Koaw: “We’re being trailed by a bunch of ducks.” Guido: *Quacking* Koaw: “I hope you attract a musky.” Guido: *Quacking* Guido: “I’m going to rest my weary arm and go with a spinnerbait. You can only throw this for so long.” Throwing heavy musky lures for hours on end is strenuous on the back and shoulder muscles. So at times we switch to lighter tackle. That fishes for more species that still includes musky. Koaw: “Shift 2. No musky. Jim got a nice pike and Tom got a nice perch.” Guido: “Alright, when in doubt go to the Rapala.” Koaw: “So, we’ll try again.” So, two full—four hour shifts passed without even seeing a musky— it’s a bit discouraging, but at the same time— that’s just musky fishing. But there are other things to do when resting from musky fishing— like spy on all the other fishes in these northern waters or check out what the woods have to offer. Day 3 I am up early to greet some coffee,get in the car, and drive the boat on another lake with Ace and Guido. Guido: “Watch out! Oh, look they’re gonna land right there! Oh, that was awesome! It is a beautiful morning, with the loons landing right next to us. And that’s just one of the joys of this type of fishing. It’s being out in nature with a good fishing partner or two– o enjoy it all with. *Chatting about an old, funny story* Guido: “Don’t worry about the net.” Guido wastes no time landing a pike. Koaw: “Well this is a good spot. I just pulled up a bunch of baitfish.” And Ace also lands a small pike. Things are looking good this morning. Koaw: “Good work Ace!” Koaw: “Alright, so, Ace & Guido have fish– not even 10 minutes into this.” And soon after—Jim gets our first musky follow! Guido: “Oh! Oh! Follow!” That makes all our hearts skip a beat or two. Guido: “It wasn’t big. Maybe 30-28 (inches).” Even though it wasn’t huge… the musky seem to be moving today. Maybe, just maybe we can hook one. Ace gets a dinker before we move to a new spot. And without much action for hours except for a small largy… I finally raise a small musky. Koaw: “Alright so I just had a small musky dink my Shad Rap twice. We’re going to go back and get him, hopefully. It was interesting because a perch followed it first and I saw the perch and then the musky came out of nowhere.” The maneuvering that I am doing at the end of my cast is generally called a figure 8. Koaw: “Oh, Oh! It’s back! Yup. But I got a weed. It’s still there! The problem is that I have a weed. Oh, it’s still there! I see it! I do this at the end of every cast— as musky will often strike during this phase of a retrieval. and even with a weed on, it’s a good idea to leave the lure in the water for a bit. We leave a buoy out and fish the spot for awhile, —even though it’s not a huge musky—mb only 3 ft or so– but a musky is a musly, and soon enough it raises again —it just doesn’t strike. My camera barely captures the small musky in frame. Koaw: “Good flash.” After hours of fishing, and only getting follows, all under a hot sun, well, one can go a little crazy. Especially when the butterflies are guiding the way to musky. Koaw: “It’s like Lord of the Rings. It just told us, “You will catch a musky now! Go this-a-way, follow me!”” My back muscles are sore— and the best way to relax from a day of musky fishing is with some good ‘ol regular fishing. Koaw: “And that’s another one. Guido and Ace – the bass masters. Even though the bass and pike aren’t exactly our priority target species— they do make for some good eats. Guido: “When should I start frying the stuff?” Guido: “I’ll deep fry a couple of mosquitos for you too!” And Guido gets some defense from the mosquitoes as he prepares the fish for dinner. Koaw: ” Mosquitoes in the batter.” Guido: “Oh, you got it on video?”
Koaw: “Yup.” Ace: “Are these ready?”
Guido: “Yeah, sure, whatever.” Guido: “We are almost done.” Denise: “These would be perfect with a tiny bit of sesame oil.” I use the night to do some research on the local lakes— picking out spots that have good edges, transitions and potential for big musky. There out there… somewhere. So it’s about 5:30. There’s a nice fog lifting off this lake. We’re going to head to another one. Last day to get a musky in the summer. There are only two things I like getting up early for… and musky fishing is one of them. I’ll let you guess what the other is. We’re off to fish a lake that I have not fished in over a decade— I just had a good feeling about it the night before when I was scouting the maps. And my hunch would pay off. Koaw: “Day 4.” The day is almost too nice for decent musky fishing— Koaw: “The perch are still after my figure 8.” and after hours of casting and pulling up weeds— our only excitement has been watching the loons. *Excited loon calls* But Ace finally lands a fish. Koaw: “My lure is bigger than your fish.” Not a huge fish… but a fish nonetheless. Remembering the maps from the previous night, there is one last spot on this lake that I want to check out, it is the mouth of an outlet— considering that musky are truly a species of rivers, and currents, I want to check out an area with a bit of natural current. Sure enough, very soon after hitting the mouth, a 40 inch+ musky follows my large soft plastic bait— It’s exciting! Koaw: “Someone’s gotta pull up a musky here. And we throw all types of lures at it. Koaw: “I’m going to throw something a little lighter. …a little flash.” Guido: “There are a lot of minnows right there.” We even get a follow from a smaller musky. Guido: “Ooh, ooh! Swirl!”
Koaw: “Yeah!” Guido: “I don’t know but there is a swirl!”
Koaw: “Oh I see it. You got a musky.” Guido: “Is he following it?!”
Koaw: “Yup.” Koaw: “Not as big as the other one. It’s over there. It’s at my lure now. I still see him. He’s only like a 20.” But…nada. Koaw: “Another day…couple follows…no hits. If it was easy, everyone would do it.” The nighttime offers one last shift— Koaw: “Alright last shift before I have to leave. I brought in a ringer–this is Denise. She has a nice 47 inch musky under her belt.” Guido: “On this lake.”
Koaw: “On this lake…so… between her and Jim I think we can get one. We only got a couple hours here but we got this.” Koaw: “Denis just landed this largemouth… on her first or second cast.” But, once again, aside from Denise’s nice largemouth with a pink crankbait— and Guido’s small pike, not even a follow from a musky. Denise singing: “Here fishy, fishy, fishy– come here fishy, fishy. Here fishy, fishy, fishy…” The dog-days of summer offered not a single musky— fortunately we will be able to come back to the Northwoods in a few months when the musky are more active I reallly want to capture and share a musky landing on video! In a couple of months, I’m back up North with Ace and Guido. and now we are joined with another experienced musky angler—my cousin Nick. Also, joining our fishing crew is John, who specializes in crappie fishing— but dabbles in musky fishing as well. We have a few days to try and land a musky. And this is definitely the crew to make it happen. On this day, Nick joins me and my father on a large lake. Ace: “Yup I haven’t musky fished in a while. I’m ready to go out there and flail for some musky.” Our start is a little shaky… Koaw: “So we got to the lake… and we forgot the boat key. But that might be good luck!”
Nick: “Do you have a mouse in your pocket?” Koaw: “What?”
Nick: “I say what’s this “we?” Do you have a mouse in your pocket?!” After Guido delivered the boat key… we were on our way. Today the musky are moving! Early on Nick has a follow from a decent-sized musky. Then I saw perhaps a 50 inch musky follow my spinnerbait! Koaw: “That was maybe like a 50 inch musky… follow my big spinnerbait up…and no interest. So we’re definitely going to fish here for a bit.” That’s bigger than 4 feet long! We fished that spot for almost 2 hours hoping to land this big 50 incher but we didn’t even see it again. but we didn’t even see it again. We pull up some dinkers. We pull up some dinkers. Nick: “Oh, he broke my spinnerbait!” And we would get another follow. 6 hours fishing heavy lures– we raised 3 musky and caught 0. Still, a great day. Time for a little rest and food, and back out for another five hour shift with Nick. Koaw: “So Nick and I are back out to finish out the day. We had about an hour and a half rest from that morning shift We’re going to get one. We’re going to get one.” Koaw: “Okay, well, it’s been a little slow. Nick had a follow from maybe a 35 incher A storm is brewing behind us, coming at us, we don’t know how much more time we got but we’re going to try to get one in. Yeah, there’s some stuff moving.” After 11 hours musky fishing the previous day, my back muscles are definitely feeling it— but that doesn’t stop Nick and me from venturing to yet another lake in search of musky. Koaw: “So Nick and I are doing another fishing session. We’re gonna catch a musky today…. let’s see what happens.” The fish are hot on this day. Mostly the largies. Koaw: “That might be eating-size.” Throwing 1/2 ounce spinnerbaits is great because you can catch bass, pike, and musky. Fishing a steep bank— Nick informs me he has a follow— Koaw: “Oh yea, oh yea that’s a musky…. that’s a 40-er. That’s a 40 inch musky.” Koaw: “Alright, so we pulled one up.” Alright so Nick just moved up maybe a 40 inch musky that’s staging on this point right here so we’re going to work this area a little bit and see if we can’t get this little guy in the boat.” We fish these steep banks for a while. And BAM! I hook something that is fairly big! Nick: “Yeah, that’s a nice pike.” Koaw: “Yup. Thank you Sir.” Ah, but it’s just a nice northern pike… Another 6 hour shift without a single musky— it is tiring, the back muscles feel as if someone has been whacking them with baseball bats and the hands are sore and stiff —and a part of the mind is saying… “Why the heck are you doing this to yourself” Koaw: “Yeah, so with musky fishing you really have to have patience as a quality and what were you saying Nick? Drive?” Nick: “A lot of drive.”
Koaw: “A lot of drive.” Nick: “You have to accept the fact that you may fish a whole day, weekend, or even a week, and not catch a fish. But, that’s the way it goes. You can’t make them bite.” And yet, after a couple hours of rest, Nick and I head out for another 4 hours on another lake. Henry David Thoreau once said “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” There is truth to Thoreau’s words. Each one of these men is fishing, but each for a different cause— each one is out on the boat putting a line in the water to satisfy some internal craving that goes beyond landing a beautiful panfish, or a large bass, or a night’s meal, or some giant musky beast lurking in the depths. —and really, not many fisherpersons will stop in the moment to wonder as to why they are fishing, as it is too enjoyable in the moment to wonder of such things. Nick: “We’re going to catch a muskkkkyy!” Nick is confident as we head out while the other men are testing their luck and skills on other lakes. Like us on this day, they don’t get any musky, but some really nice specimens of other species. That’s a 35 inch northern pike. A very large specimen for this part of North America. Radio: …5-10 mph…chance of rain 40%… This day is relatively warm and rainy. Nick and I are waiting for the skies to clear up. *Loud thunder* Koaw: “The weather has given us a window of maybe an hour. This is going to be perfect because this cold front has just sort of shown up Musky fishing is probably going to be real good until tomorrow and then it will be real bad. We squeeze in a few pike but very soon we have to bail. Koaw: “The winds are changing and that is moving right at us. And that’s not something…fishing in rain is one thing… but that’s got lightning. Live to fish another day.” We’ll be moving out here in 5.” Guido: “Remember you need to get some sleep for tomorrow. Be fresh.” Whenever reading the musky magazines or listening the chatter in the bait shops– they always say don’t bother fishing when the cold front arrives, the musky won’t bite. Well, we are stubborn, and we know that you can’t catch a fish if your line isn’t in the water. This day has got to be the day. We’ve paid our dues and put in our hours. We’ve put in thousands of casts and I’ve done thousands of figure 8s to no avail. The cold weather has the pike stirring- and even the perch. These are good signs! We even get a nice 40 inch musky following our baits for a couple hours. Koaw: “Alright so, I just had about a 40 inch—at least—musky follow my lure. So, we got the marker buoy out and we’re going to throw a bunch of stuff at this spot and try pick that sheila up. Get to it boys!” But another spot will prove to be more successful. We’re feeling it— the confidence that one of us is going to hook this big fish— Koaw: “Nick’s like 3 casts into this spot and he already saw a musky surface!” We’re really feeling it… Suddenly Guido has a serious fish on! Nick and I know that it’s a beast just by seeing Guido’s rod bending in half! Nick gets the extra poles out of the way and I hit the trim switch to get the outboard motor out of the way. But I have to move as Nick needs to reposition as Jim battles this giant fish. This musky is strong! Nick: “I see him.”
Koaw: “Oh yeah.” Nick: “Turn it this way.”
Guido: “I’m trying…he’s just pulling!” Koaw: “That’s a nice fish!” Guido: “Okay!” Nick: “No dad, dad, dad, dad , dad!”
Guido: “I can’t help it!” Guido: “Alright, this way. Right here.”
Koaw: “Yup.” Guido: “Nick!”
Nick: “Yeah, I got it Dad! I got him.” Guido: “WAAAHHHOOOOOOO!!!” Guido: “WAHHHOOO!!!” Nick: “Oh it’s a TOAD!”
Guido: “WAHHHOOO!!!” It’s in these moments—right now—that make all our past efforts worth every single second. *Happy chattering* Guido: “Well, I thought I was going to lose him there…” Guido: “Here are the pliers…I’m shaking…” We leave the musky in the water while unhooking the lure to cause it less stress. Nick: “You may have Mom here…”
Guido: “I might–I don’t care.” This is a BIG musky! We quickly get a measurement of about 45 inches and even though we brought a scale, we decide not to weigh her, and instead to get her back in the water asap. She is probably around 14 years old and weighs at least 30 lbs. We give her one last quick measure to verify. Guido: “I’m shaking.”
Nick: “Koaw, put a finger on that…no…on the tape.” Nick: “45.” Koaw: “Oh no!…#$#@…”
Guido: “What?” Koaw: “My camera sunk…” She put up a great fight— and we got her back in the water and on her way so she could spawn another generation of fighters for future fishers. Guido: “Thank you fish gods!” Nick: “Dad, that is a toad! “That fish was pulling so hard.” Guido: “There he goes…nice! Next year!” Guido: “See where the line wrapped around his tail?”
Nick: “Yup.” Guido: “I thought, when he did that, I didn’t know man… I thought he might break it.” *Laughing with joy* Nick: “That was a toad!” Guido: “Now I can take my nap!” Guido: “Awesome!”
Nick: “Fattest, healthiest fish!” Koaw: “So Jim just got a 45 inch musky which is awesome and that was a great fight that you just saw.” Guido: “The biggest one I’ve ever had.”
Koaw: “Biggest one he’s ever had. And I dropped one of my GoPros at the bottom of the lake but it’s totally worth it to get that musky.” And the action wouldn’t stop there.
*Guido laughing* Koaw: “First cast back out after getting his fish, he hooked another but it got off. I think it’s a good time to get some musky.” And then hooks a musky of his own! Nick: “It’s not as big as yours but I’m happy!” We’ve put in so much work over these two fishing trips in the summer and fall and the reward has all of us overjoyed. Musky fishing almost requires a partner and I will say that it was a pleasure to get on the boats and fish with all my fishing partners during this quest. And I very thankful for and proud of Jim and Nick for landing those musky. I know my next musky is waiting out there for me —for a future day— and I know my fishing buddies will be eager and ready when that future comes. Group: “Musky!!!!” Ace: “Kumbaya.”
Group: “Kumbaya!”

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