How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Big (Muskie) Fish Monkey is off my Back

By: Patricia Strutz

Well, it’s been a long time in the making…but I finally caught my “big one.” Many folks have seen the photo and want to know the story so, here goes…

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Patricia Strutz and I run a musky fishing guide service in Vilas county (northeast Wisconsin) called “A Blond and Her Boat”. I also write for several outdoor publications, work for Guide’s Choice Pro Shop in Eagle River and help instruct at Guide’s Choice Fishing Schools.

The first week of August I was enjoying one of Guide’s Choice Fishing Schools. We were up on beautiful Lake of the Woods, staying at Pipestone Point Resort. My husband, Jim Behm, happened to join me at this trip. Jim likes to fish but is not a total muskyhead like I am. He’s always a good sport, though, and puts up with my addiction.

One of the great things about the schools is that we all share information. We were all discussing that the weeds were starting to look pretty mucked up and that the muskies we were seeing were relating to rock structure. Specifically, we were finding them near rock that had reeds close by and deep water close by.

So, on Monday, August 1st, Jim and I headed out during the day to chase ‘skies. I’ve caught many muskies in my life but have yet to boat what I consider a true trophy.

At times this can get disparaging. So many hours spent…some would say wasted, but truly I do enjoy every moment of it.

We had a wonderful morning and afternoon together. We ended up seeing seven different fish-all of pretty decent size (low to high 40’s). Several of the fish followed our baits multiple times. We even had one, around a 46”, follow our baits up six times to the boat. But, alas, she wouldn’t eat.

So…we headed back to the resort for dinner and to relay what we had seen. Others in the group had similar stories. Re-energized with a good meal and some shared musky talk, we headed out during the “bewitching hour” (dusk) to entice one of those followers to eat. My boss, “Ranger” Rick, decided he would join us and he brought along his video camera “just in case…”

We hit the first island structure. We had one very aggressive fish working both my husband’s Suick and my Believer that afternoon. All three of us casted but there was no one home. So, we headed over to the next structure. It was merely a large rock reef, close to deep water, with a “garage” area behind it.

Rick says, “I think I’ll just sit down and relax. Patricia, show me what you can do.” Well, I’m always up for a challenge…so Jim and I worked the entire rock structure. This was the area where we had the 46” up six times that afternoon. I was sure she’d be hungry enough to commit by then, but…no one was home. We were about ready to pull the trolling motor and try another spot when Ranger Rick says, “Patricia, take a cast way back in there.” He pointed toward a little “garage” area. It was very shallow water just on the other side of the rock structure, with a few reeds in it.

I was throwing a TopRaider and this particular lure I am very consistent with. I can “land it on a dime.” So, I casted to the exact spot he mentioned: around the corner of the rock, shallow water, near reeds. Plop. Started the bait. Explosion. Big head with an open mouth but she missed the bait.

One thing I’ve learned over my bazillion casts is not to choke when this happens. I steadily kept reeling in the bait. A few seconds later the water exploded and the bait was gone. I set the hook hard. Well, I’m a girl so as hard as I can… She immediately swam out to deep water. Rick was yelling “set the hook again” so, I did. I could feel her down there shaking her head. I’ve lost fish to this head shake before. It’s a sickening feeling.

Jim was reeling in his bait and getting the net ready. Rick was struggling to get a Pacemaker out of his pants (don’t ask) and then get the video camera out. Jim was yelling get her up, pull her up! Easier said then done, there, hubby. Try horsing up a behemoth musky who wants to stay deep. Well, I finally got her up, he plunges in the net, she turns and goes back down deep. Oh, no…Luckily, Rick had not started filming yet or he may have had an editing job to do.

Well, after what seemed like an eternity I got her up and Jim got her in the net. Later he joked that if he had missed her again he may as well headed home and started with the divorce papers. J Anyway, there she lay in the net. Jim took out the hooks while I got the camera ready and tried to prepare myself to hold this incredible creature. My husband kept saying, “Okay, the first thing you have to do is relax…” Right…

You just don’t realize the enormity of a fish until you start pulling her out of the net. She kept coming and coming and coming. Yes, I am a small woman. I am 5’ 2” and weigh under 100#, so most fish look quite big compared to me. But, this fish was HUGE!!!! I’ve caught many muskies in the mid 40” range and never had any difficulty handling them. For many years I’ve worked as a dog groomer and regularly lift up heavy Golden Retrievers. So, even though I’m small I can hold my own…but this fish, WOW.

I gripped her huge head with my right hand and pulled her out of the net. WOW.

I leaned back and laid her on me, not wanting to hold her vertically. I then tried to lift up her belly with my left hand. Nope, couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t budge. Jim had to come over and place her in my arms. I tried supporting her with my hand-just like all the other ‘skies I’ve caught. She made one move with her tail, displaced the weight of that huge belly of hers and down she went. No, I did not drop her. I held on to the head but lost her body. Jim once again placed her in my arms, this time I wrapped my entire arm around her, right behind the dorsal fin.

She was HUGE. To say I was ecstatic would probably be an understatement. For those of you that have seen the pictures: that big ear to ear grin was plastered on my face for quite some time. It was a combination of both joy and straining to hold this big girl. This fish was the culmination of many, many, many, many hours on the water. Some with my husband, some with friends, some with fellow guides and instructors, some with clients, and many by myself. I know many of you have put this type of effort in, so you can understand what I was feeling. It’s really so difficult to put it into words: pure joy would be the closest thing I can think of.

Jim snapped a bunch of still photos and Rick rolled the camera. We were able to get fantastic footage. She was a huge, round, full, solid fish. She didn’t have a “drop belly”-just a solid mass from head to tail. The video best shows her features off. We then measured her. 54 ½”! What a beast! I grabbed my flexible tape to get a girth measurement…which I ended up goofing up. (Note: do not use a double sided tape!) Luckily, we had still photos of me measuring the girth so that saved the day. A huge 30” girth. What a pig!

I wanted to get her back into the water quickly. Yes, she was a Lake of the Woods legal, but I had no intentions of keeping her. We placed her back in the water and I held onto her. She never wavered. Almost immediately her head started searching for the deep water. Jim snapped a few quick release photos. I gently took my hands off of her and she quickly swam away. WOW and again WOW…what an incredible creature.

What an incredible moment. A fish-of-a-lifetime. My husband there to take part of this very special moment. Ranger Rick there rolling the camera. He’s been integral to my fishing career so it was wonderful that he was in the boat, too. We caught her around 8:00 p.m. We could have stayed out and fished another hour, but…it was time to celebrate. We headed back to the resort with me still wide eyed and grinning.

An hour later everyone from the school tied up their boats and joined us in the lounge to celebrate. Rick ran the video. It was almost surreal-watching myself catch this fish only an hour after I actually caught her. Pinch me. Another one of the great things about our school atmosphere is the sense of camaraderie. There is no competition-only sharing of information and sharing of successes. Lots of ‘atta, girl! And a little bourbon.

The rest of the week was wonderful, too. We all saw many muskies that week, they were very active. I believe all of us except maybe one or two of the participants boated at least one ‘skie. One young man, Ryan, caught his first musky. That’s always a great moment to be a part of. Beautiful Canadian sunsets, great fishing, and great fun. Thursday evening’s shoredinner was excellent, as usual. Pipestone Point Resort, where we hold this particular school trip, is a beautiful place. Pete, the owner, has it landscaped with gorgeous flowers, and it’s definitely not a “rough it” camp. Guys, I highly recommend that you & your wife sign up to join us next year on this trip. A great restaurant-complete with salad bar (sometimes difficult to find on an island in Canada)-waterfall in the lounge, Jacuzzi on the outside deck, whirlpool bathtubs in the cabins…oh, and need I remind you that there is world-class fishing at your doorstep? We catch great walleye, perch, bass, and pike there, too.

Saturday morning we headed back to the marina. I hated to leave. But, I know where she lives and I’ll be back next year. We’ve named her homespot “Patricia’s Garage.”

Back in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Lots of congratulations from my fellow guides and buddies who know just how much this fish means to me. Brought up the photos and video to show taxidermist Rick Lax who will make a replica for me. He was impressed with the size of the girth and how thick the body was all the way down. He ventured a guess at weight in the high 40# to even possibly 50#. WOW. I guess a person could have had a cradle and a weight scale, but you just don’t think of everything. But, it doesn’t matter. This girl is etched in my memory.

August 1, 2005, 8:00 p.m….The big fish monkey is definitely off my back! Best wishes to all of you who join me on this road. Chasing these elusive creatures can be exhausting, frustrating, and defeating. But, then there are moments like this...

***I don’t wish to sound like walking advertisement, but I do really stand behind our (Guide’s Choice) fishing schools. They are a fantastic way to learn a new body of water, a new type of fishing (we offer multi-species), or to hone up your musky fishing skills.

These past few school trips I’ve concentrated on bettering my GPS skills and locating structures that hold actively feeding fish. And I’m truly on a mission to get more women involved in these schools. That means: guys, I’d love it if you and your wife or daughter joined us! Also, any single gals out there…there is always room in my boat. I had two gals, Katie and Deb, in my boat for our NorthWest Angle trip a few weeks ago. We, “the chick boat” had the most fun (and caught a few ‘skies) of anyone!

I’m a patient teacher, so even if you’ve never musky fished I can help you.

Check out our website:

Or, check out mine and drop me an email with any questions:


Post a Comment

<< Home