How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Reality of Muskie Fishing: There are no Guarantees

by Paul Hartman

I was fortunate enough to fish with many great people last season. Some laughed at many of my stories, but said it was nice to hear that I, too, didn't catch muskies every time out. Quite the contrary, I often feel like my muskie vacations are like the skier crashing off the jump on the Wide World of Sports introduction - I know the agony of defeat!!!!

Every muskie story is about a rampage, a huge fish, a miracle lure, a "new " pattern or a lake so good that muskies stand in line to eat your lure. A behind-the-scenes look at many muskie tales would reveal countless hours and days without so much as a follow, let alone a strike. People usually ignore my "fish-till-you-drop with no result" stories, yet they seem to soak up every detail of a huge muskie story like a dry sponge.

The truth about muskie fishing is that it is not the sport of the elite - but the stubborn!!! Who else would call "vacation" a 500-mile trip where they fish for 14 hour days in 90 degree heat, barely muttering a word all day that is not directly related to when, where, or on what. This is not a sign of eliteness (or even a hint of intelligence). It is a bold statement of stubbornness. If you doubt me, eavesdrop on a conversation at any muskie angler gathering and after getting a person's view, try to convince him to objectively list to your opinion on the opposite side of the coin. You may THEN say you fully comprehend the meaning of being an "elitist muskie angler."

The plain and simple truth is some hours, days, weeks or seasons, the fishing is great - others are just about impossible. This is true regardless of whether you target sunnies or stripers. The key is to understand that it's "JUST MUSKIE FISHING." Don't take it so seriously! If they don't bite on this spot, things are bound to happen on the next spot, and if not - so what - tomorrow is a new day, and it will happen then.

All to often I share my boat with anglers who feel they are doing it all wrong. More often, after several hours of fishing, I inform them they are doing it all "by the book" - great job! Unfortunately, reality is they chose a physically demanding sport pursuing a fairly rare fish that is extremely temperamental. You're looking for the infamous needle in a haystack - except this needle can hide or even turn and go the opposite direction if it doesn't like you in its barn! It takes time to build confidence, and once you finally do, it will only take a tough trip or two to strip you of it all. The bottom line is - sometimes they do, but mostly they won't.

One of the best muskie anglers of modern times once caught 11 muskies in the 50-inch class in a 24-hour period. He has also spent two weeks straight, casting to those same spots and never even had a follow! The fish were probably all there on the tough trip, but something was just not right. There is a big difference between seeing a muskie lying inactive on the bottom and a follow. So too, there is a big difference between a follow and a muskie in the boat. Accept the fact that time on good water, effective presentations, and luck are all large pieces of a huge puzzle that equals successful muskie fishing.

Keep a positive attitude. Taking a sport that is this physically and mentally demanding too seriously is certain to lead to disappointment. A great example is that in the past five years I have nearly 35 days on the waters of Whitefish Bay in Lake of the Woods fishing muskie in October. In those 35 days, I have had only three muskie bites. I'm so stubborn that I'm excited to get back up there every fall. Cast after cast, I'll expect that big crunch, and if, day after day, it doesn't happen - well there's always next fall.

Remember it's JUST MUSKIE FISHING and while we all want every cast to be a homerun, we should all thank God for the opportunity to even stand at the plate on any given day.


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