How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It's not an exact science

Hunting muskie isn't easy, but Saric's over the moon for big catch

May 23, 2007
BY DALE BOWMAN Staff Reporter
SHELBYVILLE, Ill. -- After hours of trolling in loops and zigzags through the muskie hot spot in the cove at Lithia Springs, Jim Saric and Charlie Buhler had a whole of lot of nothing.
Suddenly Saric said, ''Moonrise is 1:30.''

Fish long enough for something as moody as muskies, and even scientists such as Saric, a geologist by trade, lapse into mystic ruminations.

Maybe that's the perfect definition of a fisherman: a scientist who slow-dances with supernatural mysteries.

In April, Saric invited me to Lake Shelbyville for a day of shooting for ''The Musky Hunter Television Show,'' the only muskie show on the air.

Conditions were tough, so tough I that expected him to withdraw my invitation. A weekend tournament had blanked. In two previous days of hard fishing, they had boated only one, not nearly enough for a segment. Add to that post-front conditions.

''There's still a good chance of catching,'' Saric promised. ''We just have to slow down, fish plastics and smaller minnow baits. I don't necessarily mean slower retrieve, just a more deliberate presentation.''

I had hours to wrap my head around that piece of fishing Zen. (It makes sense if you mull it over.)

At least it remained cloudy.

''If it was clear out and sunny, then it can be really tough,'' Saric said. ''Then you have to rely on the bite at dark.''

We started casting, then switched to trolling in the late morning. In the downtime, I gleaned an extraneous piece of fishing knowledge from Saric. With the water down, he pointed to downed trees on points.

''Notice the cold north wind pushes them to the south side of the points,'' he said. He said that holds true on most impoundments. He was right. And I never had noticed before.

Stuff like that makes the Deerfield man heir apparent to Spence Petros as Chicago's fishing master/teacher.

While Saric respects the pull of the moon, he also believes what his modern electronics show and the mathematical truths of patterns. In previous days, they marked schools of bait high in the water, so six trolling rods (outside shallow-running baits, inside deeper-running baits) were spread to cover the top 10 feet.

''But weather trumps the moon conditions,'' Saric said. ''The more of those factors you can control, the better off you are.''

Sure enough, less than 15 minutes after moonrise, as the water had warmed to 67 degrees, a rod went off and Buhler boated a 44-inch muskie that had hit a firetiger Salmo Skinner 20.

''The bar has been set at 50 inches,'' Saric said. ''People go all their lives without catching one of those. Every muskie is a great fish. I'll take a 44-incher anywhere.''

The catch set off an intense strategy discussion between Jim Lucy, an Emmy-winning sports cameraman from Schiller Park, and Saric. That ate into time when the natural fishing reaction would be to get quickly back into the zone where the active fish was.

''We set out to do a casting and trolling show,'' Saric said. ''We had all these great plans, but the fish dictate what happens.''

Tornado warnings popped all afternoon, but storms skirted us and we fished on. Two hours later, it paid off with an even more impressive 46-inch muskie on a shad Salmo Skinner 20.

''That's two fish with the same lure with approximately the same amount of line out,'' said Saric, who was doubly glad the fish came on lures from a show sponsor. ''So we know what we have to try to replicate.''

As Lucy zoomed in to get the release of the fish, he and his camera were splashed.

It was time. But we fished into the evening, casting for the final couple of hours. Both Buhler and I raised muskies that didn't finish. But Saric and Lucy had enough for a trolling show, just what the fish gave them.

The second season of ''The Musky Hunter Television Show'' will air locally on Comcast SportsNet beginning the first Saturday in January.

Turkey talk
As had been the trend all spring, the preliminary harvest in Illinois' 2007 spring turkey hunt was well short of the 2006 record. Hunters bagged 14,767 wild turkeys in the regular spring seasons, plus another 570 (a record) in the youth seasons to total 15,337. In 2006, hunters totaled 16,607 (16,086 in the regular seasons, 521 in the youth seasons). Forest wildlife program manager Paul Shelton suspects the drop was a combination of the record heat followed by record cold, coupled with more jakes, which gobble less, in the populations of toms.

Places and faces
Mayor Daley's Fishing Advisory Committee meeting has been moved back to McKinley Park Fieldhouse at 10 a.m. Thursday. ... Michigan confirmed the first inland appearance of viral hemorrhagic septicemia, the fatal fish disease that does not affect humans, last week in Budd Lake in Claire County. Wisconsin has confirmed more VHS cases in the Winnebago chain.

Wild things
My friend, naturalist Joel Greenberg, wants to document extreme cases of the emergence of 17-year cicadas, such as enough to require shoveling. Contact him at

Stray cast
In bass fishing, they're called reaction baits. Smart big fish leave them alone. (Public memo to Ozzie.)


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