How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Muskie fever brings sweats of frustration

Chester Allen
The Olympian

MAYFIELD LAKE — Four years ago, I saw a huge tiger muskie — it looked like a log — poke its long, toothy snout out of a weed bed and work its jaws like a dog chewing a bone.
The tail of a unlucky squawfish hung out of that muskie’s mouth.

While I didn’t hook a muskie that day, I vowed to land one — on a fly — before the end of that summer.

I had just caught muskie fever.

The list of numbskull moves that illness brought on is a long one. My first blunder was deciding to hook one of these fish on a heavy fly rod and a big streamer fly.

Just hooking a tiger muskie — which is a sterile hybrid cross between a northern pike and a muskellunge — is tough.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks just a few lakes with the sterile monsters, and each lake doesn’t get many fish.

Muskies get really big — 60 inches long and pushing 50 pounds — and biologists put them in lakes to whittle down overpopulations of carp, pikeminnow and suckers.

Carp, pikeminnow and suckers get too big too fast for trout or bass to keep their populations in check, but tiger muskies happily chomp away on big fish. Tiger muskies also have a sweet tooth for hatchery trout, but biologists believe they do more good than harm.

Anyway, muskies are called “the fish of 10,000 casts.” Using an 8-weight fly rod to chuck a five-inch-long fly made out of rabbit fur will leave your arm looking — and feeling — like a Cheetoh.

I know this because I’m sure I made more than 10,000 casts.

It took me about 23 hours of casting that wretched bunny fly during five different days to finally get a tiger muskie to follow the fly.

It was a warm September day, but my teeth began to chatter when that fish glided along behind the pulsating fly.

Of course, it then turned away.

I compounded my misery because I stubbornly used a pontoon float tube instead of a boat. I figured that a pontoon’s stealth would allow a close approach to the fish.

I think I was getting too doggone close to the fish. I’d get the fish following my fly, but it would then spot the pontoon — and my red, sweaty face — and ease away.

All of this made me crazy — crazy enough to keep going and going and going.

The sad fact is that I came down with a malady that resembled diaper rash during my muskie obsession. I didn’t pee my pants, but my neoprene waders keep me nice and dry and — yes — sweaty.

I bought my first pair of breathable waders right around then.

I finally hooked — and landed — a tiger muskie while casting small popping bug for bass.

Yup, my tiger muskie — all of 28 inches, which is a baby — came because I couldn’t resist casting for bass.

I was lucky that the muskie’s sharp teeth didn’t slice my leader.

I was afraid to land that fish — despite all the effort I put into catching it — as muskies are toothy, mean fish with ice-cold stares. I used pliers to release the fish, and I was glad it didn’t bite my leg.

Local guide Steve Kramer caught a few tiger muskies on 6-pound line and plastic bass jigs last year.

Maybe small is better than large for muskies.

Anyway, I see that Washington is about to get its first Muskies Inc. chapter.

Muskies Inc. which promotes muskie fishing — and was the first angling organization to promote catch and release — has more than 7,500 members.

My muskie craziness was temporary, but it looks like plenty of local anglers are beyond all hope.

Outdoors columnist Chester Allen can be reached at 360-754-4226 or


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