EDITOR'S NOTE:?This column originally ran Aug. 24, 2007.
Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) have long been called the fish of a thousand casts, as in that's how many it takes to catch one. In the Keweenaw, it's more like the fish of 10,000 casts.
It didn't take Brian Spagnotti of Mohawk anywhere near that many to hook up with his monster muskie. He was fishing the evening shift, just about dark, on Gratiot Lake last week with Brian Koski and Brian Mattila when a monster muskie came out of nowhere and whacked his Strike King spinnerbait. After a 15-minute fight, his ultralight rod snapped in two places, but the 6-pound test line miraculously held, and they wrestled the trophy fish into the boat by hand.
At 48 inches and 35 pounds, it was way too big for their net, and the biggest fish caught on light tackle in Keweenaw waters in quite a while. The catch qualifies Spagnotti as a Michigan Master Angler. The state record muskie is 51 inches, 49 pounds, caught in 2000 by John Keith Geml, Thornapple Lake, Barry County. The previous record, 51.5 inches at 45 pounds, came from a U.P. lake in Gogebic County in 1980. But don't take my word for it, look it up yourself, along with other state record fish, at www.michigandnr.com/masterangler.
The much-maligned muskie (the Big Bad Wolf to your Little Red Riding Hood of the fish world), is the biggest, baddest, most reclusive and elusive freshwater fish there is.
You know how the dog days of summer are just about over? They last all season for muskies, who prowl shoreline shallows picking off small dogs, ducks and other critters that stray too close to the water. If you've ever watched a baby duckling that lags too far behind its mother disappear without as much as a peep or a splash, you know what I'm talking about. They'll also grab a merganser, munch a mallard, and chomp a red-winged blackbird off a cattail a couple of feet above the water.
Part of Wisconsin's charm and culture is cultivating these horror stories (Esox fables?) about big muskies snapping poodles out of boats while they're leaning over, admiring their reflection in the water. Some time ago, a guy in Hayward allegedly caught a big muskie when he dangled his foot in the water over the side of his boat, and got bit. If you ask me, he was asking for it. And so was that little dog, too.
Muskies aren't just predators, they're apex predators, omnivores with a taste for other fish, crayfish, frogs, mice, moles, voles, muskrats, chipmunks and all manner of fish, fowl and rodentia. When muskies feed, all the other fish in the lake run and hide.
Muskies like action and commotion and love to play rough. Fast, erratic retrieves as in burning a big Mepps bucktail just under the surface, or ripping a buzzbait over the top of a weedbed can trigger a savage strike. So will any lure that presents a big silhouette or raises a racket in the water. Try jerking giant jerkbaits, and twitching crankbaits and topwater lures. Bumping wood cover is another big turn-on trigger. So is tugging a frog or mousee over the tops of lily pads.
When fake food fails, tempt them with fast food they can sink their teeth into, the fattest minnows, chubbiest chubs, and most succulent suckers you can find. Smaller baits tend to attract hammer handles. Always end your retrieve with a frisky figure eight and twitching your bait at boatside to provoke a violent last chance strike from a fish that's been following up just outa sight.
Troll fast, 3-4 mph, zig-zag, slow down, speed up. You'll know you're doing it right when your planer board goes under and stays under and starts moving away from the boat, tugging you with it.
From now til first ice is the time to hunt big muskies and northern. As the lakes turn over and the water cools down, these hungry predators prowl the weedbeds and lurk along the drop-offs of Lac la Belle, Portage, Torch and Gratiot Lakes. My bare-leg wading and float tubing days are over for the season.
To see muskie baits you'd like even if you're not a muskie, check out local luremaker Ron Wiitanen's hand-crafted wooden crankbaits from his RJ Lures Esox Series at www.rjlures.com, or visit strikeking.com, rapala.com and mepps.com.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.