Saturday, October 31, 2015

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)

Hope springs eternal, of course, and we never give up hope of getting in one more fishing trip before winter. The die-hard anglers know that fall fishing might be the best fishing and go after them, but for those of us who like to spend our autumns carrying shotguns and following bird dogs it’s a tough call to have to choose between fishing and hunting. I suppose if all is right with the world we’d get in so much fishing during the spring and summer that we’d be satisfied come fall and happy to stow the rods for the guns. How much fishing would that take? I can’t imagine.

After our great trip to Alaska, Scott and I made one float trip on a familiar river with less than spectacular results – a couple of smallish northern pike and I was kinda’ thinking that would be the last trip of the season. I’ve been in grouse hunting mode since, with thoughts of the approaching deer season but when Scott suggested one more try for muskies I couldn’t turn it down. Fish or no fish, a float down a backcountry autumn river is worth doing.

The days are getting short in late October so we picked a section of river neither of us had been on, but one we could easily finish before dark. I left my place well before sunup and drove through the rain dodging deer the entire way to the landing. It quit raining with the daylight and I flushed a flock of Canada geese when I pulled up to the river. Minutes later Scott showed and after shuttling the vehicles we slipped the Fishcat into the water and were on our way. As usual, Scott took the first shift at the oars of his boat and it turned out to be my lucky day. 

I like fly fishing for big fish and I'm lucky to have a group of friends who feel the same way. I like tying the big flies, though they take a while 'cause of all the material involved, and I like being able to attach the fly to the leader without a magnifying glass. And when that fly hits the water there's no doubt about where it is. Tossing big water-soaked flies can get tiring and a bit tough on the shoulder but it's the price we pay, and at the end of the day I've never heard any regrets from anyone. And when a big fish hits that fly, well...!
I was casting a deer hair diver, articulated red and black, a copy of the one I lost to a nice musky last fall and it was hard to decide where to cast in a river so full of good cover. There were rocks, logs, sweepers, deep holes and runs, and weed beds from shoreline to shoreline. The oars dipped the water and my line zinged through the air. The first fish was a small pike, nothing to brag about but got me on the board. Then we pulled through a couple of shallow riffles and came to a deep run on river-left. I made a cast under a bankside cedar tree and stripped it back just as I’d been doing since we’d started. The fish appeared from below the fly and sort of rubbed it against its back before disappearing into the deeper water again.

I can’t remember exactly what was said but it went something like: “Did you see that?!” “Oh yeah!” “It was huge!” All while Scott was back-rowing to keep me in position for another shot. I was hoping against hope the fish would show again and I took two, maybe three more casts when the big musky came up and nosed the fly, turned away for a second then turned back and grabbed it. Fish on – strip set, strip set, strip set!

There was some pretty excited chatter while Scott handled the boat and I played the fish. We’d get it close but when it wanted to it just swam away, bending my rod and peeling line. It seemed to be hooked well but I couldn’t help wondering about my knots and leader strength. The longer I fought it the more nervous I became, but I finally got it alongside enough for Scott to push the net under it and it was ours.  It's easily the biggest fish I’ve landed on a fly rod and my sigh of relief came with a happy smile.

We pulled to shore for photos and released the fish to swim away a little indignant at having been caught, but perhaps to be caught again.

It wasn’t the only musky we saw that day, another followed that same fly right to the boat but some clumsy rod handling on my part spooked the fish at the boat and it turned away for good. We ended the day landing plenty of smaller pike. I took the big fish award, but Scott caught the most. I’m not saying the fishing is over, but it’s almost November and I can’t think of a better way to end the season.

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