If there's a better way to get in touch with the spirit of the north than standing thigh deep in a remote backwoods river -- gripping a bent fly rod with an angry muskie on the end of the line -- I can't say what it is.
I was wading my way downstream, thinking the water looked deeper that direction and maybe, just maybe, there'd be a muskie lurking about. Due to the ongoing drought the river level was lower than it's been in years, making it a tough float even for a canoe. It therefore made wade fishing possible and a way to learn the river like never before. What there was for current was slow and easy, only showing itself through narrow channels in and around shallow rocky sections and newly exposed islands. A gathering breeze sang its song rustling the heavily forested river banks.
Wade fishing muskies is not the simplest thing I've done and nothing I've done a lot of, but I've learned some things when going boat-less. A small pack, one that can be slid around to your chest is handy to carry a box with a few favorite flies, leaders, and the couple of tools you probably won't need. Landing a fish may be easier if you keep one of those jaw grippers and spreaders hanging from your belt on the opposite side of your line stripping hand. Ideally, I won't use those tools but when the fish is ready and close enough, I'll take a good look at the silvery green-ness of that intriguing wild fish before reaching down to remove the barbless hook with forceps or fingers.
The water depth seldom reached higher than my thighs and I was able to stay mostly in mid-river, and from there cast to likely cover along each bank and ahead of me in the open river. Despite hopeful anticipation of hooking a big fish, the sounds and smells of nature couldn't be ignored and I felt like I belonged right where I was. Time passed faster than distance and I considered turning back to my truck for the lunch and coffee waiting, but a tempting looking outside bend a hundred yards down river convinced me to continue. Upon reaching it I tossed my big deer-hair fly towards a submerged weed bed. Stripping line, the wake behind came on the second cast and a series of short, jerky strips triggered the strike!
The thrill of watching a big fish come at your fly and then take it is indescribable. Like all game fish, muskies rip and yank and dart across the river trying to wrench free from the hook that's holding them. The tug and pull is excitement at a high level and in the back of your mind there's a split second of wondering about the strength of your knots, the integrity of the leader, and the stoutness of the rod. There's a lot that can go wrong, but when the fish was finally at my lap and looking me in the eye as I released it, it seemed too soon to be over.
After gulping lunch I drove to another section of the river to explore and try for another muskie. This is wild country if not exactly wilderness, a land of wolves and bears, eagles and ospreys. There have been occasional reports of cougars in the area. In these modern times wild country might be described as anywhere there's no cell phone service. You won't be calling anyone from your phone on this river. Carry a first aid kit in that pack, you know, for the little stuff.
As I waded upstream looking for likely places to cast to, I was hit by a strong wind and surprised by a crack of thunder. Suddenly the trees were swaying and a dark storm was fast approaching. I headed back for the truck and grew anxious when I found two trees had blown down over the trail I'd just hiked in on. Worried about the safety of my truck parked up in the woods, I hurried ahead and hopped behind the steering wheel just as the deluge hit. With windshield wipers at full speed I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to the main road.
The day turned dark and I drove towards home as rain pounded the roof of my truck and thunder announced piercing flashes of lightning. The paved road was covered with blown branches and leaves and several downed spruce trees covered parts of the driving lane. Safe and warm in my vehicle, I smiled at the thought of a wild river in wild country, the wild muskie that gave a tough battle and a fine memory, and the retreat from a wild storm. Quite a day -- I'm thankful for it.
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