My brother Tom, who was addicted to watching fishing shows on Saturday morning since he was a child, became obsessed with the idea of catching a “Musky,” and when he turned thirty-years old he figured the time was ripe to put one in his net. Calling me in Dallas from his home in Chicago, he informed me that he had done some research on the Internet and had found a good place to catch a trophy muskellunge. “The place is called Twin Lakes and it is located in Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s only a six hour drive from Chicago. How would you like to hang one of those monsters in your game room?”
“Let me get this right. You want me to fly to Chicago and then drive six hours to a lake in Wisconsin, when I could throw a line from my front door into a thirty thousand acre lake filled with fish.”
“You don’t have any musky in Lake Ray Hubbard. Once you hook onto one of these things you’ll never want to catch another sand bass in your life.”
I thought about it a moment and figured that I could visit my parents and get out of the Texas heat for a week. “Let me see if I could get cheap flight and I will get back to you.”
I went right to the Net and did a little research on the elusive “monster of the north.” The muskellunge or musky for short is the largest member of the pike family. The fish can reach lengths in excess of five feet and weights over sixty pounds and are generally considered northern cold water fish (although they can be found in some southern deep water reservoirs). The musky prefers clear waters where they can ambush their prey along weed beds and rocky structures. They will eat just about anything smaller than they are, including other fish, frogs, ducks, muskrats, birds, and anything else they can swallow. They are solitude and very hard to catch, often referred by anglers as “the fish of ten thousand casts.” I imagined hanging one of these trophies in my pool room and made my reservations.
Two weeks later I arrived at O’Hare Airport in Chicago and met my brother at baggage claim. “I hope you’re ready for some serious action,” he told me. “Once you hook onto one of these things, you’ll never forget it.” We collected my bags and headed out to his new home in the suburb of Plainfield. When we pulled into the back of his house, my brother opened the garage door and directed to me to his work bench where two large tackle boxes sat. “Check this out,” he said excitedly as he flipped open one of the chest. I looked into the box and viewed a plethora of huge wooden plugs still wrapped in their packages. “Where did you get all this stuff?” I asked.
I went down to Bass Pro Shop and loaded up on all the best musky lures that they had in stock. These here my Lucky Strike plugs, and these are all Hedon baits. I have Willy lures, Rapalas, Ziggies, Suiks, Believers, Swimjizzes, and an assortment of other crank and jerk baits. In this box, I have some large Daredevil spoons and Mepps bucktails. If this stuff doesn’t work, we’ll pull out the heavy artillery. I have a fake mouse, duck, bull frog, and wounded bird. I felt like I was in the Chicago Field Museum.
“What did all this stuff cost?”
“About five hundred dollars, but it will be well worth it when we pull one out.”
“Is dad coming with us on this trip?”
“He said he is.”’
“You know that if he hits us with one of these lures, someone is going to the hospital.”
“I know ─ I already warned him about the casting.”
“Let’s get some sleep and we’ll pick up dad early tomorrow morning so we can get on the road,” I said.
“Sounds like a plan.”
I tried to get some sleep, but the nightmares kept me awake all night. In the first dream I had been impaled in the neck with a huge six inch Daredevil by my father and in the second feature, a large Rapala had been drilled into my forehead. I woke up during the third dream drenched in sweat, as I reached up to my eye socket and tried to remove an treble hook from the fake mouse out of my eye socket. The horror! After being bonked in the back of the head with a two once lead slab at Cedar Creek by my father, I could only imagine the pain that could be inflicted by a projectile Swimjizz.
I talked to my brother about the nightmares and we decided to stage a casting intervention in the car during the ride up to Wisconsin. After we picked my father up, we drove north for two hours before we made a pit stop. When I returned from the bathroom, we continued our journey and I figured the time was right to begin. “Do you remember that time we were fishing that school of hybrid at Cedar Creek and you nailed me in the back of the head with that slab?” I asked my father.
“Who? ─ Me?” my father replied.
“No ─ Captain Ahab.”
“I didn’t do that.”
“What do you mean you didn’t do it; Tom saw you do it.”
“Well he’s mistaken.”
“I suppose that big knot that was on the back of my head was a figment of my imagination.”
“I’m tellin’ you, I didn’t do it.”
“Look, that’s neither here nor there. This is a new trip and I don’t want to spend it in some podunk ER in Wisconsin; so be careful. He has lures in his tackle box that can rip your throat out.”
“You don’t have to worry about me. I’m always careful where I cast.
We arrived at the lake around five o’clock that evening and checked into our cabin. After we had dinner at the lodge we entered the bar in order to do some reconnaissance with the locals. The only chatter in the deserted bar came from the overhead television that was tuned into the Cubs-Brewers game. “What can I get you fellas?” the bartender asked.
“Get us a round of Leinenkugels,” my brother said.
“Have it right up.”
The bartender placed the cold bottled beers on the bar and asked, “So what brings you fellas up to Twin Lakes?”
“Where here to catch a monster musky,” Tom said.
“There ain’t no stinkin’ fish in that lake ─ the Indians fished it out years ago.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There aren’t any fish. Those ‘Cheesers’ down in Madison let the Chippewa Indians spear and net all the fish because they were starving and now there’s no more fish.”
“That’s not what the Internet said.”
“What did you think it would read, ‘Come visit beautiful Twin Lakes ─ we have no fish, but you can drink beer.’ ”
I looked at my brother who had a disappointed look on his face. “C’mon,” I said, “let’s finish our beers and get some sleep. We’ll find out for ourselves tomorrow.”
We woke up the next morning, had breakfast, and then loaded our gear into our rental boat. The weather was cool and overcast; which we had been told was perfect conditions for musky fishing. My brother guided the boat across the lake and into a cove that was lined by a weed bed. “This is a perfect spot,” he said. “Cast to the edge of that bed and then reel in. When the lure gets to the side of the boat, stick your rod tip down and do a figure eight like this. Sometimes a musky will follow the lure in and then strike it when you do the figure eight. I’ve seen it done many times on my ‘Musky Mania’ video.”
“What’s he talking about?” my father asked, quizzically looking at me.
“I don’t know. Just cast it out and then reel it in, but don’t do the
figure eight ─ you might fall in the water.”
We began working the weed bed by making casts to the edge of the hydrilla and then reeling in. All morning, cast after cast, we covered the cove using top waters, deep divers, and various musky-recommended crank baits. I kept a cautious eye on my father in an attempt to keep myself free of a musky-plug sandwich. “This is boring,” the old man said, “we should have gone down to Texas to catch some of those schooling fish.”
“Just be patient,” my brother responded, “this is not the same kind of fishing. They don’t call the musky ‘the fish of ten thousand casts’ for nothing.”
“The fish of ten thousand casts?” my father exclaimed, “I could be dead by the time I make ten thousand cast. Is there a Chinese buffet around here?”
“Will you just chill out. Let’s fish a little while longer and then I will take you to eat.”
“I want to try a different lure.”
“What do you want to use?”
“Let me try that fake mouse.”
I gave my brother a vigilant gaze as I eyeballed the massive treble hook on the pseudo rodent. “Just be careful with this thing,” he said, “It cost me ten bucks.” Tying it on, he handed the pole to my father and we continued fishing. On his first cast he sent the hapless fur ball into the middle of the weed bed, snagging it against a stout underwater stalk of hydrilla. Mistaking it for a fish, he shouted “Got one!” as he felt the resistance of the weeds. Yanking the pole back like he was setting the hook on a great white shark, the taut braided musky line snapped the mouse free sending the speeding “Mighty Mouse” in the direction of my face. Instinctively ducking in an effort at self-preservation, the mouse zipped past my head nearly tearing my ear off.
“That’s it,” I said, “let’s go to the Chinese buffet.”
The rest of the week was spent throwing hundreds of casts at nothing but I at least had some peace of mind. I had purchased a hockey helmet at a local sporting goods store and wore it in good health the rest of the trip.
* * *
From G.O. Fishin': Tall Tales from the Tackle Box
Available at Amazon.com/books/garyocallaghan