WILTZ: Scratch trophy muskie from my bucket listThe muskellunge, also spelled “musky” or “muskie,”is a large predator fish typically of, but not limited to, the north woods including southern Ontario, northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, Lake Champlain, and the St. Lawrence River. South Dakota has one musky lake, Amsden, east of Aberdeen. I’ve never fished Amsden.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
The muskellunge, also spelled “musky” or “muskie,”is a large predator fish typically of, but not limited to, the north woods including southern Ontario, northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, Lake Champlain, and the St. Lawrence River. South Dakota has one musky lake, Amsden, east of Aberdeen. I’ve never fished Amsden.
The official world record muskie may or may not be a 60-pound fish caught in 1939 by Louie Spray of Hayward, Wis. It was 58 inches long. I don’t know that any subject has been the object of more hanky-panky than that of the actual all-time best muskie.
Our record South Dakota muskie was caught near the intakes above the Fort Randall Dam by 13-year-old Kelly Whalen with help from her dad Mike. The 33-pound tiger muskie, a muskellunge/northern pike hybrid, was featured in this column on June 20, 1992. At that time, Game, Fish & Parks had stocked tiger muskies in Lake Francis Case. Question to South Dakota GF&P: Why not stock them again?
For the past three years, catching a trophy muskie, otherwise known as “The Fish of Ten-Thousand Casts,” had become somewhat of a personal obsession for me. I’ve been to Ontario’s Indian Chain twice, where I managed to take a 32-inch fish this summer. It was a start. Last year partner Jerry Hnetynka and I went to Wisconsin’s Eagle River chain where we hired a guide. We caught a few nice northern pike, but no muskies.
And so, motivated by Coach Dan Moran’s success late last summer on Minnesota’s West Battle Lake with guide Dave Williamson, Jerry and I headed to Minnesota’s Fergus Falls area on the morning of Sept. 9. We took I-29 into North Dakota, turned east onto Highway 13 and continued into Wahpeton where we hooked up with Highway 210 to Fergus Falls and onto the town of Battle Lake, Minn., our destination.
Battle Lake’s Ben’s Bait Shop, where we bought one-day Minnesota fishing licenses (4 p.m. starting time), was not very reassuring. We were told that we wouldn’t catch any muskies. On top of that, they hadn’t heard of our guide, Dave Williamson. From Battle Lake we went on to Sunset Beach Resort located on West Battle Lake. We would spend what would be left of our night there after fishing. Also, it was only a half mile from the public boat launch where we would meet Dave, our guide.
Although Dave fishes a number of lakes as you can see on his website (www.muskystalker.com), we would fish the 5,600-acre West Battle Lake. Dave believed that West Battle would be one of three lakes that would produce a new Minnesota state record fish. As it is, slightly more than 10 percent of the fish Dave lands go 50 inches or better.
We began fishing around 4 p.m. I stood on the bow, and Jerry fished closer to the stern. We casted a variety of large lures with bait-casting rods and Shimano “Calcutta” bait-casting reels loaded with 80 pound test braided line. Our leaders were 150 pound test, and we were fishing in 8 feet of water.
Dave told us that we would see a fish following our lure in the clear water, but it would probably hit close to the boat. Before pulling our lures from the water, we were to make “figure eights” with our rod tips in the water. Most hits would come during the “figure eight” drill. Dave showed me how to effectively make the “figure eights,” something that I had never done well before. Jerry and I casted until 6 p.m. with no follow-ups or strikes.
We next trolled top-water lures over weed beds. While fishing the big surface lures, we trolled with three rods. Our lures were taken out to the side of the boat by planer boards. The third line was fished from the stern. For trolling, Jerry and I manned line-counter reels. I generally let out 120 feet of line while Jerry went with 130 feet. As sunset approached, we went to another area of the lake where would troll deeper running lures for what proved to be the next six hours. We both caught some small northern pike.
Dave constantly changed lures, colors and speed. I believe he had a business interest in a lure called a “Glittertail” as he helped design them, and he promoted them on his website. We used Glittertails, other spinners including a tandem variety and big diving plugs that rivaled bowling pins in size. Eventually the three of us would wear little headlamps about our heads so we could watch our rod tips.
As the twilight succumbed to darkness, we switched to trolling only two rods. Both mine and Jerry’s were in rod holders. I asked why I shouldn’t man my rod in my hands, and was told that the heavy strike of a big muskie would cause some “give” in the rod — perhaps enough to give the fish some slack line and a chance to shake the lure loose. At the high speed we were trolling, a strike with the stiff rod holder would set the hook.
At 8:10 p.m., a jarring strike bent my rod. I grabbed the rod as Dave instructed me not to pump the rod as I fought the fish. Minutes later, Dave netted my 20-pound, 40-inch muskie. Before snapping a picture and releasing, the fish was handled with extreme care — something I want to talk about in a future column. At 9 p.m., an almost identical fish hit Jerry’s tackle. Dave and Jerry handled it with veteran expertise.
It grew colder during the ensuing hours, making me glad I had long underwear under my jeans and shirt. Both Jerry and I caught respectable largemouth bass on lures the same size as the fish, but our muskie action was over for the evening and early morn. We motored back to the resort with a “mission accomplished” feeling.
After a short night’s sleep, we had planned to fish the next day in the small boat we had hauled to Minnesota. The next day’s wind would have blown us off the lake, and we headed home a day early. We feel we learned a lot about muskie fishing from Dave and Jerry and I plan to return to West Battle to try it on our own. See you next week.