About a dozen years ago I got a call from a local photographer friend named Jules. It seems his office was working on a new muskie book, and they needed a good sized muskie to take pictures of. “Sure, I can catch you one. When do you need it by?” I’m thinking I’ll have a month or at least a week to produce. “We have a shoot on Friday”. This was on a Wednesday. “Uh, OK…I’ll see what I can do.”
On Thursday morning, Jules dropped off a huge cooler for me to use as a livewell, along with some permits that would allow me to transport the fish. The livewell took up most of the floor in my jon boat.
I left work early that day, maybe around 2:00, and I pointed my truck towards a favorite lake. At this point in time, this lake had a high and very catchable population of muskies, although they did run on the small side, lots of 30 – 40 inchers. In those days it was rare for me to get blanked in a session out there. I was quite confident I could catch a muskie there on any given day, the question was could I catch one big enough to suit their needs, they needed a fish 45 inches or bigger.
I had the boat floating by about 3:00, it then took about five minutes to get the coffin-sized livewell filled. I buzzed over to a favorite shoreline and started casting one of my home made coyote bucktails. It didn’t take long before I had a fish on—and then it was off just as fast. No worries, I saw that it was in the low 30 inch class. A good sign though, “At least the fish are active”, I thought. After another ten minutes of casting I briefly messed around some docks checking for bass, but quickly realized that I’m not going to get my muskie that way. By now I was at a prominent rocky point. I picked my muskie rod back up and started casting my bucktail to the edge of the shallow weeds, then worked out farther to where the point dropped into deeper water. I started thinking about a weedbed on the other end of the lake, and was contemplating a move when I got a jolting strike. I reared back and buried the hooks into the big fish. I knew right away this was the one I needed, so I took it a little easier than usual. After a minute or so of head shaking and some short fast runs, the fish was tired out. I waited until the fish stopped thrashing and quickly lifted it into the boat, one hand around the peduncle [the area in front of the tail], the other on a gill cover [I don’t net muskies, and I’ve hand landed HUNDREDS of muskies this way]. I swung the fish into the open cooler, quickly popped out the barbless hook, and then shut the lid and sat on it. Victory was mine! I was pretty excited, and was shaking a little [a lot] when I pulled up the trolling motor, started the outboard, and raced back to the access. I had the boat back on the trailer in record time and headed towards Jules’s office. A quick time check showed it was now 4:05. I stopped at a convenience store and called Jules from a payphone [if you don’t remember, payphones were these things that you could use to call somebody when you weren’t at home or work. They would be found in many public areas, any one could use them, and it cost a quarter to place a call. You would actually have to know the persons number, and dial it manually, but they actually worked pretty well].
“I’ve got a fish, and I’m on my way!” He was pretty excited and assured me they would have the big tank ready when I got there. Thirty minutes later we were moving my fish into a BIG aquarium, and there was much congratulations and queries about the catch. We were leaning on my boat, and I showed him the lure I caught the fish on. He then noticed a bass rod with a jig and craw tied on—“WTF Chris, were you bass fishing too?” I sheepishly explained that yeah, there were some good docks that often give up a big largemouth, and yeah, had I skipped that I may have had the boat back to the dock in 50 minutes instead of 60. Good laughs were had all around, and he promised to buy me a beer.
That fish was prominently featured in the muskie book, and I recognized it in a few ads and magazine articles in the next couple of years after that. When the photo shoot was done, the muskie was returned to the lake, probably very confused but relieved to be back home.
Jules gave me a copy of the old-timey picture at the top, featuring my fish. This picture headed up a chapter on the history of muskie fishing.