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Part One hundred eighty-nine

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By Mark Lowden, Lore City, OH

Musky Recipe for Adventure:
Mix - a couple of Musky nuts, a canoe, a fly-rod and flies, a bait caster and plugs, rain, and a very early January thaw, and toss the complete contents into a river. Let simmer for 1 to 2 hours and see what comes out. (Additional ingredients such as Icebergs, logs, and various wildlife can be added to suit individual tastes.)

My buddy Dave convinced me to take one of my precious vacation days this past Thursday and go Musky fishing with him. Dave is fairly new to Musky fishing, having just started fishing for them at the end of last year. Not only did he start fishing for them, he actually caught them. Dave was fortunate to have a friend who was willing to take him to one of the famed Muskie spots in the state. It's not only famous for an abundance of hungry Muskie, it is also a very well kept secret! I had been trying for years to get the exact location from various sources, but to no avail. The best I had been able to come up with was about a 35-mile section of river. So, when Dave told me his friend could not go, but offered us the use of his canoe and a couple of his favorite flies he ties for Muskie, how could I refuse? If nothing else it was worth a day or two of vacation just to find the location of the secret Musky holes.

I could hardly keep my anticipation in check Wednesday evening as I prepared my 10-weight outfit and suitable flies. Although it had rained most of the day, the weathermen were calling for scattered showers the remainder of the night and early into hursday, ending by midmorning. Perfect weather for a Musky hunt. After loading my truck and double checking the contents at least 4 times, I finally went to bed to dream of landing a '50 incher' on my fly-rod. (The fact that all I can remember dreaming about catching was a couple small bluegills should have given me some idea as to how the day would turn out!)

I woke up at 4 AM to a thunderstorm, with the rain pouring in sheets. At the time I thought - hmmm, must be a freak localized storm and surely won't cause any problems. (Remember, one does not think too well at 4 in the morning!) As I was driving down the interstate and sipping on my second cup of coffee, it dawned on me that maybe the rain was wider spread than I originally thought and could just possibly cause some problems. The fact that I had to slow down to 50 mph on the interstate just to see the road through the sheets of rain was starting to seep into my coffee induced consciousness. Once the old brain started working, it immediately kicked into overdrive. I began thinking that Dave, upon waking up to the thunderstorm, had probably decided that this wasn't a good idea and crawled back into his nice warm bed, and was getting myself worked into a bad mood. You know - I get up at 4 AM and drive 60 miles and he isn't even ready, still in bed even - and he didn't even other to call me!

I didn't have to worry, when I turned onto his street, he had the garage door up, the canoe on the car, and was already waiting for me! And I was 10 minutes early - what a nut! Anyway, by the time I was 10 miles from his house, the heavy rain had stopped and was just a nice soft drizzle. We were in great spirits as we headed out to the secret 'honey' holes, both of us getting exited about the prospects of landing several 40 inch Muskie. We were even concerned that I only had 6 pictures left on my camera!

After about an hours drive, Dave pulled the car off the road and said we were there. Pitch dark, foggy; I couldn't even see the river. It looked to me like we were parked along a cliff, and if there was water at the bottom, I could only take his word for it. Since he had fished there before, I just assumed he knew what he was doing, (I didn't take into account that this was a madman with Musky fever! I should have known by the deranged look that came into his eyes every time he would say. . . Mmmmmmuuuskky.) Well, there was nothing to do but put the waders on and rig up the fly rod. (Oh yea, I forgot to mention I decided to forgo the casting rod, leaving it and some plugs in Dave's garage, and tangle with the Mmmmmuuusssky with only my fly rod on this trip!)

As daylight broke, we could actually see the river down below us. Dave commented that it looked to be up a bit, but still looked fishable, Actually it was slightly stained, but I had to agree with Dave, it wasn't that dark brown mud color, so what the heck - lets go catch some Mmmmuuusskkiiee!

Launching the canoe was easy, since we had all the rain and warm weather, the ground was thawed and getting soft, so all we had to do was just point the canoe in the general direction of the river and hold on. As we were sliding down the bank behind the canoe, Dave said not to worry, there was a fairly large flat spot at the bottom, where the water wasn't too deep, and we could load from there. Dave slid onto the 'flat' spot first, and I detected a bit of terror in his eyes when he finally stopped sinking as the water lapped around his chest. Dave later told me that the river might be up a little bit. I was able to stop my decent by grabbing hold of a small sapling growing on the bank. The only touchy situation came when I was pulling Dave out of the river; it felt like the sapling was starting to pull out and I was trying to decide whether to keep latched onto Dave or not. After all, you can't go around destroying all the plants and vegetation on the riverbanks or soon the banks would be completely washed away. Fortunately, Dave managed to get out of the river and found a suitable 2" x 6" area to stand on. In no time at all, we had the canoe loaded; our bodies, our rods, our lunches, lifejackets, and 80 pounds of mud! We were off to catch a Musky!

As we paddled into the center of the stream, I was curious about the water clarity and noticed I could see about 15 inches of the paddle in the water. Not great, but certainly fishable.

The game plan, as laid out to me by Dave, was to paddle into the middle of the stream, and slowly float down through a long stretch of deep water, fishing all the way through these deep holes. According to Dave, this is usually accomplished easily, with little need for paddling, and was a nice enjoyable float, taking most of the morning to run the length of this deep stretch of water. The greatest thing about this particular stretch of river is that it holds Musky everywhere. That was the game plan.

In reality, no sooner had we paddled to the middle of the river and started drifting; when we came to a small but substantial ice jam. No problem. We were able to pick our way through the ice that was backed up until we got to the piece that stretched from bank to bank. Fortunately, it was only about a foot wide and a couple of inches thick, and broke easily with a few whacks from Dave's paddle. We were soon through and racing downstream with several tons of loose ice. Shortly after this bit of excitement, fishing conditions rapidly degraded!

The nice slow 'all morning drift' through the deep holes took slightly less than half an hour. Also I noticed with some concern that I could now only see about 5 inches of my paddle in the water. Things were looking grim for the prospects of hooking up with a Musky on the fly. In fact, just the attempt of fly-fishing was becoming something of a chore. My feeble efforts went something like this; pick up the rod, hurriedly make a couple false casts to splash the fly in the water about 25 feet from the canoe, put the rod down, grab the paddle and dodge some icebergs, pick the rod up frantically strip in some line, put the rod down and grab the paddle and dodge a tree limb, grab the rod and try to get the fly to the canoe without snagging on an iceberg, then quickly repeat the process again. We decided to paddle back upstream to the start of the deep holes and fish it down again. However, by the time we made it back upstream, things were even worse. The paddle instantly disappeared when plunged into the dark muddy water - zero visibility. The good thing was that the icebergs were coming down river less frequently, but were replaced by more tree limbs, pieces of cut firewood, and several large trees. We even had a good start when we saw a deer, caught in the current, come heading downstream toward us. I was wracking my brain, reviewing my vast outdoorsman knowledge in order to come up suggestion for Dave concerning how to survive a rouge deer attacking a canoe in the middle of a flooded river, when I noticed the glassy eyes of the deer. Poor thing was dead as a doornail - it had probably slipped accidentally into the turbulent river upstream and died of fright on the spot!

It was about at that point in time we both decided that attempting to fish would probably be best left for another day, and we started paddling upstream for the car. By the time we made it back to the cliff where we launched the canoe, we were getting pretty good at dodging obstacles, and the rain finally stopped. Since neither of us were anxious to get out of the canoe, (actually it had more to do with our concern about how were going to get out than our comfort or desire to stay in the canoe!), we decided to continue paddling upstream, since Dave said he had never seen what the river was like upstream. We continued our trek up-river until any forward progress required more than casual paddling. (Casual here is defined as just short of frantic.) We turned the canoe downstream and had a nice leisurely float back to the car. I even managed a little cup of coffee on the way back. All too soon, we arrived at our launching point and the car, (and the cliff.) Fortunately the little sapling that stopped my quick decent in the morning was much closer to the water now, and I was able to hold the boat steady while Dave was able to step out of the canoe and gain enough purchase of grass and mud with his toes to hold the canoe for me. (Not an easy task in bare feet, but really impressive when the person doing it is wearing chest waders!). From that point on, there is little interesting that happened. It was a mildly difficult getting the canoe and gear up the mountainside, but didn't require anything more than taking turns crawling crablike up the steep incline through the mud, while one of us would hold the canoe until we could move it another few inches.

So ended my first Musky hunt of 2002. All in all, it was a great day, pretty much another typical outing for me. I can't wait until next time! ~ Mark (Host BH)

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