I really hate fishing in crowds so launching early in the morning suits my way of fishing. Something special about being the first one at the launch ramp to see the lake in the early morning light, the stars are starting to disappear as daylight comes creeping in. Today the water is still and calm, a few of the early rising birds are just visible skimming over the lakes surface. It is late summer and for this early in the morning it is already very warm and humid.
Backing down the ramp the boat gently comes off the trailer to float next to the small dock. A couple quick turns of the bow line around the nearest cleat secures the boat while I go park the truck and trailer. Pulling out of the ramp a momentary panic hits me; did I put the plug in the boat? Thinking over my pre-launch routine assures me that I have and park the truck and trailer feeling a bit relieved. Must be getting old and forgetful, normally I never forget the boat plug and have my pre-launch routine down to perfection, but that does not explain why this past spring while in Florida I forgot to put the boat plug in not once, but two days in a row! Good thing PolarKraft puts a spare plug on a chain inside the bilge. It is easy to get at from inside of the boat by opening a rear compartment, even with the boat filling up with water. I can personally testify to this after a using it on a couple of occasions. Must be I am not the only one to forget once in a while.
The short walk from the parking lot to the boat in the warm muggy air already has beads of sweat forming on my forehead. Fire up the big black Mercury outboard and turn on the electronics. The Lowrance X102C depth sounder on the dash says the water temp is 81 degrees. That is really warm for Northern New York waters. It takes a few moments to idle away from the dock and into deeper water. There is just enough light to see and run safely so I drop the throttle about halfway and partly trim out the engine. The cool breeze feels good as I make a short run to the first stop of the morning.
My fishing partner and I want to fish a partner’s bass tournament on this lake next month. He is unable to make the trip today so I am doing some pre-fishing and scouting some spots that have potential. The first spot of the morning is nothing more then a flat with scattered milfoil next to a deep channel. The first lure choice is an old well-worn Bass Pro Shops white and chartreuse color buzz bait rigged on a seven foot three inch medium heavy rod, Quantum PT reel, and spooled with seventeen-pound test Berkley XT monofilament line.
The water is dead calm, looking like a big mirror in the early morning light. The first cast sends the buzz bait flying through the air with a familiar whirring sound as the blade on the bait fights against the humid air. A quick turn of the reel handle and the bait pops to the surface and starts gurgling its way back to the boat leaving behind a wake and a bubble trail in the otherwise calm water.
Maybe it was not enough coffee, maybe I was not awake enough, but in what seemed like slow motion something comes up under the buzz bait and sucks it in. I have caught a good many bass on a buzz bait, but never had a strike quite like this one. Instinct takes over as I reel in the slack line and pull back hard on the long rod. The line stretches immediately and starts to sing as it cuts through the surface of the water. Something very heavy is on the line. Takes a moment, but I settle down and double-check the drag by pulling a little line off the spool. Ok that feels perfect; what ever it is I feel the drag should be able to handle it. If this is a bass it is a monster, even if it is a Northern Pike it is a monster from the way it is pulling and stripping line against the drag.
Takes a while but finally I get the fish to the surface not far from the boat. Would have given anything for a picture of my face about then. Been fishing a long time and have caught many big fish, but I look down to see the largest fresh water fish I have even had on. There is no mistaking the markings as it rolls on its side. This is a full grown Muskellunge, the largest I have even seen, easily over 50 inches long with a huge head and deep wide sides. It is like the fish wants me to see what I have to contend with before it whips its wide tail, splashing water all over the boat and myself before it disappears under the water stripping drag as it goes.
Have no idea how long the battle raged on. I would gain a little line and the fish would simple pull it all off again. Finally was able bring this magnificent beast to the surface one more time and got a really good look at it. The top of the broad head wider than my open hand, the deep sides with its stripes glistening in the golden early morning sunlight and the tail wide and powerful. Here is the king of this lake, fooled by a noisy little bait; maybe he was not quite awake this morning either.
Thoughts of, here is my personal best, I know the bass net is no where near big enough to hold a fish this size, and I am damn sure the live well will not be big enough for this monster either. Don’t want to kill this fish, but I really would like to weigh it and at least get a picture. As these thoughts are running around in my mind the big fish takes off on yet another long run. The drag is working smoothly the rod is bend over in a grand arch straining against the powerful fish. Lightly keeping my thumb on the spool for just a bit of added pressure when suddenly the line simply goes slack. Reeling the line back in as quickly as possible the buzz bait is still attached to the line. The hook is not straightened and still sharp, the line is not frayed, the fish simply pulled off from the bait.
I am soaking wet with sweat; my heart is thumping loudly inside my chest, hands are shaking and I’m even breathing hard. The adrenalin in my system has me pumped up enough to run a five-mile race. Some people might be upset and disappointed right now. For me I am relieved. Sitting down in the comfort of the boats driver seat, pour myself a cup of coffee and think about and relive what has just happened. That monster of a fish gave me a thrill that few fishermen will ever experience. It left its mark on me so I will know that no matter how good I think I am as a fisherman there is always a fish out there that is bigger, smarter, and willing to teach an old man a new trick or two. Relieved in the fact that both that magnificent fish and myself will go on to live out another day enjoying the freedom of the outdoors, the solitude of the water, and the memories that will always stay fresh in my mind.
I tip my cup to that beast and say, “until we meet again my friend.”
By Dave DeRemer/Baron