Walleye Central

Muskie,musky
Fishing a Musky Tournament
By Greg Clusiau

It happens every once in a while. For some strange reason, I get the incredible urge to do a little musky fishing. I guess it's just a way of relieving some of the craziness.

The Musky Circuit
Back in 1988, my fishing partner, Brian Griffith, and I fished the W.P.M.A. (World Professional Musky Association) tournament circuit. It consisted of televised, weekend events scattered across some of the best musky waters in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I was a novice to the sport of musky fishing at that time and found it to be a great learning experience, along with a lot of fun. It can be, however, and usually is, a lot of work, especially on a hot, humid afternoon.

One More Time
A few years later, another tournament was being held on Cass Lake. Because of the closeness of the event, Brian and I decided to, once again, team up and chase muskies for a weekend.

It was a last minute decision to compete in the tournament, so we were one of the last boats "out of the chute." There is a trickle start in these contests and you head out onto the water in the order your entry fee is received. There were only two other boats behind us.

Once out on the water, we began casting what we figured to be the hot baits for he day. Brian was throwing a jerkbait, while I was using a bucktail. The models and colors will remain a secret, even though we didn't do that well. You know how fishermen are.

Brian's boat was equipped with a marine radio which allowed us to monitor the fish being registered throughout the weekend. This would come in handy when planning our strategies but could also have a depressing effect in learning of big fish that were being caught.

A Follow
Finally, Brian had a follow. It was a small fish that came bolting out of the cabbage, only to see the boat and turn away. It appeared to be at least 32 inches in length, the legal tournament size.

When a fish moves in on a bait fast, it usually shows it is an aggressive fish that will probably eat sometime soon. We just hoped it would be eating one of our offerings later in the day. The exact spot was marked before we left the area in search of more fish.

It was slow fishing. At mid-day, I latched onto a northern that looked to be of legal length. There was a separate category for northern pike, which had to be at least 26 inches long. Brian got on the radio and contacted a judge boat. He told them of our location as I waved a large fluorescent-orange flag from side to side, to help them in spotting us on the big lake.

The judge-boat was off and running and within minutes was nearing our side. Careful not drop our fish into the lake, I handed the pike over to one of the judges. He then laid it on a measuring board, stuck a pin in the board near the fish's tail, and looked at me saying "that look okay to you?" I said it did and he quickly released the northern over the side and watched it swim away.

If I didn't like the looks of the position of the pin, he would jockey the fish around and measure it one more time. You were stuck with the second measure, as you only got two chances.

He put the tape measure on the board and read us off the length. It was a legal fish of 26 3/4 inches and was the largest northern of the tournament at that point. Not a big fish by any means, but when fish are hard to come by, we'll take anything.

An hour later, my fish was down to third largest and kept dwindling throughout the weekend. Finally, a musky was registered. It was a 39 incher, caught near Cedar Island. We learned this information from our marine radio, the cursed thing.

A Big Fish
As we neared the end of the first day, Brian noticed some white-water, off in the distance. Someone had a big fish on and we watched it splash around on all sides of the boat for quite some time. Our curiosity got the best of us so we reeled in and went to take a look.

They had it subdued by the time we got there. We pulled up as close as tournament regulations would allow, at 50 feet, and asked the lucky anglers how big it was. The men, from Minneapolis, estimated it to be at least 48 inches and asked if we could contact the judge boat with our radio. With only 15 minutes to go for the day, we called it in and the judge was once again on his way. The fish, which turned out to be the largest of the tournament, measured 49 inches and weighed an estimated 33 pounds.

The final tally at day's end was: three legal muskies and about a half-dozen northerns. Little did we know, the next day would have the fish in an even more negative mood.

The Omen
I should have known we weren't going to do very well. It was like an omen from above. As I was walking out of the Holiday gas station in Deer River, early the next morning, I heard a "bloop." Something had dropped into my coffee cup. Figuring it to be dew or moisture dripping off the canopy over the gas pumps, I looked up. I wasn't under the canopy yet. There wasn't anything up above except a very big, black, and open sky. I walked back in for a fresh cup.

They drew for numbers on the second day which placed us in the middle of the pack. If you have a good spot to fish, it's nice to get out on the water ahead of the others. We found a couple better spots on the previous day and headed in that direction.

It was a terribly slow day and it was getting hot. We kept pitching our baits, almost mindlessly. Like robots, we made cast after cast, only stopping occasionally to switch lures.

Time To Think
It gave me time to daydream a little. I was wondering how many casts we were going to make over the weekend. I timed myself. That cast took only 20 seconds to cast out and reel back in at a moderate pace. That was three casts a minute - but figuring in our travel time and lure changing, I called it at least two casts per minute. That times 15 hours of casting for two anglers equaled 3,600 casts, resulting in no muskies. It's funny how they are. Here, just a month ago, I caught two legal fish in two casts, back to back.

Fishing a musky tournament is hard work. The lures weigh up to four ounces or better and every time you reel in you have to watch carefully behind the bait for a following fish. Then there's the "figure 8" or "L" made with the bait before it's lifted inside the boat. It should be done on every retrieve but a guy gets tired and/or lazy at times. Sandwich's were eaten while we boated from one spot to another so we didn't waste time. If you had an itch, you could give it a quick scratch while the bait was sailing through the air. That only gave you a few seconds but it was usually enough time. If it wasn't, you finished it off on the next toss.

The tournament ended at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The only action we had was a big fish that followed my surface-buzzer to the boat. Four muskies were caught for the entire tournament and a handful of northern pike. We were tired, sweaty, and sunburned. Along with that, we were also out $200, our entry fees. As we were leaving the parking lot, Brian looked over at me and said "well, next year, eh bud." "You got it," I answered. "That was fun."

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