A muskie, then mishaps
July 21, 2013
Several weeks ago I was fishing the Pike Lake Chain just south of Iron River. This chain of six small lakes is a great place to avoid jet skis and crowds which are both out in force again now that no-wake restrictions have been removed from the Madison lakes.
The Pike Lake Chain is certainly in Wisconsin's top three waters if your fishin' mission is catching a muskie. For my nickel, the other two muskie hotspots are Lake Winter near the town of Winter and Wildcat Lake just outside of Boulder Junction.
Fish longer than 40 inches are rare on both Winter and Wildcat, but toothers tickling 50 inches are an honest possibility on the Pike Lake Chain.
My first cast with a Northland Booby Trap bucktail over deep weeds at first light didn't produce a fish. But a dozen or so casts later the heavy St. Croix muskie rod bent double with serious weight on the other end. Fish on!
Anybody who says they fought a muskie for almost an hour is stretching the truth. Combat with Wisconsin's state fish can be violent and spectacular. But the battle will seldom last longer than five minutes if you're using gear designed for catching muskies.
This particular fish was whipped—or at least subdued—within this five-minute time frame. Getting tackle boxes and other stuff off my big landing net while keeping the line tight took another five minutes.
The big spotted muskie let me know she wasn't happy twice during this one-handed reorganization process. Being hit with spray from a jumping muskie is a sweet shower for an old fisherman.
My plan was to quickly release this muskie after a photo. Nobody else was on Hart Lake this particular dawn, even though it was Saturday morning.
This fish wasn't eager at the prospects of incarceration in my Lund's big livewell. She took up every inch and even had to bend a little bit to fit.
The fish and I were back at The Spot supper club dock on Millicent Lake in just a couple of minutes. My approach to this mooring was a little fast. The outboard had to be thrown into reverse to avoid damage.
One of the resort's guests saw the commotion and came down to take some quick photos. Then the mid-40-inch muskie was quickly freed to fight again.
Since I was already at the dock, toast and coffee seemed like a good plan before heading out to fish again. This day was off to a wonderful start!
By 7 a.m. the weather was bright and sunny. Given these sky conditions, slightly stained Twin Bear Lake looked like the best place to trigger another toother. I put the outboard in reverse, but the boat didn't move.
Tilting the motor up revealed the source of this malfunction. The propeller was gone! Torque from my fast approach to the dock had “spun” the prop. This day was quickly going down in flames.
Fortunately, resort owner Kevin Jungst is a scuba diver for the local fire department. He eagerly donned his gear, as this “recovery” mission was clearly a better alternative than mowing the lawn.
Twenty minutes later, Jungst popped out of the water with my prop in his hand. All I needed to get back in business was a No. 503 turning point hub.
Modern outboards like mine aren't happy with a mere washer behind the prop nut and cotter key. They want a Number 503 Turning Point Hub—no easy acquisition in Wisconsin's northwoods on a Saturday afternoon.
A frantic call to Jerry Edwards at Jerry's Sports Service in Beloit produced a temporary solution: get the appropriate size washer from a hardware store and don't put the motor in reverse until you can find a No. 503 turning point hub.
A hardware store in Hayward had a suitable washer. An hour later the prop was back on the boat. Time to hook the boat trailer up and go fishing.
This procedure would have been much easier if I hadn't locked the keys in the truck upon returning from the hardware store. It was almost dusk before the boat could be launched again.
The very first cast produced a 24-inch pike. Most days the superstition regarding catching a fish on the first cast would be ignored, only to be confirmed a few hours later.
Not this day. Ice in a tall glass was screaming my name.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.