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Under right conditions, catching muskies can be quick

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Ted Peck
May 11, 2014

I've always had a problem with the old pearl that muskies are “the fish of 10,000 casts.”

This contention has been around for years, maybe even back in the day when Wisconsin license tags outnumbered those from the Land of Lincoln in front of popular watering holes in Minocqua.

It sounds like something an inebriated Illinoisan would say to rationalize: It must be the muskie's fault that he spent all day washing lures instead of hooking up with our state fish.

Truth is 99 percent of muskie-fishing success involves a combination of timing, location and presentation. The other 1 percent can honestly be blamed on ornery muskies.

It shouldn't take more than 100 casts to tussle with this alpha toother below essentially any Wisconsin River dam for the next week or so.

The Petenwell tailwaters get my vote for the best location to wing a small bucktail or a 6-inch grandma now. On opening day a few years ago I caught five and missed at least that many more muskies casting the big, sleepy basin below this dam.

Malevolent muskies find habitat below these dams suitable for spawning. They are very close to engaging in this annual ritual right now. Probably the best way to tangle with a muskie just about any time is by fishing for another species. This is a karma thing, like the biggest buck in the county always getting killed by a 70-year-old woman driving a Buick.

Central Wisconsin guide Jesse Quale and I thought crappies would be a good target on opening weekend because just about every angler south of Wausau would be out chasing gamefish on an inland lake.

The Wisconsin River at Nekoosa is a substantial drive away from any worthwhile fishing lake. Crappies of slab proportions are tucked in quiet back eddies close to shore below the Nekoosa dam right now. These fish are thinking about spawning, too.

Crappie catching at Nekoosa right now is an exercise in running and gunning with a 3-inch white or chartreuse Kalin grub on a 1/8-ounce jighead until a crappie finds your hook.

Once a school of crappies is located, anchor or tie up to shoreline brush, peg a bobber two feet above the jig and replace the plastic with a minnow until you've had enough fun catching fish.

Quale and I were still in the search mode when a 41-inch muskie grabbed his jig and took off across the river.

When a fish with teeth grabs a bait without a steel leader, one of two things happens: The angler either reels in a slack line with no hook or lets out a war whoop.

Some folks call Quale “Jumpin' Jesse” because of his lightning-fast reflexes. The second time this muskie torpedoed past the boat, we could see the jig in the corner of her mouth.

This would be a test of skill, tackle, experience and ingenuity. Quale had two Frabill landing nets in the boat. Since crappies were our main quarry, the hoop sizes were “small” and “smaller.” Fortunately, the folks at Frabill build their nets with sizable net bags.

Fighting a big muskie is a study in eustress, essentially “good” stress. I did my best to contribute to Jumpin' Jesse's angling experience by commenting on the size of the landing net—which wasn't much bigger than the tiny net in the minnow bucket.

This brought an instant smile to Quale's face. The kind of grin you flash after being suddenly kicked in the groin.

Contrary to the story you might hear from an inebriated Illinoisan who finally set the hook after 10,001 casts, combat with a muskie doesn't go on for an hour, even if you don't have muskie gear.

With an ultralight rod and 4-pound test line, Quale was able to lead this 20-pound toother to the net in less than 10 minutes, less than one minute after I offered up more eustress with a threat of cutting his line so we could get back to crappie fishing.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.



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