Most women can remember the details of their first kiss. Many men from my generation learned to suppress emotional displays from their fathers who still had vivid memories of World War II.
My dad was a Navy man, serving on destroyers in both Atlantic and Pacific theaters. He loved to hunt and fish, with frequent pilgrimages to the Wisconsin Northwoods playing a major role in my road to manhood.
We were fishing up on Fence Lake near Lac du Flambeau on a cool June morning exactly 50 years ago when something huge stopped my Suick dead in the water, bent that steel South Bend rod double and peeled half the black Dacron line from Dad’s Pfleuger Summit baitcast reel before my jaw could close.
After considerable tussle, the fish was finally at the gunwale. The Old Guy whacked her with a small bat he carried for precisely that reason and hauled this leviathan into our small wooden boat.
The Old Guy announced we were going back to the resort, and quickly manned the oars. A small crowd gathered shortly after we reached the safe, sandy beach. The resort owner came trotting over with a scale. Several folks took photos. The fish seemed heavier than the 18 pounds indicated on the scale. Then Dad hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.
A half-century is like a day when it concerns a life-changing event like your first legal muskie.
Hundreds of anglers will experience this rite of passage in America’s Dairyland this year. Getting to productive muskie water is no longer a daylong road trip on two-lane roads. Muskies swim within an hour’s drive from your home anywhere in Wisconsin.
I have never been fond of joining the parade of boats on fisheries such as Pewaukee, Okauchee and Wingra. Even vast waters like Lac Vieux Desert and hidden venues like Van Vliet never see my Lund launched on a serious muskie mission on a weekend.
The tailwaters of the Petenwell flowage used to be a sure thing for tangling with a toother on opening weekend. Muskies still swim there between the foregathered boats.
My favorite Wisconsin muskie water is the wild and rocky Wisconsin River between Brokaw and Tomahawk. There is one remote boat launch where you need to hook a 4×4 truck to the 4×4 truck towing the boat when it is time to leave the water.
This spot is still worthy of a weekend visit. The 50-incher that swatted at a bucktail there my last time still haunts me.
My personal benchmark of 50 inches has yet to be achieved, although fish of those dimensions swim in all the aforementioned waters. This fish is only one cast away — once the matrix of location, presentation and timing is deciphered.
Catching a muskie just 1 ounce heavier than Louis Spray’s 69-pound, 11-ounce monster is every angler’s dream. According to the official record of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, this Chippewa Flowage fish caught in 1949 is still the top dog.
Bigger fish are swimming in tributaries of Green Bay right now. When water temperatures warm up just a little more, the fish will slide out of the Fox, Peshtigo, Oconto and Menominee rivers to cruise cabbage beds in the vastness of The Bay until September.
One September day — without precise rhyme or reason — many of these alpha predators will ease toward sand flats on the far south end of Green Bay where they will patrol until ice returns to the waters around Titletown.
Capt. Bret Alexander’s clients hook up with at least a dozen 50-inch muskies every year. He’s boated several just one walleye dinner shy of leaving Spray’s record in the dust.
Last autumn Alexander’s client Lee Weissgerber landed one of those fish of destiny, a 56 1/2-inch dreadnaught with a 28-inch girth, that Alexander estimated at 60 pounds.