Muskies are wonderful and evil all at the same time… Jack Schmidt (Addison, IL) was back in my boat fishing out of Northland Lodge, and we spent Monday on one of our favorite Hayward area lakes chasing muskies. Musky Jack is all about skis, and we’ve caught a bunch of good fish together over the years. One of many memorable trips occurred in October of 2006 when Jack landed a 48 1/2″ monster that still stands as his personal best. We began our day with his daughter Laura (Ashland, WI) along, and she’s no stranger to putting some big fish in the boat with us either. With a team like this, it was hard to go wrong. We covered a bunch of good water in the morning including weed edges and rocky wind blown points throwing bucktails, jerk baits, and dragging suckers. All of the bases were covered, and we drew a complete blank. Conditions seemed perfect with southwest winds moving in and warming temps, but we couldn’t budge a fish. Water temps were in the low to mid 50’s. I’ve fished with Laura since she was in high school, and she now works with the Wisconsin DNR as a Fisheries Technician. Pretty neat to watch her grow up and follow her dreams to a career on the water. Cool! Laura switched spots with her brother in law Spencer McKenzie (St. Louis, MO) in the afternoon. Spencer and I have spent some memorable days together as well, and I was certain this crew would connect at some point if we kept grinding. We kept grinding… Not long into the p.m.. shift, we had a fish get interested in our sucker. Some drama unfolded, but it wouldn’t eat. Seemed like a sure thing for a few tense moments, and the sucker was definitely suffering from some anxiety. Don’t blame him! Back to grinding… With time running out in the day and the sun getting low, Jack had a healthy mid 40’s fish crush the big crank bait he was throwing five feet from the boat. YES! The fish thrashed, I dove for the net, and she came unbuttoned. NO! What can you say? That’s musky fishing. Jack certainly deserved that opportunity and that fish, but it wasn’t meant to be. Lost muskies like that certainly haunt us, but they’re also what keep us coming back for more. I’ve included a picture of Jack’s fish from 2006. Why do we do it? That’s why! Thanks for another great memory Jack. We may not have gotten our hands on her, but we’ll be talking about it for a long time.
Good friends and fishing partners Bruce Bandow (Plover, WI) and Mike Alff (Stevens Point, WI) returned for their annual two day trip on Wednesday, and we spent our morning on Chequamegon Bay. Big winds were in the forecast, but we were able to squeeze out some good fish before things got tough. We began the day drifting minnows over rocks in 15′ – 20′ of water and had instant action. Bruce and Mike hooked up a bunch on fat fall smallies up to 19″. Bruce even landed one heck of a walleye that taped out at 29 1/2″. That stands as the biggest eye of the year in our boat, and it will be tough to beat. We were in a groove, fish were biting, and then the winds came… Why did the weather man have to be right today? We moved closer to shore and drifted mud flats in 18′ – 20′ of water. They were there, but the bite was slow. High winds on big water means it’s time to move. We went inland for the afternoon searching for crappies and found them stacked up in a 15′ mud basin. They weren’t jumping in the boat, but we were able to land plenty of slabs up to 13 1/2″. Bites came in flurries, and we used slip bobbers with plastics set just above bottom to catch our fish. Water temps on the bay and inland were in the mid 50’s, and more warm weather pumping in with south winds has stalled the cool down of our lakes for now. Always fun to have these fellas in the boat. Good fishermen and good guys! Hope those winds are good to us tomorrow…
The wind forecast for Thursday was all over the place, and we rolled the dice to get back on Chequamegon Bay. Bruce and Mike, were back in the boat, and we started the day with a stiff southwest wind. If it’s not rain, it’s been wind this season. Take your pick! It wasn’t a deal breaker though, and we were able set up drifts over rocks in 15′ – 20′ of water using minnows. Our first pass produced three good smallmouth up to 20 1/2″, and all things pointed to a big numbers day. That wasn’t the case however, and the bite slowed to a “one here one there” kind of thing. Fish were definitely stacked up on spots like they should be, but they just weren’t very hungry. We had a bunch of short hits and misses, and it was a struggle to nail down any kind of a pattern. A nice rally before lunch gave us some optimism for a fast action afternoon, but the bite continued to slow as winds laid down. By late afternoon it was time for a change, and we moved to a mud flat in 18′ – 20′ of water. Mike hooked up instantly on a fat fall fish, and we had a few other chances on our first drift. Definitely promising, but it turned out to be more of the same. We ended the day putting a few more in the boat, but short hits and misses continued to have us scratching our heads. They seemed to have us figured out! Bruce and Mike had put a respectable day together by quitting time, but they certainly earned every one they caught. It’s not always easy, and this was the right crew to have in the boat on a tough bite. Water temps were in the mid 50’s on another beautiful fall day. Not many of these left… Thanks for a great couple of days fellas. Always look forward to it, and I’ll see you next year!
Friday was spent with heroes. The Wounded Warriors In Action Bayfield County Cast & Blast kicked off on Friday. Josh Teigen and I were first up in guiding some Purple Heart veterans for a day on the water. After our customary send off at the Delta Diner, we were off to our fishing destinations. My partners for the day were Josh Krueger (Hubertus, WI) and Philip Collins (League City, TX). Josh and I have a bit of a history together since he was a participant in the first Cast & Blast we did several years ago and has assisted with the event ever since. As a Staff Sergeant in the USMC, he earned his Purple Heart in Fallujah, Iraq on 2/28/05. Always good to have this guy back! MSgt Philip Collins still serves in the USMC and earned his Purple Heart in Habbaniyah, Iraq on 8/7/06. To say I had a couple of “bad dudes” in the boat would be an understatement. It doesn’t get any tougher than these guys! Not surprisingly they wanted to go after the toughest fish that swims in our waters, and we spent our day chasing muskies in the Hayward Lakes area. More wind was in the forecast, so I decided to do a river trip. This was Josh and Phil’s first attempt at putting a musky in the net, but they were fast learners and got the hang of things quickly. After a fast lesson in casting and figure 8’s, we were on the hunt. Josh hooked up first about an hour into the trip on a fat mid 30’s pike that smoked his bucktail at boat side. It wasn’t what we were after, but it was a good fish and a good lesson in how to get it done. That lesson paid off about 15 minutes later when Josh hooked up again. This time it was the real deal, and he landed a nice mid 30’s musky. Nothing like catching your first ski! After photos and release we kept moving up river, but nothing was happening. Late in the afternoon we moved back down stream toward the area that had produced earlier and began working again. We fished through pockets and holes that we’d covered earlier, and Josh hooked up again on a nice fish that came unbuttoned from his bucktail after a few head shakes. That always stings! Not long after that, Josh was hooked up again. I don’t need to tell you who had the hot hand in our boat… After a violent fight with jumps and lots of thrashing, Josh was able to put musky #2 of the day in the bag. It was a fat 40″ fish and one heck of a trophy. Very cool! We ended our day going back on the fish we’d lost earlier, and threw a bunch of different presentations at it. The mood was lost though, and we’ll have to pay her a visit on a later trip. Water temperatures were right around 50 degrees despite sunny skies and air temps climbing into the high 70’s. It was a fabulous day to be on the water spent with two amazing guys. Congratulations on your first muskies Josh. There’s nothing to it, right?… You’re up next Phil, and I don’t think those fish will want to see you return. I will though! Big thanks to Chris and Brenda Diesing for starting and organizing this amazing event along with all of the local volunteers and businesses that make it happen. It’s truly an honor to be a part of, and I can’t wait until next year. Thanks for your service and sacrifice fellas. Now it’s time to get it done in the woods!
With only one week of fishing left in our open water season, we’re definitely on the home stretch. As we do every year, our final days on the water will be spent with friends and family before we put the boat away and call it good for 2017. I’m expecting more “traditional” October like conditions with cool temps and possibly even a little snow in the forecast. Yep… It’s that time of year! One more week of fishing, good people, and stories on the way. Stay tuned!