Originally published in 1982 this books author, Bill Gardner, takes a whole year off work to attempt to catch a giant muskie. Sounds like a dream come true but as you read through the book which is written in a journal or diary format you quickly find out that even in the re-known big fish waters of the the area there is a ton of frustrations, failed attempts, and week long streaks without fish being caught. At this time catch & release was still being adopted and a lot (nearly all) big fish was killed to be showcased around town and registered for annual big fish contests within the county. This is also the age when now legendary fishing personality Joe Bucher was starting out guiding and was a known stick in the area.
Despite the lack of catching in this year long hunt for a giant muskie some interesting stats and stories do come out that highlight just how difficult muskie fishing can be. Regardless of if you were the best guide around or a weekend warrior out as much as you can catching a ski requires putting in your time. But, no matter what, someone, somewhere, is always able to get them to bite; it was true in 1982 and it's true now. While technology has advanced, allowing anglers to be more efficient on the water (mapping software, trolling motors, electronics), and we have a better understanding of muskie behaviour in general; muskie have and will always be difficult to catch. This is evident in the stats from the book below:
- Musky Classic Weekend: 600 Anglers, 2.5 Days, only 30 keepers caught
- From Classic numbers they figure muskie is actually a fish every 25,000 casts & trophy is far more than this
- Dick Rose (local trolling wizard guide) known for putting his clients on giant muskie says he averages one muskie for every 29 hours of trolling (Roughly 3 x 10 hour work days) even longer than it would take to cast one up but it covers different water
The most obvious tip in the whole book is a simple but often overlooked one - watch your shadow! Fish were following and darting off as they came close to the boat. Bill decided to crouch in the boat as he retrieved his baits and was able to get the fish to follow into the figure 8 and generate a strike. While we don't think you need to crouch on your retrieve we do think that anglers can take sun position into consideration while setting up on a fishing spot to avoid their shadow extending into where you are planning on casting to avoid these situations of spooking them.
There is very little mention of what our authors strategy was other than focusing his fishing on 5 main lakes near Boulder Junction, Wisconsin (Papoosh, Birch, Big, Crab, Michigan, & "6 Muskie Lake"). Based on the timeline, lack of mapping / electronics, and general indications in the book offshore fishing was not practical or executed much in this book. Some open water trolling occurred, and the biggest ski's of the season were captured this way, but not by our author. These fish were few and far between but always big. While there is not much information on how these lakes were approached some assumptions can be made based on the detail that was recorded by Bill. Now that we have access to satellite imagery, mapping, and Muskie are better understood we can review how this year went and try to understand where our author went wrong and why he was successful at times but not others.
Big - 17 of Visits. 1 Keeper, 0 Under
Fish Caught June 4
2 Obvious Spawning Areas, Deep Water, Good Shoreline Mid Range Flats, Little offshore structure to concentrate fish. Max Depth 64 ft.
Big Lake (Cisco Chain) - Few Visits, 1 Keeper, 0 Under
Fish Caught June 21
2 Obvious Spawning Areas. Mostly mid range depths. No offshore structure. Connected to Other Lakes. Max Depth 34 ft. Very good shoreline lake
Birch - 49 Visits. 4 Keepers, 3 Under
Fish Caught June 15, July 1, July 11, August 9, October 6, October 13 (2 Fish Day)
3 Potential Spawning Areas. Shallowest. Offshore and shoreline shallow, mid range, deep water access. Shoreline fishable in all seasons, lots of spots. Max Depth 42 ft.
Crab - 35 Visits. 0 Keepers, 3 Under
Fish Caught May 31, July 26, September 20,
4 Major Spawning Areas. Lots of Islands & Different Basins. Most complex. Lots of mid lake structure offshore. Fish spread out. Shorelines are either supper shallow or to deep water not mid range flats. Lots of offshore mid range flats, pinch points, shoals. Max Depth 65 ft.
Michigan - 40 Visits. 0 Keepers, 1 Under
Not a real name, unable to determine where it was
Papoose- 16 Visits. 2 Keepers, 2 Under
Fish Caught May 11, June 8, June 18, July 7
1 maybe 2 Spawning Areas, Lots of Deep Water, Steep Shorelines, No offshore structure to concentrate fish. 2 Large Mid Range Basins and clear distinction from main deep water basins. Max Depth 60 ft. Good shoreline lake
Van Vliet - Few Visits. 2 Keepers (32"+), 0 Under
Fish Caught May 14, May 20
2 Obvious Spawning Areas. Shallowest lake of bunch. Mostly mid range depths. No offshore structure. Connected to Presque Isle Lake which is 92 ft deep. Max Depth 24 ft. Very good shoreline lake
Wildcat - Few Visits. 1 Keeper (32"+), 0 Under
Fish Caught August 7
2 Obvious Spawning Areas. Shallow lake. Mostly mid range depths. No offshore structure. Single pocket with Max Depth 37 ft. Very good shoreline lake
Overall on 200+ Days of Fishing our author caught 12 keeper (30"+) muskie. 12. ONE-TWO, Twelve. Based on how frustrated we get on a single fishless day we can't imagine how Bill must have been feeling. Our author found himself in three long catchless streaks. One of 45 days, another of 63, and the final 48 days of the season without a fish. During this same time Joe Bucher (who fished fewer days than him) had the following stats:
- 191 Days Fished
- 87 Muskies Caught
- <1 Fish Every 2 days
In the two previous years Bucher had 78 & 100 fish caught. So, despite it being an average season for a professional guide why did our author struggle so much? To start this we look should look at when and where he caught his fish. What is the pattern?
Fish were caught in typical shallow water seasons. Post Spawn & Early Fall. To us this is a clear sign of only "banging shoreline" and being away from cooler water areas muskie will relate to in the summer. Fish caught in the summer (Wildcat, Papoose, Birch) make sense as they are in areas where there is not much deep water or offshore structure for the fish to use. Thus, even when being further from the "right" water where most of the fish are he was still close enough to encounter fish. Meanwhile, the lakes where deeper cool water is further offshore or there are offshore fish holding structures there are no results. As fall returns and the big shallow flats cool fish are able to return towards the shore (also to reach warm water as it heats up through day) and Bill encountered them again. He encountered them in the deeper more complex lakes which makes sense as in the shallower lakes the shallow weeds die pretty quickly in the fall which keeps fish out further offshore that was not being targeted.
Generally the lakes in question are mesotrophic. This means a shallow thermocline will develop in the summer (10-20 ft) and by the end of summer oxygen in the bottom layer will be eaten up so fish become sandwiched between the two layers. Also fishing very small lakes, some (50 Acres) are smaller than a muskies home range on Georgian Bay or other big bodies of water, but they obviously weren't using the water he was fishing. From the list of the top 10 fish in the county that season you can see trophies are catchable in every period throughout the year.
Top 10 Fish In County He Fished That Season
52.75", 42 Lbs 8 Oz, September 27th
51.5", 41 Lbs 10 Oz, May 20th
53.5", 38 Lbs 0 Oz, November 7th
51", 37 Lbs 0 Oz, July 13th
51", 37 Lbs 0 Oz, August 22nd
52", 36 Lbs, 8 Oz, July 13th
47.5", 33 Lbs 8 Oz, August 7th
49.5", 33 Lbs 5 Oz, July 4th
49", 33 Lbs, October 22nd
47", 32 Lbs 8 Oz, November 8
The biggest lessons I get out of this book:
- Just fishing is not enough.
- Putting in the time is not enough
- Fish where it makes sense for you and your goals (40 trips to Michigan Lake with no fish could have been much better spent on Papoose, Birch, or Big)
- You need a plan & you need to spend your time where the fish are
- You need to understand the fish & the body of water
Trolling has its time & place
-Bill doesn't like trolling. It is (was) illegal in wisconsin.
- Dick Rose put a 34 Lb & 45 Lb in the boat that season trolling (Summer - Deep Featureless Shoreline Lake)
- Dick Rose put a 30 & 41 Lb in the boat in the same day trolling October previous season (Featureless mid depth lake)
Overall this book was an interesting read but not one I think holds much value for the average angler. Rather than providing any key information to help them improve as an angler this book helps to re-enforce how difficult muskie fishing is and why you need to have a solid understanding & plan to ensure you spend the most amount of time in the best possible water. To learn where these areas are and how to do this based on a biology based scientific approach be sure to check out our Targeting Muskie module as part of the Zero To Hero Masterclass.
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