Friday, November 25, 2011

Travelling the Autumn Trail for Musky ~ The WI-MN Diaries (Part 5... Oct/Nov, 2011)


   I would’ve driven the 14-hour round-trip every weekend this fall to fly fish for Musky.  When autumn arrived and plans were made, something unexpected would occur and the trip would be cancelled… again and again.  I gotta tell ya, this fly angler had needs which weren’t being met.  I got so desperate I was willing to pay for some hard-core, all-day action, but the services were denied me (jeez, I’m happy this is fishing we’re talking about!) .  Actually, the Musky guides were already booked.

   Finally, the probability of trips for the weekend prior to Halloween and the first weekend of November began to look brighter, but I remained skeptical until actually on the road.  WI-bound!  The weeks of frustration were coming to an end. 

   Last year’s goals for this year were to land a Musky outside of Wisconsin and outside of fall –which I just realized is my favorite fishing season.  Another goal was to watch Mike, a friend of mine, land his first Musky.  While I’d be thrilled to land hundreds of Musky in the great state of Wisconsin, I also fish MN, IL, and IA waterways.  My goals hadn’t been unreasonable.  However, by late September goals were altered to simply being able to fish for the toothy critters a couple of times.  Also, Mike had put aside the bulk of the fall season’s fly fishing for his other passion, falconry.  When plans did come together it was late fall and we were back around Hayward, Wisconsin.  After watching those around me boat the fat, toothy critters, I happily changed goals again to simply being able to land a Musky outside of the WI waterway in which I’ve landed all my Musky.  And then yes, this one goal also changed…

   During the whirlwind pre-Halloween weekend, I spent a 14-hour round-trip on the road listening to books on cd.  Then, with friend and Arrowhead Fly Angler guide Ouitdee Carson, we sandwiched in a Saturday of fly fishing followed with a night’s entertainment at the Musky Ball.  On that pretty fall day, Ouitdee and I put-in at Crowley Dam and we fished the Flambeau River.  It was cool to watch my buddy pull his pontoon down along a steep, staired path most other boat-owners could not follow.  I got to fish immediately below the dam but my intermediate line simply didn’t cut it in deeper, fast-current waters.  Next, I rowed downriver while my friend painted water with a new, perch-colored ‘Supercharger’ fly.  Within 15 minutes we boated a Pike and a few casts later, he landed the only Musky of the trip.  It was hooked in fast-current, shallow water but at the tail of a deeper seam.   As usual, we fished later than planned and finished by trailering the pontoon in the dark.  That night, we learned from other anglers that even a Musky follow that day had been hard to come by.  My buddy had done well. 

   Quickly, we cleaned up, tried to wake up, and then headed to Boulder Lodge for Musky guide Brad Bohen’s Musky Ball.  My friend wore casual attire while I dressed as a Musky Fly, complete with bug eyes and a hook.  The night was made up of food, friends, music, beer, and a tad of moonshine.  Not having seen Brad all year, I gave him a hug and accidentally poked his –oops!- with the ‘hook’ protruding from my costumed belly.  Sorry Brad.  During the evening, we watched a tall white rabbit do the smooth groove on the dance floor & noted that ‘Eddie Munster’ could simply replace his pointy ears with a guitar and be mistaken for AC/DC’s Angus Young.  We were also drawn outside to a campfire set in a circle of pines and listened to a bearded Scottish fly angler tell his riddles. 

   The following morning, my friend headed back home to his family, I explored some Hayward area waterways, and then made the long trek home, recalling the new memories and grateful for the chance to make and share them.  


   Late Friday I was back at Boulder Lodge, outside of Hayward, WI.  I spent a night which would ensure me not to sleep in –I car-camped.  Saturday morning I drove to meet buddy Ouitdee at the Spider Lake Café, which is the point of where this fish tale begins.  Let’s summarize:  On Friday, Ouitdee fished Chequamegon Bay for Smallies.  On Monday, Doug, another fly angler from Duluth, and me went to the Brule River in search of Steelhead.  Ouitdee was already there.  The MN-WI guide was enjoying his 100th day this year of fishing.  By Tuesday, we were all either home or… ahem… bound for home.  However, Saturday and Sunday were all about Musky and those who love to chase them.

   The weekend weather predictors proclaimed clouds and wind, & this was true, except Sunday was more windy than expected.  Ouitdee and I debated which water to fish Saturday and if we should chance different put-in and take-out spots for the pontoon should the wind get out of hand.  We decided on a ‘safer bet’, electing to meet at the café for breakfast, then fish a single area of the West Fork of the Chippewa River.  As soon as we met at the café, plans changed and we headed off for new waters, bigger fish, and the fun of fishing with MCO Musky guide Brian Porter and his friend Chris Willen.

   Porter and I manned the oars while Chris and Ouitdee wetted flies.  Soon, Chris was yelling.  Each boat was rowed to shore and soon a 40” fat Musky was nestled in a cradle.  Porter directed the landing of the toothy fish, ensuring it had very little out-of-water time and that it was handled carefully while pictures were taken.  I was impressed by the thick-bodied fish and the guide.  During the course of the day, Chris landed 2 Musky, Ouitdee brought one to shore where it threw the hook just shy of being cradled, and Porter, who rowed more than he fished, capped the day by landing another thick-bodied lady that was 44” in length.

   The wind seemed to get brutal each time I rowed.  I was thinking of this when my friend voiced the same thing, somehow allowing me to feel better about the situation.  In retrospect, I guess I’d rather have the wind kick up when rowing than when casting with a fly tied on a 5/0 hook.  However, on the homestretch of the trip, Ouitdee rowed and the wind kicked up again, this time giving very little mercy to my friend, and to Chris in the other boat.  At this time, I was using Chris’s rod; a 10 wt Loomis which seemed more like a 12 wt, with 500 grain sinking line and the largest profile, articulated fly I’ve ever seen.  The wind and the large fly necessitated increased attention paid to the timing of my casts.  While I left the water that day the only angler without the sweet stink of Musky on her hands, we all left the water with body parts intact (aside from Chris, who was surprised to find his hand bleeding after one of his Musky encounters) & a desire to hit the water again tomorrow. 

   Chris and Porter stayed overnight at a friend’s cabin.  Porter later told me, “We got one little musky and some pike that Sunday, saw a couple others and lost a decent musky“.  Saturday was THE DAY to be on that stretch of water & I’m still pumped to have had the opportunity to fish it & to see those well-fed ladies.

   Meanwhile, Ouitdee and I headed back toward Hayward.  Along the way, I silently changed (again) my Musky goal for the year, and suggested to my buddy where we should fish on Sunday.  It was the West Fork of the Chippewa.  It was the last day that we would fish together in 2011 for Musky.  It was also –I hoped- the last day I had to tote a bottle of ‘Mosquito Wine’ onto his pontoon.

   During the previous trip, I’d scouted out our potential put-in at the West Fork and the then-current water-level.  The season had been dry but while the water was as low as I’d ever seen it, I thought it remained very fishable.  As re-enforcement of this, I watched at a distance as two men in a drift boat landed a fish.   

   So, on that November Sunday, after a Spider Lake Café breakfast, we went in search of West Fork Musky.  Ouitdee hit the oars first.  It was windy and chilly.  I had my West Fork ‘Hang Time’ fly on the line and asked my friend to keep the boat in a particular stretch of water.  Soon after I had my first Musky of the year!  It was a ‘micro Musky’ but nonetheless, my revamped goal of simply landing a Musky this year –even on the water where I’ve landed all my Musky- was met.  The Musky was released and I took the oars.  Within 4 casts, Ouitdee landed another Musky in the same stretch of water!  We traded on the oars, conquered the wind –again and again- anchored and fished together, and then finally my buddy hooked another fish!  I was rowing and could see it was large for the water in which it lived.  Ouitdee reported it to be about 40” and was ‘ugly’ & scarred.  While rowing to shallow water and excitedly looking forward to seeing this ‘ugly’ toothy critter, it threw the hook.  I was not happy, but my wise friend, who always seems to be happy, remained unfazed.

   The wind continued to challenge our boat, but we continued on.  We explored skinnier water and Ouitdee had another ‘micro Musky’ try for his fly.  My friend then took the oars and we started to head back.  He rowed back through a narrow stretch of water and Ouitdee pointed out a weed edge, asking me if I saw the small opening.  I told him yes and he asked me to cast to that opening.  I double-hauled and my fly, a modified Supercharger in reds, yellow and black, hit the opening.  Two strips later, I gave two very hard strip-sets to ensure that the Musky that hit my fly remained attached to that hook.  It wasn’t huge and it wasn’t fat, but it sure could fight.  I put the fighting butt in my gut and did not give any slack while Ouitdee rowed to the shallows.  I saw the fly at the corner of the fish’s mouth while Ouitdee clamped the Fish Grip on its jaw.  At that point the Musky again began to fight, tossing the fly, but the fish remained ours to photograph and to release. As we neared the landing, I attempted to use all my senses to feel and to remember the weekend.  At one point the sun lit the trees and water and all seemed to glow with a golden hue.   
   Well, reader, you’ve read how I whittled down my Musky goals and, in the end, how the Musky I finally landed lived in the same waters in which I’ve landed all my Musky.  Perhaps you think I might be disappointed?  On Columbus Day, 2009, I fished for Musky for the 1st time.  It was on the West Fork.  It was 32* & light snows made land & trees appear lace-covered.  The guide worked hard to put me on fish but they simply were not feeding.  Yet, I still remember it to be one of the most satisfying days I’ve ever had on the water.  Since then, whenever I’ve been on that water, I’ve landed Musky.  Ouitdee is a guide and has fly fished since he has been a child.  Prior to Sunday, he’d never fished the West Fork and it is always my thrill to provide him with the rare, new fly fishing experience.  I can’t imagine ever landing a ‘trophy-sized’ fish out of this water, but one at least has a good chance at a ‘micro Musky’.  We did more than that.  And on that Sunday I accomplished another goal of getting Musky ‘doubles’ with my friend and mentor.  It was for this reason I’d been carting around a bottle of wine on all of our Musky trips.  And, near the end of the day when the sun was ready to set with a golden hue on our season’s Musky adventures, WE also landed that single, final fish.  It was a fish which wouldn’t have been landed or even hooked without both anglers helping each other, carrying out specific roles and communicating well.  Yes, we celebrated doubles and goals met, but in the end we really celebrated life and a strong friendship.    

   So, readers and fellow fly anglers, I wish you tight lines and even tighter friendships!


  1. That's a great read, Lisa. I wouldn't write any less if I could write a story as well as you!

    I've fished Lake Hayward and a couple of other small lakes up there when I was in 7th & 8th grade and my folks would vacation at Lake Hayward (don't know if it's even called that now). The resort owner (Gabe? Reel Livin' Resort? he's surely not around now.) was hired out one evening and we caught crappie and bluegills at a nearby lake he knew about. Lake Hayward where we stayed was a spot I caught a number of bluegills, sunfish, perch, bullheads, northern, and a fine walleye. All were great eating! It was a great treat for a wet-behind-the-ears punk kid! Won a gaff hook at the June Musky Festival with a northern I caught. Memories I'll never forget. It's a beautiful part of the country. Hope to get back there someday if not out west to fly-fish trout.

  2. Thanks Joe! I appreciated the comments. I've driven by Reel Livin' Resort. Still there. Love the water around Hayward -just love WI in general. HOPE to get back or out west? Buddy, those are dreams you can live..... do it!!!


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