Sunday, September 15, 2013

Something Unforgettable on the Musky Trail Lurked, Waiting for Us ~ The WI-MN Diaries (Part 7, Sept. 12-13, 2013)

   The first thing I heard was “Davis!!”  In Wisconsin, place of musky and monikers, I knew something was up.  BB usually calls me ‘Twitch’, an apt title for a jumpy gal.  My first image was of his tall, lean figure & in his hands a flexing fly rod -bent toward the midsection by something unseen at the end of a taut line.  
    He yelled, “I’ve got one and it’s a big one!”  On cue, the musky jumped from the water and both man and esox were framed by a backdrop of frothy, Chippewa River current.  He played that big gal, drawing her toward calmer water near the bank, but then she made a final run & I watched the angler take off after her, running along a skinny, steeply-pitched path of riverbank.  In a calm bed of water, slightly short of breath, the man hunkered over the musky & asked if I was ready.  I was.  He hoisted up that fish, saying it was the biggest musky (including girth) he’d ever caught.  

   I took two pictures of my friend and his toothy victory.  Squirming free of his hands, the musky hit the water & BB’s de-barbed fly, the single-hooked, articulated ‘Bohen 747’, landed 2 feet away.  His girl was gone.  BB was trembling.
   Overlooking the river, we shared a rock and a couple of celebratory Leinie’s in their throwback 1940’s gold cans.  He shared his happiness –no, euphoria- with me.  He relived the fight, talking about the jumps of the black-backed musky & how she jetted the sinking line from the water.  He estimated her length at 50 inches & told me she’d felt like 40 pounds in his hands.  He asked if I remembered what he’d said when we first approached that section of the river:  “Be ready, right here one of us could land the biggest musky you will ever see…”   

 I’ve known Hayward, Wisconsin’s Brad Bohen, AKA ‘BB’ or the ‘Afton Angler’, since Chicago’s Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo in 2009.  On the final day I laid down cash for what became my favorite overall rod, my first 10wt.  I also met a lot of anglers, many who remain acquaintances and some who became friends.  Brad Bohen, head guide of the then virgin Musky Country Outfitters, was the first person to speak at length with me.  He also coached me on the casting floor.  On Columbus Day of that year, I hired him.  After a brutally quiet-water day, nearest to dark when colors shifted to shades of grey, I very happily held my first esox in my hands.  Brad took pictures & I beamed.  It was a pike not a musky, but on a day when one fished from morning until dark & sensed that all species of fish had ceased to exist, the flush of victory was felt.  Brad had said if I landed a fish I could keep the fly.  BB’s Angry Minnow was mine!
   We’ve hit the water a couple more times as guide/client and have plied the waters with other musky friends as well.  However, I’ve spent more time watching the world record holder of the 51.25” musky on a fly manning the oars for others than casting a fly rod.  So, I was very happy with BB’s recent invitation to his Musky Lab and a couple days of Northwoods-style fly fishing. 
   On September 12, 2013, he treated Dynamite Dan, his lifelong friend, and me to a beautiful 15 mile Flambeau River float.  We had a musky follow and 3 smallies to our credit on an otherwise quiet, first day of a cold front.  Scouting the water, Brad primarily stuck with the oars. 
   Brad (BB) works hard to feed the angler’s hunger for musky.  But lately I not only wanted to continue to hit the musky trail with Brad the guide, I wanted water-time with BB the friend.  And on September 13, it happened.  Guide/client or teacher/student roles were largely dropped and we shared one of life’s simple pleasures… we just went fishing.
   Now, if that sounds all folksy and sweet, I can set you straight.  For some reason, fishing and hunting are frequently described as separate things.  I can set you straight on that as well.  On September 13, Brad didn’t man the oars.  BB went hunting.  With a fly rod.  For Musky.

   It was great to go fishing, dropping any roles except the one called ‘friends’.  We both hooked and landed musky.  But in the end, there was more.  I was there when this friend (remember, he is already a musky record-holder), landed his fish of a lifetime, what he labeled his ‘Hemingway’.  I watched how he fought that fish, focused and reeling in much of his excitement until she was his.  Then, there were the pictures.  Proof.  Finally, there was his unabashed happiness, shared with me on a beautiful day while sitting together on a rock overlooking Musky Country; the celebration following a successful hunt. 

   He told me was retiring his fly.  It was going to be a one fish fly.  And later he handed me that fly, his Bohen 747.  He’d given me the Angry Minnow after I landed my first esox and then, for reasons unspoken, the Bohen 747 became mine after he landed his Hemingway. 
   He landed his fish of a lifetime but we both had a blue-ribbon day.  I think the quality of an angler’s life might best be judged by the fishing friends that one keeps and what, as friends, we experience together.
   Life is very good.   

(For Brad's 1st-person account of the exciting hook-up with his toothy, black-backed opponent, click on the link: )