A wintry trout fly fishing trip and a defective windshield washer hose led me to a tale of how to catch musky by throwing your home-made fishing pole in the water and then drinking two beers. Please note that no beer was drunk during the telling of the tale, and I have a picture to prove it wasn’t one of those “fish that got away” stories!
Late fall through spring is my time to make fly fishing road trips in search of trout, especially since Iowa DNR rules have blessed anglers with the opportunity to cast for trout 365 days a year. The Iowa Driftless region is where I find peace, so when free time coincided with decent December weather, I headed to Northeast Iowa.
On the gravel roads, I learned that I had poor windshield washer fluid pressure. With ice and snow predicted in the recently-updated forecast and a special tool needed to fix my SUV’s problem, I drove up the road to Postville, IA, and over to Reggie's Body Shop. Ten miles earlier, Reggie had seen me at a convenience store poking around under my hood, and he’d offered to lend a hand. The fly fishing road trip for trout in the Driftless would have to wait, but in exchange I heard about a very unusual way to catch musky...and you technically don’t even need a hook!
Outside his shop, with our heads under the hood and Reggie’s two dogs running around, we talked about friends who make custom knives. Then, I mentioned I was heading toward Decorah to fish. That’s when Reggie led me into his shop. In the dimly-lit building he showed me a couple knives and an old photo. I held the picture in dusty window light and saw Reggie's father-in-law posing with a musky in one hand and another beat-up fish in the other hand, while a friend gripped a very long pole. The picture was taken on the dock of a Wisconsin lake. "What's that?" I asked about the pole.
Beneath the hood of the SUV while he spliced together a broken hose, Reggie began his story. Then, after a successful windshield washer test, we ultimately headed back inside the warm brick building to finish the storytelling.
While telling his tale to this catch and release fly angler, Reggie emphasized what used to be allowed but what is now required of him (to be legal) when he fishes in this manner. I caught on to his “to be legal” emphasis right away, and I still get a little kick out of it. Was he me how he fished legally or what he should be doing to fish legally??! For many reasons, I can't recommend this method of musky fishing. BUT... it is a creative way to fish and makes for a good story.
The fishing is done in a boat that is drifting (Reggie said that trolling is illegal). You need some suckers, and I was told they can be alive, but Reggie has used dead suckers, stinky ones even, and the musky don't seem to mind. The bite guard is run through the sucker's mouth and around the gills. Reggie said that for some reason it is now illegal not to use a hook, but in the past they just used to tie off the bite guard, sans hook. So, you've got an unlucky sucker, a bite guard (and a hook so you are legal!), fishing line with a rubber ball tied in somewhere as a bobber, and the line is connected to your 20-foot cane pole. While drifting (nope, not trolling-- it is illegal!), the cane pole butt section is set in a rod holder. Have fun and watch the rubber ball.
Now, when your ball starts moving oddly, this is when you take the cane pole out of its holder and just chuck that pole in the water in front of you! Next, to ensure success, just relax, drift in sight of the floating pole, and drink two beers. If luck is with you and if you drank slowly enough, your musky is now "hooked" even if you aren't using a hook (but that is illegal!), so you position your boat near the cane pole and pick the pole up. Then, after you get hold of some of the attached fishing line, throw the pole back in the water behind you. Start hand-stripping in the line (Reggie didn't say it, but they gotta have gloves on), net your musky, and bring it into the boat! If you do it all just right, that musky won't regurgitate the sucker until the musky is in the net... otherwise, bye-bye musky.
Just remember the important part. This method of fishing requires that you bring beer. If you don't drink two beers after the musky takes the sucker, the musky will not have had enough time to adequately turn the sucker around in its mouth and swallow it sufficiently to be "hooked."
So, I drove away from Reggie and the brick body shop. While I fished and caught trout the following day with my 9-foot, graphite fly rod, I thought of his story and the 20-foot cane pole but knew that I would stick with fly fishing and using my own big flies, casting and casting, flaring up my tendonitis, and at some point, hooking and strip-setting for the chance to net a musky... and to safely release it. I agree that drinking two beers is still a good idea, but only two because we always musky fish with hooks. Big, sharp hooks.
So, in warmwater season, when the sun has sunk low after the last cast has been made and the rods and boat are stowed for the night, to my tired, forearm-sore musky fly fishing friends at the campfire I'll tell the tale of how others have caught musky with a 20-foot cane pole, a rubber ball, no hook, and 2 beers.