We'd just completed the first day of muskie fishing on Eagle Lake in Ontario, Canada. It was the 5th day of September 1986 and we found ourselves fishing for an evening meal of walleye before securing our boats for the night. Using ultra-light spinning tackle and a ¼ ounce twister tail jig on 6 pound test, I quickly boated two 18-inch walleyes before my partner, John Shamblin, got his first hit. I just as quickly connected on my third walleye before John got his first one to the boat and was reeling the lip-smacking morsel in when my line suddenly tightened.
"A little bigger than you first thought, eh?" John grinned at me. The line began angling toward the back of the boat. I heard John suck several gallons of air into his lungs. "Gawd, it's a muskie!" he hollered. "And it's got your walleye!" I lightened up on the drag. John lifted his walleye into the boat and laid his rod down, then retrieved the net.
"Get him close to the boat and I'll dip him," John commanded me. I dropped a finger on the reel spool to slow the fish and pulled up on the rod. The fish turned as easy as a reined horse and swam back toward John. He instantly billowed the net in the water and scooped the guilty fish up, the evidence still tightly clinched between its jaws. John dropped the muskie and net on the bottom of the boat before the big wolf of the water knew what hit him. Then he finally let go of my walleye and wreaked havoc on the boat. By then our other buddies had motored over to watch the action.
It was my first thirty-pound muskie. We were at Eagle Lake to muskie fish that fall of 1986 for 10 days before returning home and to work. The funny thing about it was the big muskie never had a hook in it. It was determined to keep that walleye no matter the consequence. I chose to keep the fish and have it mounted, a decision I would regret later during this same trip.
Jim Wetzell's 50" 30lb Musky
There were four of us that made the trip that fall and we never expected to find the big muskie action that started with that first-day fish. Three of us would finish the trip with personal bests. However, the next two days were disheartening, as the largest fish we could manage between us was only thirty-eight inches. Day four dawned and we never looked back.
Bill Looney, a West Virginia muskie hunter and lure maker, his son Daniel, John Shamblin, and I had the lower end of Eagle Lake all to ourselves that fall. The water level was up, which allowed us to venture into some bays that otherwise weren't accessible by boat. We quickly established a big fish pattern and presentation that produced yells and screams of delight like the wildlife there has never heard. We even made the hackles on old Mr. Loon's neck stand up for a change.
John Shamblins 52" 35lb Muskie
Daniel nailed a fat forty-seven inch fish that went nearly thirty-two pounds. His dad, Bill, while not getting a personal best this trip, still managed to catch more over forty inch fish than anyone else. I would catch and release another fish that measured just short of fifty-one inches and thirty-two pounds. John, my boat partner for the trip, nailed a fifty-two inch fish that weighed nearly thirty-five pounds and released it. However, it was the last fishing day of the trip that John got a chance at a fish that would go well into the forty-pound category.
We decided to fish that last day in the bay where Bill and Daniel had raised a big muskie they estimated at fifty-five inches on the fifth day of the trip. They had returned to that same area on day six and seven but never saw the fish again. John and I had fished the area hard for nearly six hours that last day before John caught a good walleye on his Suick jerk bait. We had bear hunters in camp with us and a last supper feast was planned fit for a king, so we got out the light action tackle and started catching walleyes for the big meal event.
We had about 9-10 walleyes in the boat and John was wrestling with another eighteen-inch fish on his ultra-light gear and four-pound test line when the water suddenly boiled for four feet around at his end of the boat. His lower jaw hit his boot tops and my eyeballs popped out of my head as the gargantuan muskie took John's walleye at the boat. Line slipped off his spinning reel for nearly twenty-five yards before the fish slowed.
I had put my rod aside and retrieved the big dip net. John's rod tip was still in the water and he was looking at me for help. I got on the electric motor and caught up to the fish. Once over the fish, John put light pressure on it with his little rod. The fish sped off for another twenty-five yards, toward the middle of the bay. I stayed on the electric motor and caught up to the fish once again. I stayed cocked with the net in hand just waiting on the big fish to make a move up to the boat. It sulked in twenty feet of water for the next five minutes. Little did we know we'd never see that fish again.
Daniel Looney's 47" 32lb Muskie
"Put just a little more pressure on him, John," I suggested. "We gotta keep that fish in motion." John raised the little rod about another foot before the sickening 'POP' of his line gave us both queasy stomachs. You could have heard John scream his expletive all the way to Dryden. We sat there for about five minutes thinking about what we could have done differently. Maybe if we had a little more patience, maybe if John's reel had six-pound test instead of four-pound test, maybe, maybe, maybe.
Still, we had a trip of a lifetime with several thirty-pound plus fish caught and some great weather. At least we know where there's another 'eye eater besides us.
Jim Wetzell's 51" 32lb Muskie