They might try for a huge old flathead catfish or a lunker carp, but for real excitement there's only one whopper swimming in our waters, the muskellunge or just "muskie." The state record is over 55 pounds, and the man who caught it must have enjoyed a truly memorable fight. These toothed predators are a worthy opponent, one that strikes hard, runs far, and leaps high, and even a small 30-incher will put a serious bend in your rod, and give you plenty to brag about later with your friends.
There are only seven lakes in the state that hold significant numbers of muskies, Clear Fork Reservoir, Leesville Lake, Piedmont, Salt Fork, Pymatuning, Lake Milton, and Alum Creek, though other lakes like Pleasant Hill turn up an occasional fish, and you might find one in Ohio Brush Creek. Tackle to take one of these whoppers is simple, and I normally use a good rod with plenty of backbone, and a reel with a smooth drag loaded with 20-pound test line. Some muskie hunters favor a steel leader to keep that mouth full of sharp teeth from severing the line, but I never do. The steel is visible and might cause some fish to change their mind about hitting, and I've never had one cut through my 20-pound test yet.
Lures tend to be large and expensive, and most anglers favor such as the Bagley Monster Shad, Mepps Giant Killer, Suicks, Creek Chub Pikies, Hell Hounds, twitchbaits like Slammers and Shallow Raiders or large spinnerbaits. And colors that range from perch finish and fire tiger to silver, silver and blue, or sucker colors. You can use those plugs in one of several ways. Casting is favored by many. At Clear Fork anglers like to work around the islands, then hit a spring along the north shore where hot water muskies like to cool themselves, then move on down to an underwater island near the dam where fish like to linger. Otherwise, they'll work bays and weed edges. At other lakes there are more hotspots and probably marina folk can recommend top spots for the big fish.
Jerk fishing is a refinement of ordinary casting, and it depends on a muskie following a plug and trying to decide whether or not to eat it. This tactic starts with a standard retrieve, then at mid-point or so, you lift the rod and jerk it toward you rapidly. The following fish, if any, sees the meal suddenly trying to get away and strikes the same way a dog chases a suddenly running cat. It's always worth a try if action is slow.
The third method, and actually the best, is to troll for your catch. Trolling almost always works better than casting, though it can be as boring as watching grass grow and paint dry. Your lures are in the water full time, and if fishing with a friend you can set one rod far back, another close to the prop wash, and the two others at various depths. Trolling covers plenty of ground and even when they're being temperamental, you should put one past a hungry muskies nose eventually. How fast should you troll in hot water? I talked to two anglers at Leesville one time who had taken three fish that morning. They said they were trolling fast, very fast, and it paid off that day.
Here's a final thought. Muskies are temperamental fish and you might fish for days to take one, but they seem to lose their caution at night, I met another pair of anglers at Leesville who slept all day and fished all night, using big noisy spinnerbaits right on the surface and various big poppers that gurgled and splashed. They had taken a number of fish and one said,
"Night fishing is just spectacular! They sound like a depth charge out there when they hit."
* * *
HOOKS & BULLETS
• The Ohio State University is offering a Forestry and Wildlife Educators Workshop at their Mansfield Campus on July 18 and 19. It's called a walk through Ohio's forests, the good, the bad, the invasive, and it's for folk interested in becoming trained in Project Learning Tree with activities for kindergarten through 12th graders, and learning about forestry, climate impacts, wildlife, and invasive species. Cost is $60 per person and interested people can register and find more information at http://woodlandsewards.osu.edu
• The season on smallmouth bass in Lake Erie opened on June 24. The smallies have now completed their spawning season, during which it is important that the male smallmouths protect their nests from a variety of predators like round gobies. The bag limit on smallmouths in Lake Erie is five fish with a 14 inch minimum length. Top spots to catch some? Sandusky Bay, the east shore of Kelleys Island, Put-in-Bay harbor in early morning, and territory around Old Woman's Creek near Huron. For the latest report, call 1-888-HOOKFISH.
• There's high water coming on the Great Lakes, and the question is: Will it be a boon or bust for boaters and fishermen? According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Ontario is expected to see the largest increase at 17 inches higher than last year, and lowland flooding is already hampering the boat launch season on that lake. Lake Erie is expected to be up five inches. The good news is that deeper draft vessels may have more options for mooring and slip rental. On the other hand, sandbars and reefs will be less visible and boaters can run aground or even wreck their craft. If you're heading into unfamiliar waters, post an extra lookout, and if traveling far, check ahead with the Coast Guard or local marinas about trouble spots.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at email@example.com. You can also visit his blog at outdoors withmartin.com.