Sunday, February 28, 2016

Meat Bingo


The trials and tribulations of the skellunge...

In my mind and memory I can pinpoint the exact moment a musky obsession rooted itself within the fabric of my soul. It was September, and up until that frame in time I was a very casual esox hunter, severely limited by my lack of knowledge and watercraft. Thanks to a good friend and his boat, I found myself riverside slinging musky meat into the unknown. We were several hours in and my forearm throbbed with every cast of the ten weight. As it does when you don't see any sign of aquatic life for several hours, your mind can wonder away from your stripping pattern to other obligations, wants, or needs. I literally wasn't paying attention at all to my fly approaching the boat, or the 50" inch musky casually following a few feet away. All I can tell you is that when my eyes affixed on the river dragon before me, all bodily motions seemed to slow to a halt. I stopped stripping and my jaw hung low as I struggled to reignite the synapses in my nervous system. When they re-engaged, I blurted out some words I cannot recall and hastily went into a poor ass rendition of a figure eight. Little did I know, but Betty (yea, she has a name) had already lost interest as she went parallel to the boat, and confidently drifted away into the glare. "DID YOU SEE THAT?!!!" Those are probably the only words I remember recalling mere milliseconds after the moment that changed the game as I know it. Experiences like that are relatively common for the musky noob, and I was definitely out of my element during my first few encounters with Esox masquinongy. That is the thing about musky. One can catch tarpon, stripers, or a giant barracuda but a fish of that size, in freshwater, is not only elusive, but mystical. I once joked that musky were my unicorn, but in reality, they are accessible to anyone willing to participate in a verifiable game of meat bingo...


I played a lot of meat bingo the past few months...

Like bingo, musky fly fishing is a game of chance greatly enhanced by time, effort, and experience but prone to bouts of sheer dumb luck. The cliche of, "a fish of 10,000 casts," mostly holds true during the pursuit. I know people who have probably logged over 100,000 casts and have yet to land their first skie on fly. In fact, I actually felt bad telling my buddy that I caught my first one because I know how much time he has put into it. I've even heard talk of individuals who have gone years between landed fish. I honestly can't even imagine that. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you hear stories of guys catching one on their first trip out, on their first few casts, or even accidentally, which has to be the absolute worst. For the pursuers, these legends have a way of grinding gears to the point that your cursing the fortunate bastards who caught them. Like the dude who caught a 52 pounder on a Mepps trout spinner and 4 lb. test or the fly angler who landed a pure on a shad dart. Throwing insults towards these individuals as you cast a sixteen inch fly for eight hours straight often seems like the right thing to do, then you realize that it can all boil down to being in the right place, at the right time, with the right fish.

I totally bypassed pods of massive carp and some huge smallmouth looking for a musky on this trip...


Cast, strip, figure eight, repeat.


Meat lockers and coolers.

Even if you need luck and a happy musky to have some action, one can increase their chances with skill and experience. That can only be achieved with copious amounts of time on the water and a multitude of encounters that train your brain and harden your nerves. Every sighting or follow, chase into the eight, missed hook set, and fight that ends in defeat is a learning experience until the next time your graced by the presence of a skellunge. What separates us mere mortals from the musky gods with names like Chocklett, Bohen, Willen, and Goodspeed is the ability to diagnose a musky follow and adapt to the situation at hand. It is a game of reading and reacting and they have multiple life times of experience. We don't. Nonetheless, with every moment, an angler builds up a tolerance to a musky encounter. Knees begin to shake less and you never, ever stop the fly with a fish in pursuit. You begin to make subtle changes in your retrieve or  in the middle of the figure eight with a fish mere inches from your fly. Things begin to slow down and eventually you have a breakthrough...


What does a German pike angler dream about at night? 
Musky...


Photo: Marko Freese






A beer net, definitely not a musky net. 


When shit goes down, people get silly...

Of course, its not always a perfect situation where you see the fish following the fly. Sometimes, the take is so sudden and violent that one simply loses all bodily function and control for several seconds. The act of losing oneself is most often associated with musky beginners who have yet to land their first skie or have only caught a few. I've been told that my entire personality changes after an esox encounter. I've had to ask people to repeat the words that come out of my mouth during the act and I am not alone in these transformations of mind and body. My one good friend had a 45" incher annihilate an 18" eel fly and I watched him strip set tight three times before the line went limp in defeat. He fell on his rear, screamed incoherently, and kicked his legs back and forth like a spoiled baby who had his Nintendo taken away. I remained silent, feeling sorry for him. I didn't bring up the moment for over an hour before I finally asked him if he could recall his reaction after losing the fish. He could tell me about the eat and the missed strip set, but had no memory of the aftermath. When I brought up the kicking of the legs and the crying sounds, he didn't believe me at all, but that definitely happened...




Austin Green Photography with the fine images...



Big fly, big fish...

My moment came out on a Pennsylvania river with Austin Green of The Uncommon Angler. He gave me a call and asked if I could join him on a musky float in a few days. Naturally, I dropped any priorities for the opportunity. We headed out into a strong November rain and a rising river. Austin is actively filming and editing a documentary entitled, "Pursuing Esox: Pike, Musky, and Pickerel on the Fly," that chronicles any and everything related to esox. Needless to say, but it was an awesome time on the river talking fly fishing, musky techniques, and having a banner day on the water. Everything simply came together with a lot of follows, five eats, and two boated fish slightly over that 40" mark. It didn't matter that we were tired, soaking wet, and cold because we had action and plenty of hilarious conversation topics. 

As for that moment, I was tossing a double t-bone I've come to call Kim. We were anchored mid-river at the head of a deep pool. Upstream featured several large boulders interrupting the flow of the river as it plunged off a slate face into the depths. Most of my casts up to that point had been down stream, but this time I tossed upstream into some turbulent water behind an unseen boulder. I mended right into the slower water and popped Kim off the slate ledge. Kim has a habit of kicking her backside hard and before she could finish, the skellunge exploded from the depths and missed. Before I had a chance to say holy shit, she came back for the kill and all hell broke loose. A few moments later, Austin netted the beautiful barred musky and captured some amazing shots. I held her tail as she recovered for a moment. Kicking free, she gave me a nice splash in the face goodbye. Looking back on it, Austin had a rolling camera and wanted me to say a few choice words about my first musky experience. He was probably expecting something epic but was disappointed when I had hardly anything to say. I was literally speechless...


Man, do I want one of these...


Photo by: Josh Laferty

Austin came calling again, this time with a trip to southern Virginia to fish with Josh Laferty and his fleet of guides at Rock On Charters. The trip was special in that Josh set Austin, Adam, and I up really good with a place to stay and two guided days on the New. It was southern hospitality at its finest and we all had an amazing time. Day one was cold and so windy that we probably shouldn't have been on the water. We persevered nonetheless and I was rewarded with the skinny skie above. He took on the first turn of a figure eight in chocolate milk from a muddy bank getting hit hard by the wind and waves. We fished sun up to sun down and that was the only musky spotted. We recovered over wings and beer at a local tavern before hitting the hay in Josh's barn for another all day effort the next morning.






Josh Laferty, married to the musky. 

In terms of weather, we couldn't have asked for better conditions the following day. The river had other ideas and remained high and off color. This impacted Josh's original plan, but since he knows these rivers like the back of his hand, we ended up traveling far southwest, deep into the Blue Ridge Mountains. With cameras rolling and Josh giving a sweet overview about the history of the river and his company, I stripped set into a feisty clear musky who was quickly netted and released. This time, I actually had something to say for the cameras and got another nice release. Later on, Josh had a turn on the stern of the Towee and picked up the tell tale signs of a musky follow in the murky water. In what seemed like an eternity, Josh stuck with the figure eight, pulling off every trick in the book. As Josh twerked his fly on top of the water column, the musky exploded out of nowhere taking the fly off the surface like it was his job. It was awesome...


A release shot and a still from Pursuing Esox.


Adam Hope and Brent Perkey still going strong after a several day bender...


The sun sets in southern Virginia.

Simply put, musky fishing is incredible. Even if it feels like playing the lottery or participating in a local game of meat bingo. Every now and then, you win, but almost all of the time, you lose. Sometimes, it feels like an eddy in the river should simply produce. Like you should definitely see one coming to investigate your fly or annihilate it as it dances next to that log jam. Most of time, you see nothing, sometimes for hours or days at a time. However, you can bet your luck that the split second you lose focus and start thinking about anything else, Mr. Skellunge is going to be appear out of nowhere and send a shot of adrenaline through your bloodstream, reinvigorating the next six hours of nonstop casting, stripping, and twerking on a figure eight. I haven't tied a non-musky fly in five months. The past few weeks I've only musky fished a few times, atop my SUP, hovering over 35 degree water like an idiot. I'm not sure how the rest of 2016 is going to go. It is going to be hard to fish for trout, carp, or even stripers. Deep down, I am going to be wishing I was musky fishing because a chance is a chance and I am willing to gamble for a shot at a fifty any day of the week...

Check out Rock On Charters for guided musky fly fishing in VA: http://rockoncharters.net/index.php

Also check out Austin's trailer for Pursuing Esox:
Diaries Of A Musky Addict from Austin Green Photography on Vimeo.



1 comment:

Ben said...

Looks pretty precarious standing on the boat like that! I imagine a good tug of a fish would pull you in. Awesome flies by the way.