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The Last Windrow: Muskie fever strikes anglers this time of year

Every time I see my muskie mount above the couch, I get that same thrill I had so many years ago when I caught it.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com
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My knuckles bled, my forehead was sunburned to a crisp, my knees were knocking and I was suffering from acute eye strain.

No, I wasn't baling hay or pulling weeds out of the cornfield. I was fishing for one of the largest game fish to swim in the lakes and rivers of my area of Minnesota - the muskie.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

It is that time of year when "muskie fever" strikes a number of anglers who pursue this "horse" of a fish. As the lake temps rise and the whitefish and tullibee start to die off from lack of oxygen, muskies start to go on a feeding spree.

They come out of their winter doldrums and begin to feed for the coming winter and later on for their annual spring spawning ritual.

In other words, they put on the feedbag.

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Muskie fishing was the furthest thing from my mind as I sat on the mud bank of Buck Hageman's creek hoping to tangle with the wary yellow-bellied bullhead. Once in a while my bobber might sink from the surface, letting me know that some unknowing bullhead had swallowed my earthworm.

Not knowing much about any game fish, I thought this was fun. And, it was rather relaxing to just be sitting there watching the Herefords grazing across the pasture and seeing pigeons flying to the neighbors barn roof.

I had not an idea of what it took to catch the king or queen of freshwater fish - the muskie.

After moving to northern Minnesota from the farm country, I happened to be hired at the Nisswa Bait and Tackle Shop. Marv and Judy Koep hired me to scoop minnows, count leeches, dump untold gallons of minnows into fishermen's bait buckets and lurk around famous anglers who frequented the shop.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

It was at that time I developed an interest in chasing after a fish that was seen as hard to catch, fought like a tiger and had teeth an inch long.

I and a couple of fisher friends decided to target this silver, spotted beauty and set off on many trips to well-known muskie waters with the hope of getting one of the beasts on the line. It is said the muskie is a fish of 10,000 casts.

I can truthfully say that 10,000 casts wouldn't come close to the lures the three of us pitched over a three-year period. I see modern TV fish stories about people catching multiple muskies in a day, and I've come to doubt some of what I see on the tube.

The most muskies I have seen in a boat in one day was five. That was including a friend of mine who boated two himself. Be careful what you believe when you talk to a muskie fisherman. Some of them will lead you astray. On purpose.

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After three fruitless years of flogging the lakes to a froth, one cool, foggy September morning my time came. I and my two buddies were fishing a lake during one of the first International Muskies, Inc. tournaments.

As I was pulling up my white spinner bait, I saw a huge mouth open up and engulf my lure. After a 10-minute struggle, the muskie was in the boat and headed for the weigh station.

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In those early days there was a weight division. Today the tournament is strictly release only. That fish ended up taking third place weighing in at 28 3/4 pounds. Its mount hangs above our couch.

Every time I look at it I get that same thrill I had that day so many years ago.

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

For a former bullhead fisherman, gazing at that fish still creates a tingle inside me. Though I now suffer from bent knuckles, a sun-scarred forehead, knees that knock and a pinched nerve in my shoulder, and I can't see very well either.

All a result of chasing a fish. Muskie fishing. The time is here.

See you next time. Okay?

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