Fishing Memories Title
Welcome Title

"No Fuckin Fish"

Muskie Fishing

Fall 1996

on the

Chippewa Flowage, Wisconsin

I have a fishing story to tell you. Not a "fish" story, but one about "fishing," Muskie fishing, in fact. And at least some parts of my story are true.

All of it, though? Well, judge for yourself.

Here's the first piece, one of the true parts...

We went to the Chippewa Flowage, near Hayward, Wisconsin that year, our annual fall Muskie fishing trip. The usual crowd – Peters, Kelly, Zieman, Baker, Reich, Hoffer, me. Boettcher even managed to show up for a couple of days, and also managed to catch his first–ever Muskie. The rest of us were there most of the week.

We had been going to Canada, to Eagle Lake, the last few years. But the cost, the distance, the colder weather up there all prompted a trip closer to our Twin Cities homes. And Wisconsin's Chippewa Flowage, with its fabled Muskies and legendary Muskie fishermen, its endless expanse of waters and woods, was just the ticket.

Where to stay? We chose the best place on the Flowage - a true Muskie Resort owned and operated by The Muskie Historian and Famous Guide. We arrived there precisely at the specified check–in time of 3 p.m. on Saturday, the 14th of September, threw our gear into cabin number 3, launched boats, and immediately sallied forth to wage battle with the mighty Muskie.

Jerry Holding a Muskie

And damn if we didn't catch a couple of 'em, too! Like I already told you, Boettcher got one, and so did Zieman! Now I have to admit both of the fish were only in the "20–inch" class, and toward the bottom of the range at that. But, hey! A Muskie is a Muskie, and catching one, much less two, on the first half–day of a week–long trip called for celebration. And so we did, that night.

We celebrated first at the cabin, and then at the resort's "Old Red Bar." There the Famous Guide and Author regaled and enthralled us with all kinds of Muskie stories. Wonderful tales of magnificent fish, past and present, caught and lost... And it was grand! And we slunk off to bed at a wee hour of the morning...

Came the dawn, or shortly before it. The fishermen in the adjoining cabins, not having caught Muskies and not having celebrated, began stirring: Talk, laughter, smells of coffee brewing, boat motors starting, just a general racket. So we also rousted up, although somewhat painfully in the case of a couple of the more spirited celebrants of the night before. And eventually we sallied forth again to battle the Muskie.

Well, as it turned out, that second day, our first full day of fishing, there was no cause to celebrate. We were skunked. But then, the next day, doggone if I myself didn't manage to hook into a....

Hold it! That's not what my story's about. I don't want to get into all those happenings of our week at the Flowage, interesting as they might be. What I'm here to do is tell you about the fishing crowd, and really just one Muskie angler in particular, who stayed at cabin number 3 the week before us.

And what, you may ask, do I know of him? Well, as it turns out, there's a charming tradition at the resort. Each group of anglers is duty–bound to record, on the calendar that hangs in each cabin, the fish, conditions, and other pertinent data for their week. So, beginning with the first fishing parties who arrive in May, and extending throughout the season into October, there's a continuous record of the fishing events of the season.

Now we found out about that tradition, we discovered it, on Tuesday night, I believe, when somebody first glanced at the calendar. (One of the great things about a week–long fishing trip is this: it lasts approximately forever, or so it seems from the perspective of the first couple of days at the lake, and so there's no need to worry about the date, or indeed to look at the calendar.) We read the documented chronicles of the past residents of cabin number 3.

And we marveled. Especially at the record of the previous week...

Writing with a green pencil in upper case letters, a bold, masculine handwriting, the inhabitants of our cabin for the week of 7 to 14 September recorded the following facts for posterity:

September Calender





Friday, Sept 13 – COLD MORNING, 39" FISH REL., 30 MPH WIND

Saturday, Sept 14 – GOOD LUCK, SEE YA

All of the above, my friend, is God's truth, as the facts presented themselves to me. But here, I need to end this "true" part of my story, and get on with another, more interesting piece....

For you see, these phrases immortalized by the Anonymous Angler and Scribe tell us quite a tale, don't they?

But they don't give us his name. I need to assign him one (and I submit it's indisputable that the author of these lines is a "he" and not a "she"). Referring to him as "The Anonymous Angler" would clearly soon get tedious. For no particular reason, let me call him "Jerry."

Then, what about him? Well, I'm inclined to believe that Jerry's a "nice guy," probably in his forties, graying hair, a mustache, beginning to have problems with his weight. His fondness for a beer or two, or however many, occasionally, may contribute to the latter.

He has a reasonable intellect (witness the pithy writing), and maybe a desk job that doesn't let him get out fishing nearly as much as he wants. For sure he has a house and mortgage and bills and wife and kids, all left behind at home. Probably a dog, too, which he misses more during the week than some of the other things.

It's abundantly clear that Jerry's a true Muskie fisherman – there's no mention of walleyes, or crappies, or nightcrawlers, or "limits," or other such nonsense. It wouldn't be surprising if he wears a "Muskies Inc. International Tournament, 1996" hat. He knows what he's doing, and he's here for serious, big stuff, for Muskies.

It's also clear that he pays attention to detail. He tells us temperature conditions to the exact degree and records the pertinent meteorological data that affect Muskie fishing.

And it's also obvious that Jerry is not a patient man. His anguished daily entries, chronicling the frustrations of Muskie fishing, are resounding evidence of that.

Anguish – Muskie fishing anguish: let's consider what may have cause that. To do so, we need to take a look at those daily entries in more detail.

Saturday September 7th Entry

Saturday, September 7 th

What happened that day, to get Jerry so upset? On this, his first half-day of fishing, with a whole week of chasing Muskies ahead of him? Well...

We know that he didn't get there before 3 p.m., for the resort's quite adamant about its "no early check–in" policy. But once he did get there, signed in, deposited his stuff in Cabin #3? I suspect something along the following lines may have transpired:

The big Dodge van with the rotten visibility to the rear, the resort's narrow, curved driveway to the boat launch, the pine tree just to the left of the ramp....

"CRUNCH!" goes the boat trailer's fender against the tree!

"Oooooh Shit!" goes Jerry as he jumps out of the van. He is greeted by the sight and sound of Freddy, his fishing partner, rolling on the ground in laughter. His attempt at backing the trailer toward the launch has come to a jarring halt.

This does not make Jerry happy.

But the fact that the damage is relatively minor makes the situation tolerable. "Why didn't you warn me, asshole?" thunders Jerry, as he climbs back into the van.

"Hey man, slow down. We got a week." responds Freddy, lifting up his own white "Muskies Inc. International Tournament, 1966" hat. "Straight out, back to the left. I'll watch, I'll watch."

Jerry proceeds as directed, and manages to get the boat to the water's edge, only to be interrupted by Pat, the head lady at the resort office, running toward him.

"You got a phone call, sir," she says. "Your wife. You really better take it."

Jerry stares at her. The note of urgency in her voice is not to be denied. Jerry sets the parking brake on the van, barks at Freddy to "Put the damn boat in," and gets out of the van to follow Pat to the office.

Fifteen minutes pass.

Jerry slowly returns from the office, head hanging down and full of thoughts: about the leaking water heater in his basement, about the note from the principal at Jerry, Jr's high school, about the veterinary bill for his dog's encounter with the neighbor's tomcat... These are not happy thoughts.

He stops briefly to watch as Freddy finishes parking the van and trailer, and then turns toward the dock where his eighteen-foot Lund is now tied up. It takes him a few moments to realize that the stern of the boat lies far lower in the water than it should. But then it takes him only an instant to spot the drain plug, safe and secure on the console of the Lund, just where he left it the last time he took the boat out of the water.....

But let's draw a compassionate curtain over the rest of the events of Jerry's day, except to note the following:

When the two kids in the boat dragging the big Muskie behind it came into the resort and ran over his line, as Jerry's own boat was back on the trailer draining, and he was casting from the dock, it didn't bother Jerry a bit. He was just thankful that it was his second favorite black bucktail that went sinking to the depths, and not his best one.

BAD FUCKIN DAY indeed....

So Jerry, unlike my own crowd at Cabin #3 the next week, probably didn't celebrate that first night. But he did rise, the next morning, to go out after Muskies.

Sunday September 8th Entry

Sunday, September 8 th

Sunday, 7:15 am

Jerry stands on the dock checking out the cloudy sky, as Freddy, already in the boat, busily stows away the two indispensable elements of Muskie fishing – their rods and a cooler of beer. Being a serious Muskie fisherman, Jerry knows, of course, from long experience, that Muskies like overcast conditions. The hot and humid part, though, given that it's the fall season, doesn't help a whole lot. But he can't do much about that. What he can do, however, is put his heart and soul into catching a Muskie...

Jerry is ready, more than ready. He jumps into the boat, and turns the key to start the motor. Freddy casts off the tie-down lines, and gives the boat a crisp shove away from the dock. Jerry pops the throttle into reverse, does a nice quarter–turn away from the dock, spins the steering wheel, snaps the throttle forward, guns it, lifts the nose of the boat up, and within seconds they are up on plane and off for Muskie–land.

The day passes.

Sunday, 7:30 pm
Orange Sunset on the Chip

The light is fading in the overcast sky as Jerry slowly pulls the boat into the dock. Freddy stands and looks, steeling himself for the effort of climbing out of the boat and onto the dock. The aches and pain are too great. He collapses back into the seat.

Jerry, sweat still running down his neck and covering his arms, ties the boat up. He lifts one leg up on the dock, winces, crawls out of the boat, and trudges toward the cabin, Muskie rod still in hand. His black bucktail trails in the dust behind him.

Freddy remains, sprawled in his seat, head thrown back, eyes closed.

They have fished all day, in the heat and sun and humidity. They have cast, retrieved, "figure–eighted," beaten the water into a foaming mess. All day.

They have thrown Hawg Wobblers, Reef Hawgs, Bucktails, Mepps Muskie Killers, Windel's Harassers, Suicks, Believers, Creepers, Molyneux Specials, Le Lures, Bobbie Baits, Eddie Baits, everything in their tackle boxes. In black and orange and yellow and green and fluorescent and rainbow and every other color.

They have fished Pete's Bar, Louie's Point, Cranberry Bar, Roman's Point, Moonshine Lake, the bay in Boot Island, the river channel, the grass islands, etc. ad infinitum. They have frothed the lake.

They have worked hard, very, very hard indeed.

They have caught NO FUCKIN FISH.

And so, there we leave Jerry for the night. Bowed but unbeaten, for a good night's sleep, but ready to resume the battle with the coming dawn....

Monday Thru Wednesday Calender Entries

Monday, September 9 th – Wednesday, September 11

Before we get to the events of the next three days, we need to talk about weather. Suppose you want to do the following: go on a picnic, watch a baseball game, take a stroll in the park, go sailing, sit in your patio, engage in any of a variety of such activities. What would you think of a day with bright blue sky, no clouds, light breezes, moderate temperatures? Why you would be delighted, would you not?

Well there, my friend, you part company with the Muskie fisherman, and certainly with Jerry. For a true Muskie fisherman measures weather not by temperature / cloud / wind conditions, but by his Muskie fishing success. If he catches a Muskie, then the weather is "perfect," no matter what the climatic conditions.

But if he doesn't catch one, and Jerry obviously did not, then the weather is self-evidently rotten, as any fool can plainly see.

Now at this point, I need to restrain myself from expounding on the correlation between "Fools" and "Muskie fishing," and merely report to you a sampling of Jerry's activities for the next three days.

Monday, 8:15 am

Jerry purchases a "Marked Map" from The Guide at the resort's office. It's clear from the fiasco yesterday that Jerry needs assistance in finding Muskies here, on the vast expanses of the Chippewa Flowage. And The Map does just that. It's hand drawn by The Guide and shows far more accurate structure and depth contours than the regular commercial "Fishing Hot Spots" map. Furthermore, The Guide has marked The Map to reflect the very latest conditions and Muskie activity. The "Yellow Areas" indicate spots particularly good for Muskies right now, with "Red Areas" that are even better. Great! It's just what Jerry needs.

Monday, 8:20 am

Jerry stands on the dock and stares at The Map. He observes that Yellow and Red seem to cover The Map in great profusion. In fact, there's hardly any place shown on The Map that isn't colored... Jerry can't really quite understand all this.

"Seems like ya cast fifty feet any place and hit a Muskie on the ass," he mutters.

Freddy, already in the boat, is impatient to be off. "Well figger out where to go, and let's do it!"

And Jerry in fact has already planned out a "route" for the day - to cover water, to hit the hot spots (not to mention Muskies on the ass), to come as close to as many Muskies as possible. And perhaps to catch a couple. Well, maybe one... Or certainly, to "raise" one or two, to have a few "follows," get a couple of strikes... Action...

Jerry and Freddy in the Boat

"Okay, I got it!" says Jerry. He jumps into the boat, and they're off for Muskie–land again...

Monday, 4:30 p.m.

"I got it, I got it!" yells Jerry at Freddy.

They have followed the planned "route." They have made hundreds of casts. They have covered all the "Yellow" and "Red" areas with exceptional diligence.

Unfortunately, though, the Muskies seem to have had access to The Map too, and apparently have vacated the colored areas entirely.

They have not hit any Muskies on the ass, or any other parts of their anatomy. They have had no action. No follows. No fish raised. No strikes. Nothing.

They have caught no damn fish!

Until now, finally, action, a hookup, a fish!

Freddy is delighted to see his friend's sharply bent rod, the taut line, to hear the whirring sound as Jerry works the reel against the drag, to see the tip of the Muskie rod....

Say, the tip isn't "throbbing," moving... In fact, it's staying still, solid as a log...

"Hey !" says Freddy, "You sure you got one? Not a snag?"

Jerry doesn't reply. But he does quit reeling, and slowly lets his rod tip droop. The line goes slack. It lies there, floating in the water. He flicks the rod up, feels resistance, drops it again, gives it a jerk, and starts reeling the line back in. Jerry lifts his black bucktail out of the water, and looks in silence at the piece of rotten wood still stuck to point of the treble hook. He spins the rod to whack the lure against the water, to knock off the wood. Jerry puts the rod over his shoulder, and flings the bucktail back out into the lake.

As the lure splashes into the water, a faint, eerie cry of loon, out on the lake, drifts through the air past them, to be swallowed by the pine trees lining the shore. Total silence falls over the scene...

Tuesday, 7:45 am

They settle down into Jerry's Lund for the start of their fourth day of Muskie fishing. Jerry pulls out the choke on the big 90–horse Johnson four–cylinder, and turns the key. The Johnson kicks over, sputters, and roars into life, throwing out a white cloud of smoke behind them. He drops the throttle into reverse and the boat starts moving away from the dock.

The motor coughs and dies.

Jerry mutters briefly to himself, and turns the key again. The Johnson growls once, and then is silent. Jerry turns the key again. "Click." He turns it one more time. Nothing. Jerry looks at Freddy, but gets only a vacant stare in return.

The boat drifts slowly into the cloud of smoke hanging in the still air behind them. It coasts to a stop. This time, no loon call breaks the silence.

Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.

The light from the big white "Hamm's Beer" sign shines briefly through the door of the resort's bar as The Famous Guide returns from a three hour fishing expedition out on the lake with the two female anglers from cabin number 7. But Jerry notices neither the light nor the bustle of the returning fishing party. He just sits at the bar, head hanging down, his "Muskies Inc. International Tournament" hat pulled down over his eyes.

Jerry's left hand is wrapped loosely around a half-empty bottle of Leinie beer, his bandaged right hand, gashed in fixing the motor yesterday, sits limply on the old wood bar.

Jerry is deep in thought. And those thoughts of his fruitless, fishless day hang over him, like the cloud of smoke from his motor.

Once again, today, they have done everything humanly possible to catch a Muskie. But the weather is so damn rotten for Muskie fishing! And no damn fish! Jesus Christ himself couldn't catch one damn fish, much less five thousand, on this damn lake!

And that sets Jerry to contemplating on the number of Muskies in Wisconsin. His calculations run along the following lines: He speculates that there might have been a grand total of seven Muskies in Wisconsin waters this spring. Three were speared, two were caught and kept, and one was eaten by a large Northern. That leaves one Muskie, and that damn fish doesn't reside in the damn Chippewa Flowage.

So why is he wasting his damn time here, on these empty damn waters?

As these thoughts drift through his head, the sound of feminine laughter penetrates his consciousness. Both of the returned fisherwomen are hovering around The Famous Guide, obviously delighted.

Female Angler # 1: "But John, it couldn't have been that big, could it? I don't believe you."

What's this? What is she babbling about?

Female Angler # 2: "I don't care! I caught mine, and Johnny measured it. I don't care what you think! Yours couldn't have been bigger than forty–five inches."

Jerry snagged a forty–three inch branch today. He measured it...

Famous Guide (reaching under the bar and pulling out a photograph): "My forty–eight incher from this spring. That one you lost – at least this big. But listen, two fish caught, 40–inchers. Nothin' wrong with that."

Forty–eight incher? Forty inchers???

Female Angler # 1 (laughing): "But John, you got us three yesterday! And the weather just couldn't have been nicer! This is wonderful!"

Jerry cannot stand this God–awful racket. He drains his Leinie in one long pull and leaves.

And so we too shall leave Jerry, for the night, and see what the morn brings.

Thursday September 12th Entry

Thursday, September 12 th

And notice, now, my friend, the weather report changes. It's no longer "Bad Weather." To be sure, Jerry gets rain and winds. He still gets No Fuckin Fish. But is the tone somehow different? Here's why that might be......

The two baseball–size bobbers, red and white as per all the best tradition, trail along slowly behind the boat, twenty feet out from shoreline of Moonshine Lake. They have found some shelter from the fierce northwest winds here, and Jerry and Freddy have decided that it's in the best interests of their bodies to quit casting half–pound lures for a while, and to drag four–pound sucker minnows around, while they rest up. The end of the week is nigh, and still no fish. Maybe this live bait will do the trick....

Map of Moonshine Lake

The deep, clear waters of Moonshine are deserted this afternoon, which is a change. Jerry had asked about the "lake," at the bar the other day. Actually it's an isolated part of the Flowage connected to the big lake by a single long, narrow channel. The Famous Guide had told him that "Nobody ever fishes there. It's mostly just crappies in it."

And then The Famous Guide had hesitated, looked at Jerry, and added almost under his breath, "Used to hold a big fish, I've heard. "Freight Train" they called it, but that's years ago. I'm sure it's gone. Nothin' there now."

So it had been quite a surprise, a couple of day ago, when Jerry decided to check out Moonshine. They had found two other boats already flailing the waters. And not for any damn crappies, either! These were serious Muskie fishermen, each with a guide, throwing bucktails and jerk baits.

And just as they were leaving Moonshine that evening, entering the channel, it all became clear. For back in the middle of the lake, in the gathering darkness, a monumental "Splash" erupted, sending a shower of water five feet high and ripples throughout the lake. A massive fish – Freight Train! – still lived here, perhaps the biggest fish on the Flowage, and it was undoubtedly well known to the "locals," who tried to keep it "off-limits" to the tourists.

So now, as his sucker drifts some thirty feet down in the clear waters, Jerry fully expects that the Muskie Gods will smile on him, and his fondest dreams will come true.

And it begins to happen! Jerry notices that his bobber, which had been drifting along with the boat, is now moving sideways. He jumps up, picks up his rod, stands there, holding it. The bobber stops, reverses direction briefly, then slowly sinks under the surface.

"Damn! Whaddaya think?" asks Jerry.

Freddy is noncommittal. "Four pound sucker's a big fish. They do that, drag the bobber down. I wouldn't set the hook just yet." But, just as a precaution, Freddy reels in his own sucker, pulls it into the boat, and drops it into the livewell, out of the way.

Jerry stands there, holds the rod, watches the line sink in the water. Then it stops, and starts rising again. The bobber pops back up, and then, some fifteen feet behind it, a big "swirl" breaks the surface.

"Crap! It's him, it's Freight Train!" Jerry's excitement, after all the fishless hours, is overwhelming. The familiar "weak-knees" feeling, a tried and true symptom of Muskie Fever, has him in its grip: his hands shake, his stomach is tight.

"Set the hook, the hook, the hook!" Freddy yells, "You're quick–strike rigged, set the hook!"

And Jerry does exactly that! He tightens up the line, leans forward to take another couple of feet of slack out of the line, reels again, and then sweeps the rod up and backward as hard as he possibly can.

It all happens in slow motion. The rod comes up, the line tightens, vibrates, sends drops of water flying, and the rod snaps to a stop. The bobber dives under the water, propelled by the force of the hook set. The taut line quivers, and starts rising. The bobber pops up again, followed by the line, and more line, and then, as Jerry watches, frozen....

A massive fish, a wonderful fish, by far the biggest Muskie he has ever seen, flies up out of the water, sails in a beautiful rainbow arc, and dives back in, head first. But as the head hits the water, the fish gives a shake, and the sucker and the quick–strike rig break lose. The sucker flies back toward the boat, landing five feet from Jerry. The Muskie disappears back into the depths.

Jerry watches mutely as the sucker, scarred and torn, also drops back down into the depths. Finally, only the upright bobber and a few ripples remain. Then those too die down, and silence returns.

Freddy drives the boat back to the resort. Jerry does not speak the rest of the day, until they go back to the bar that evening and The Famous Guide brings back a young couple and their 15–pound "keeper."

Jerry looks at the fish, lying on the dock, and snorts. "Fuckin snack for mine," he says. But nobody listens to him.

Friday September 13th Entry

Friday, September 13 th

It had to happen on a Friday the 13th, of course: Jerry did get his fish, and a nice one at that. But it was an anti–climax. Typically, he didn't make a big deal of it: four of the five lines on the calendar for that day deal with the weather and time, and only one mentions the Muskie.

So, what happened that day? He went out into that cold, windy morning, fished for an hour or so, and caught (and without hesitation, released!) a 39–inch Muskie. Fish of that length, particularly after a summer of heavy feeding, are up around 20–pounds. A nice fish, a good fish....

We don't know where he got it, or with what lure. But it wouldn't surprise me if he used a bucktail, probably black (he still had his favorite one, you may recall), fished shallow over a windblown point or rock bar. The Famous Guide advocated that kind of fishing, under these conditions. However, with calmer waters, The Guide adamantly espoused "topwater" lures, like the Hawg Wobbler, the Creeper, and especially the Globe, in September. So Jerry may well have been using one of those too, in some more sheltered bay.

In any case, Jerry worked hard all week, he put in his "Time on The Water," and he got his fish. Let's leave him to savor it, and move on to the last day of his trip.

Saturday September 14th Entries

Saturday, September 14 th

And how does Jerry take his departure from us? You remember how he started, a week ago? "BAD FUCKIN DAY?" Well, we get a far more cheery parting: "GOOD LUCK, SEE YA!"

You really have to like that, don't you? Can't you just imagine Jerry whistling – "Sentimental Journey" maybe – as he pulls his Lund out of the water, and heads home....

"Damn! Life is good!"

The thought rattles around in his head as Jerry winches the Lund up on the trailer and motions for Freddy to pull the rig out of the water. When it's on the ramp, he pops the drain plug out to empty the bilges, tosses it onto the console of the boat, and puts the strap across the back of the boat to tie it down.

That phone call from the wife last night, as they were celebrating his catch at the bar, was especially nice: That cat–lover–head–up–his–ass neighbor of theirs finally showed some character and sprang for the vet bill on Jerry's dog! Great! And his wife also told him that Jerry Jr. seemed to be burying himself in his books. He hadn't done that all year, but maybe the discussions with the principal had been a blessing in disguise. Great! And on top of it all, tightening the outlet pipe, like he had told her to do, had shut the water heater leak off cold, so even that wasn't hanging over his head! Great!

A Muskie and a peaceful home front. What more could a man ask for....

What indeed? And here, we bid our final adieu to Jerry, as his Dodge and Lund disappear down the tree lined road out of the resort on the way home.

Final adieu?

Well.... No!

For you see, we – I'm talking about my own fishing crowd now – also had a great time here, during our week. In fact, if the truth be known, some of the incidents I've credited to Jerry might just bear a distinct resemblance to events that happened to one or another of us. Or perhaps, even to you, my friend....

So we too departed weary but happy.

And "Freight Train" still lurks out there, somewhere, doesn't she...

Jerry, we'll "See Ya" here on the Chip again next year, next September. You be sure to bring that black bucktail and green pencil with you again.

But listen, next year, do be more careful with that drain plug......

Juris Ozols
Apple Valley

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Date Created: November 10, 1996
Last Modified: February 28, 2004
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