First comes loves, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage … and then comes a new addiction to muskie fishing? If beginning a quest to catch North America’s most elusive freshwater fish right after the birth of your first child sounds like odd timing to you, don’t tell Waconia’s Ryan Naughton.
Better yet, don’t tell his wife.
Naughton, a lifelong Minnesota bass fanatic, caught the muskie bug bad a couple years ago after a friend took him for his first day chasing ’skis. “We didn’t see a single fish all day, and then just as we were coming off the lake a 14-year-old girl in a nearby boat caught a 45-inch hog and that fish got in my head,” Naughton recalls.
That winter, Naughton scoured fishing articles on the fish of 10,000 casts. Then he went on a buying spree since he didn’t have any muskie gear. He even dubbed the upcoming fishing season as his “Year of the Muskie.” But before the muskie season arrived, Naughton’s life changed forever when his wife, Mollie, gave birth to the couple’s first child in March.
William Ryan Naughton weighed 7-pounds, 3-ounces when he was born on March 16 (about a pound heavier than Ryan’s biggest bass ever). Congratulations to the new parents poured in, along with quite a few questions--mainly directed to Mollie--asking if Ryan would still be pursuing his mission for muskies in just a few months.
“Everybody said I’m crazy since muskie fishing is so time consuming and requires such long hours just to see a fish,” Ryan says. But when muskie opener rolled around, he was on the water for his first day of chasing muskies in his own boat with his own gear.
He threw on a Super Shad Rap and -- wouldn't you know it -- no more than 30 casts in he had a follow. “I watched this huge muskie attack my bait, miss, and then swim away. I was devastated and hooked at the same time.”
Welcome to muskie fishing, Ryan.
Only muskie fishing is a bit different as a new dad. “Fortunately, I have a wife who is very understanding,” admits Ryan, noting that he even managed to squeeze in deep sea fishing during his honeymoon in Aruba. “But I do try to leave to go fishing before she’s even awake.” After all, isn’t easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?
Of course, Ryan takes being a dad very seriously, too. He’s already brought William out fishing with him, and says his son loves to watch. “I already have a rod for him, so whenever’s he ready to do some bobber fishing, I’ll gladly help him out.”
Besides, catching some panfish might help Ryan’s fishing reputation at home. His wife is used to fishing for bass and panfish, so the fact that all of Ryan’s muskie fishing and expensive lures have yet to produce … err, well, a muskie, baffles her. “Whenever I go out and don’t catch a muskie, she thinks it’s because I’m a terrible fisherman,” Ryan says. “She just doesn’t understand the challenge of catching these fish. When I get excited about having a follow, she doesn’t get it.”
“You didn’t even catch one fish?” Mollie says with a laugh. “What’s wrong with you?”
Ryan learned some tricks from well-known Twin Cities guide Gary Klinger, owner of Big Dog Guide Service, to help the cause in his quest for muskies..
Ryan with his biggest bass of the season, caught on a Rapala Clackin' Minnow.