My annual trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is officially in the books. I believe a passing canoeist said it all on Saturday. He was paddling by and I asked him how he was doing, he smiled and said, "Better than I deserve." If you've never been to the BWCA or as we call it, the B-Dubs, then you owe it to yourself to make it happen.
I have been fortunate enough to share this trip with the best group of friends in the world. I don't know how, but I am greatful for it. Each summer, nine of us friends take 5 days out of our busy schedules and enjoy life from the perch of an island. Until you put the cell phones, computers and all technology to the wayside, you don't realize how peaceful, calm and relaxing life can be. I'll be the first to agree that I am spoiled and get the opportunity to fish more than I deserve, but when I am up there, I am reminded about how it all began and why it is so special. I can't explain it, I just look forward to each summer and I take it all in.
Walleye shore lunch is the obvious meal. Each year we eat fresh walleye every day, and 2010 was no exception. We caught and ate enough walleyes to make a fish factory jealous. Many years we hammer the smallmouth bass. This year was a struggled to catch them on every cast, but we still got a few and had several high flying jumps. Since we have a few days and only set up camp one time, we find ourselves searching new waters and targeting new fish. The last three trips have taken us into places where the giant panfish roam. It's become a staple and once again we caught pannies too big for the frying pan.
While all of the above is great and worth the trip alone, I now have a newfound passion swimming in the pristine waters. Pike. Big pike! Each year we have huge northern pike attack our walleye stringers. You will be quietly fishing when a huge explosion occurs boatside and you realize that your stringer of walleyes is one short, or still in the mouth of a hungry giant. I made it a point this year to bring some equipment and my goal was a 20 pounder.
I brought a few baits that I thought perfect for the job. We pack light, so I only brought a couple. While I made good lure decisions, the down side to the equation was that I didn't give these big fish enough credit and I slacked on my rod, reel and line. I figured that I could boat a giant on heavy bass gear and chose the ultra-light approach. I tried a couple of smaller baits with minimal success. It wasn't until I chucked the biggest bait in my box that I realized I was undermatched. Upon the first cast of my muskie topwater lure, I became almost frightened when a giant pike exploded from beneath. He missed the bait, but it was obvious that I found what they wanted.
For the next 30 minutes I had pike of every size exploding on my giant jackpot. I could argue that it was some of the most intense fishing of my life. It definitely rivals the excitement of a topwater muskie strike, but I will admit that it is even more fierce. There is no warning. They don't follow, they just explode. After I thought I had it all figured out and my quest for a 20 pounder was going to be short-lived, it all came to an end. As I worked my topwater lure over 20 foot depths and brought it boatside, a monster shot out like lightning, grabbed my bait and immediately shot back to the depths. My years of boatside muskie strikes didn't prepare me for the intensity of a huge pike eating at my feet. A big pike doesn't thrash around on the surface like a muskie. Instead they immediately give the most powerful explosion downward and if you don't have heavy enough line, they will simply take your lure and leader with them. This is just what happened to me, and after I wiped the water from my dripping face, I realized that I had hooked and lost the biggest pike of my life. To make matters even worse, I lost my only giant topwater lure too, not to mention my dignity. Apparently 20 pound braided line isn't enough for a monster attack boatside. It took a while for my nerves to calm. It was insane. I assure you that next year I will be bringing the big stuff. Shame on me!
While the fishing was great, the company was even better. Time around the camp is the highlight of each day. The fire is the center of it all and stories of years past and fishing tales never get old. The best part is that each year we continue to make more. For those of us that rise early, the sunrise over the island is an epic scene. Sunset are pretty good too. The weather was what you'd expect and changed by the minute. We battled out a thunderstorm that would have made most cry for help. Heavy downpours caused us to dig trenches and route gushing water away from our campsite. A first time task that we hope is the last. Like most years we experienced all that time would allow. When I thought I had done everything possible, I was shocked yet again. We found an inspiring group of kids and I was convinced to jump off of a cliff. Yep, that's right, I can now cross that off my bucket list too. If there is one bad thing about taking a trip to the B-Dub's, it's that at some point you have to pack up your gear and head back to reality. It really is that good! I want to thank Dusty, Sean, Matt, Ryan, Scott, Jason, Joe and Jeff for another trip of a lifetime! Until next year, keep on livin' the dream!
Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com
It wasn't until the rain picked up and the wind started to blow that I was reminded just how tough muskie fisherman are. I laughed and my buddy Bails giggled when we zipped up our rain gear and continued chucking our baits. About a dozen boats zipped past us ducking behind their windshields on the way back to the access. The rain was pounding the water, and the waves had reached maximum size for that lake. We found a few others tucked behind a point sheltered from the wind. For Bails and I, we were just getting started. His comment went something like this..."Here we go fish, Bring it!"
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Muskie fisherman are the most dedicated and hard-core angler on the water. When the weather turns bad and conditions aren't favorable, most anglers head for shore. Funny thing is, these are the conditions that I savor. I'll find the windiest part of the lake and tear it to pieces. Water crashing over the front of the boat usually means muskies in the net. If you fish bass, odds are that you'll be waiting the wind out from shore, or hiding in a calm spot. Walleye fisherman often think they've lost control of their boat and call it quits. Panfisherman only consider a good day on the water to be high sun and no wind. I'm not knocking anyone here, but truth be told, it appears muskie fisherman are the only ones tough enough to take the abuse.
This past Saturday I was reminded just how crazy we really are. Taking it from the top - I had a short window to sneak out on the water. The conditions were shaping up well and a front was within range of letting the flood gates open. My brain went crazy and I just knew the muskies were going to snap. I called my buddy Sean Bailey, aka: Bails, and he quickly said yes. This wasn't his first time being thrown into the muskie elements. We've been doing it together for several years. We've also been catching muskies in these elements for several years too, so it was no surprise when we pulled up on the honey hole and saw a fish within our first 3 casts. She was a dandy in the 50 inch range, but chose to save her meal for a fish without hooks.
A few minutes later and we were on to spot number 2. As the wind switched 180 and hit me directly in the face, I jokingly made a bold prediction. "Bails, you are going to catch one on this cast." He laughed, but nodded his head in approval. His lure was in the sweet spot and the change in wind was an obvious trigger. I almost wet my shorts when 5 seconds later his first muskie of the year exploded from the water carrying Bail's bait. You just couldn't draw it up any better. It's times like this that you wonder how the heck they can be called a fish of 10,000 casts.
After a quick photo he released the fish to fight another day. After joking about the entire scenario, he picked up his weapon and threw it again. Instantly another muskie came from the depths and tried to eat his lure boatside. Not quite ready for the instant opportunity, he pulled the bait and missed out on his chance for 2 muskies in two casts. By this time the waves were starting to grow and you could see the action level rising. The perfect example in how and why it pays to be a hard-core muskie dude. In that 10 minute window the wind went from west at 5, to east at 25. Extreme weather almost always means extreme fishing if you chase the mighty musky. It almost seems that the nastier the better.
Over the next hour and half we jumped from spot to spot and did everything we could to keep the muskies from coming in the boat. I personally made a few mistakes and so did the fish. It was an obvious lesson in muskies 101, but I failed to photograph any of the interested muskies that wanted my lure. In total we had 8 encounters. By the time we left the water we were one of only a few remaining boats on the lake. Of the few remaining, all were chasing muskies. A testimony to how tough we really are. But, when you look at the results, you understand why. Give a muskie fisherman a storm and he'll give you a picture of a muskie. Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!
Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com
Like many of you, I consider the muskie opener as the 'real' fishing opener. No longer do we have to fish for something else to pass the time. This past Saturday was the official kick-off to the madness of 2010, and I'm proud to say that we started it off on the right foot.
Fellow guide partner, Young Ben, and I hit the water very early in the season. 3:00 AM to be exact. A busy schedule for the two of us meant that if we wanted to get any significant amount of time on the water that we'd have to get out there early. Shortly into our season we had the first nibble. An explosion in the darkness that caused Ben to prematurely set the hook. I followed that up with a few good chuckles and that is when we were reminded what specie we were pursuing. It seemed fitting to have it start that way, and it certainly got the juices flowing.
As if we didn't have the perfect sign to start our season, God blessed us with a muskie sunrise that we'll never forget. The canvas was covered with every color in the rainbow and I'm sure if you were on the water then you know what I'm talking about too. For a while we seemingly forgot what we were on the water to do. We stopped fishing completely.. With every second we were in even more awe and couldn't get over the brightness of the sky. The water was calm and if there weren't trees in the distance, you wouldn't have been able to tell where the water ended and sky began. Sheer beauty. To make it even sweeter, once we finally started casting again, we got to watch our first muskie bulge the surface and create a wake behind Ben's lure from the start of his cast to the finish. I could have ended my day right there and I'd have been happy. The muskie didn't strike, but the day didn't end there either.
A little while later I was given the opportunity to join the crew on KFAN Outdoors for a live report on the water. I have been lucky enough to be a regular guest on their program and we chatted about what we were experiencing on the water. During this time, Ben had two more giant muskies come boatside and nearly gave me a heart attack while conducting my interview. You can check out the full interview here. Thank you Billy Hildebrandt and Bob St. Pierre for another opportunity!
Shortly after the interview Ben had to go to work and my partners changed. I dropped Ben off and Bails and Hennen jumped aboard. I was bound and determined to get the slime in the boat. As it turned out, Hennen was just the man to do it. About 30 minutes into his muskie season he landed the first toothy critter of the year. A dandy 44 incher that put the icing on my muskie opener cake. While I would have been satisfied to just be on the water for that perfect morning, I will admit that the muskie in da boat made me smile a quite a bit. A great start to the 'real' opener.. If this is any indication, I'm very excited for what is to come. Stay tuned - It's going to be a great season! Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!
Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com
The time has come! The anticipation has been mounting and I am giddy with excitement. Tis a day for celebration in musky country. The first follow of the year, the first strike, and hopefully the first slime in the net. Does it get any better than this? Like the rest of you muskie crazed lunatics, I am ready to chuck the big gear. Here are a few things on my mind as we head into the 2010 season.
First and foremost, I think about the fish. Do I have everything ready for a proper release? I use a huge net that allows me to keep the fish resting in the water. I never take them out of the water or lay them in the boat. A long handled pliers helps to unhook them from the water, and a hook cutter is ready in case it is necessary. I can't stress enough how important your release practice becomes when you start handling several muskies. Remember, we are in control of this precious resource. The camera is ready and a couple of quick clicks ensures the fish is back in the water within 15 to 20 seconds - max! If you aren't willing to have a plan in place, I strongly encourage you to think again before you head out. It's that important!
Next, do I have all my gear ready? I will admit that I have some hook sharpening to do, and I strongly encourage you to do the same. More fish are lost each season by people fishing with dull hooks. It's to your advantage to sit down and make 'em razor sharp. If not, you will be one of those guys talking to your buddies about the one that got away. It's the difference maker. If your leader has a kink in it - throw it out. If your line is weathered and old - throw it out. You are already spending a ton of money on everthing else. The connection between you and the fish is the most important aspect in all aspects of the battle. You'll be thankful when that fish is in the net, or heartbroken when your broken down equpment fails.
Like most of you, I have some new equipment to check out. I'm opting for a few different rods this year and I'm excited to see what a 9 footer can do instead of the short and stubby 8 footers. Man has this sport evolved. I can remember using a 6 foot stick and thinking it was the "cats meow." When will we stop and where? I hope we continue to raise the bar each year.
Every year I ponder where I will start and what goals I have for myself. This year is no different and leads to great anticipation for what is ahead. The beauty of it all is that we simply do not know and will not know until we hit the water. For opening day, a good rule of thumb would be to try anything and everything. If you live in memories of last year or the previous seasons, then you may be living in a dream that won't reproduce. I like to think outside the box and continue to change it up EVERY DAY! This keeps me ahead of the game so to speak and allows me to find fish that I might have otherwise overlooked. I fish new waters on opening day of the season, and the last day of the season. Even with several hundred days on the water each year, my goal is to learn something new every time out. If I follow this rule of thumb, I believe the numbers of fish in the boat will speak for itself and I will be able to walk away with a successful year on the water.
To dispose an early season muskie myth, I will probably start the season with Pounders or another oversized muskie bait. Think about it this way. All of the muskie food in the water is at least 1 year old. They are use to eating fish from the year before, and this year's spawn isn't even close to being ready for dinner. My experience has shown a binge period for the muskies after their spawn is complete. This will likely hold true this season, and I encourage you to think outside the box - go big or go home!
I also have a few rules that I live by on every muskie water and they may help you on your monster quest. First, you have to be where the muskies are if you want to catch them. Find their food source, and you'll find them. This could be in 3 feet water or 30. As my good friend Bob Turgeon likes to say "They are the top of the food chain, they don't lead the way, they have to follow." Next, remember that all muskie lures resemble food to a fish. Become good at using a few baits and worry less about throwing everything in the box. It's called a confidence bait. They will only eat when they are ready, and if you have your suff together, you WILL make it happen when the time is right. It's on their schedule, not yours. Lastly, focus on the key feeding windows and make sure you are casting over fishy waters when they are ready to eat. Our pressured fish will only eat for short windows of time, and it is imperative to be fishing them when they turn it on. It's possible to catch 3 muskies in three casts if you play your cards right.
The figure 8 should be your biggest asset on the water. When done correctly you can up your catch by over 50%. Do it every time. Do it with enthusiasm and do it when you are sick of it. Swing your rod tip deep in the water and change the vertical and horizontal angles. Remembe that a 4 foot fish cannot change its direction in the water immediately. Lead them and force them to chase down your offering. It's exciting and it works. Do it with passion and you'll get your muskie on the figure 8.
Finally, I head into the 2010 season with hopes of our sport growing yet again. I'm proud to call myself a muskie fisherman, and I'm proud to be associated with each one of you. I don't think there is another group so passionate about the fish they pursue and so proud of every catch. We really take it to another level. If it weren't for the dedication and love of "OUR" fish, we wouldn't have the resources at our hands today. Share it, enjoy it and take care of it. The sport is in my hands and yours. To all of you that hit the water for the Minnesota Muskie opener this weekend. Good luck! And, in the words of our resting muskie godfather, Jack Burns, "Catch a big one, and let it go." Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!
For more muskie fishing information from Travis Frank - check out www.trophyencounters.com
Two weeks into the season and I'm already sick of catching walleyes. Just kidding. But, at the rate they have been biting I'm beginning to wonder if I have things figured out, or if they are just eating at a faster than normal pace. With each strike of the bait I'm thinking that it's the latter. Last night I was on the water and I almost had my arm ripped off from a hungry walleye. It was a strike similar to that of a musky or catfish. It leads me to wonder if this accelerated spring and warm water temps have the fish on a binge that they cannot sustain.
The first week of the season proved to be extroardinary on big fish. The second week continued the same trend, but finally started to yield a few for the frying pan. The funny part is that we've been having such a fun time catching them that we haven't even taken the time to keep any. I call it stock for future trips, and that's a good thing for us and the lake.
Home from a 5 day work trip out of state, I snuck out Sunday evening on my favorite metro water for a quick evening bite and found the fishing better than when I left. After what I had been experiencing, I didn't think it could get any better. On Sunday evening I hooked a fish on my first 15 casts. Yep, 15. They weren't all walleyes and a couple got off, but I still battled a fish on more consecutive casts than I can ever remember. It was surreal.
Yesterday morning I celebrated Memorial Day with a few eager anglers. George and Tom were my guests, and our mission was to get George his first walleye ever. Being from the non-walleye rich waters of Tennessee and the fact that he hadn't fished in over 20 years, I took it as a good accomplishment when the 72 year old southerner posed for his first ever walleye picture (above). We had a blast all morning catching walleye, bass and hungry sheephead. It was an adventure that I was told got George back into fishing. In fact, my email this morning read something like this..."George said he is going to the store when he gets home to buy fishing equipment and he plans to start fishing again." That comment alone makes me smile.
Last night was more of the same since I couldn't resist the chance to get back out there. My good fishin' buddies Sean Bailey and Mike Ernst joined me and we proceeded to catch fish hand over fist. In our short stint on the water we landed about 35 to 40 fish. We weren't looking for a meal, rather a tug on the line, and if you catch a fish on almost every other cast, then you don't care if they are bass, walleye or a sheephead.
The bonus to all of this recent action is that I've been able to continue finding new areas and new walleye hot spots. My growing list of "sweet spots" gives me an extra sense of satisfaction, the option to release several limits of nice walleyes makes me feel good, and the thought that this might continue for a few days leaves me excited. To put it in simple fishing terms. The bite is on. We are simply blessed to enjoy this great fishing right in our back yard. Hurry up and get out there before this action slows, or call me if you want to join the fun. Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!
Catch more at www.trophyencounters.com