Those fishers who have never hooked and battled the mighty muskellunge have missed the greatest thrill the sport of angling has to offer. The muskie, with that odious plug in his jaw or lip, will leap, shake his head, twist, splash down like the whale in the insurance company’s ad, dive deep in search of a log or snag to hide under, come up again, and after you’ve managed to reel in enough line, bulldoze under the boat in one final effort for freedom before he tires enough for your buddy to get him, or most of him, in that big dipnet and bring him in to the boat.
Get the camera. Hold him with both hands in front of you (not an easy task since we might be talking about a fish weighing 40 pounds or more). Smile. Then, being careful to avoid those vicious teeth, hold him just under the surface, and watch him swim away.
Thank you, Mr. Muskie.
Over the course of my fishing career, I’ve had the pleasure of battling and boating five muskie –one on Kinniconick Creek in Lewis County and four on Cave Run Lake, located about 10 miles southwest of the college town of Morehead.
One of my greatest muskie memories came about five years ago on Cave Run. I was camping with the Cave Run Crappie Crew. Four sites down the Middletown (Ohio) Muskie Men had pitched their tents. The former fished for nothing but crappie, the later fished for nothing but muskie.
Anyway, one day I snapped on a big lure that came from the tacklebox of my late father, Bruce. I was trolling it across a weed bed when the muskie hit and quickly became airborne. Two men from the muskie club were passing us to get to fish the shoreline beyond.
They watched as I fought the muskie from a long distance. I had had out quite a bit of line when he hit.
I had no dipnet.
“Wait, wait,” they said, “and we’ll bring you our dipnet!”
“I won’t need it,” I said.
I actually did not know how I was going to boat that muskie, which measured more than three feet in length.
Suddenly the fish charged the boat. I reeled as fast as I could to keep slack out of the line. Then, right at the side of the boat, he ripped open the surface and leaped completely out of the water. I jerked my pole and that muskie landed right in the bottom of the boat. As they watched, I nonchalantly worked the hook from its jaw and held the fish up for them to admire.
Both groups got together that evening at our picnic table for a penny-ante poker game. There was much talk about the crappie angler who lands muskie without a dipnet.
Realizing that the muskie is a popular game fish that can grow to immense sizes in inland lakes, both Ohio and Kentucky fish and wildlife divisions have hatcheries that hatch muskie, hold them in rearing ponds until they’re about a foot long, then dip them out, load them into tanker trucks, and stock them in designated waters.
In Ohio, every fall London and Kincaid state fish hatcheries stock about 20,000 muskies measuring 8 to 12 inches into nine lakes: Alum Creek, Caesar Creek, Clear Fork, CJ Brown, Lake Milton, Leesville, Piedmont, Salt Fork and West Branch.
In addition, Pymatuning Lake, located along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, is stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
The Ohio state record muskie weighed 55.13 pounds and measured 50¼ inches when it was caught at Piedmont Lake in 1972.
The Kentucky record is a 47-pounder caught from Cave Run about 10 years ago. The catcher was a girl who was a sophomore at Montgomery County High School. She was fishing with her foster father, who worked as a muskie guide on Cave Run. They had cast heavy lutes through most of the day without a strike before the record hit right at the boat.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources stocks 2,000 to 3,000 muskie into Cave Run every year. They are reared at the Clark fish hatchery, located just below the Cave Run dam.
Kincaid Fish Hatchery is found along the banks of Ohio Brush Creek not far northwest of Portsmouth.
One year a flood overflowed the rearing ponds, allowing muskie to escape into the waters of the creek.
Muskie weighing up to 30 pounds have been caught from Ohio Brush Creek.
“Historically, muskies were abundant in the bays and tributaries of Lake Erie and in many streams in the Ohio River drainage,” said Rich Zweifel, the Division of Wildlife’s Inland Fisheries Program Administrator. “Today, natural reproduction is rare because of habitat constraints in Ohio reservoirs. Stocking muskies in the fall contributes to higher survival because they can be stocked at larger sizes and in cooler water.”
Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619