Jun 12, 2015

Esoc it to 'em!

     The lake where the Washington state record tiger musky was caught is about an hour from my house, and being new to the area, I hadn't had a chance to go explore it yet. I had read good things (which all turned out to be true) about the campground being very well kept and nice. It sounded like a perfect fit for my family! Sooo... when Mrs. Bryanlikestofish suggested that we do some camping a few weekends ago, I gently nudged us towards that lake.
     I've caught pike and I've caught muskies, but never the in-between. This needed fixed! So to the lake we headed. We got all settled in at our campsite, then we got down to business. It quickly became obvious that the lake was packed full of tiny bass and some decent perch. The kids and I entertained ourselves by giving about 300 of them sore lips, while the wife got some much needed R&R. They ranged in size from about yay:
Curlew Lake Largemouth Bass
  to about so:
This little lady is more the ballerina type than the outdoors type, but she's really getting the hang of this fishing thing, and she routinely out-fishes her older sister and I - much to our dismay!
     The hatchery hotdogs (rainbow trout) were also biting, but I'd much rather catch tiny bass than hotdogs, so we didn't bother. It was pretty fun! It took me back to when I used to sit on the dock for hours and catch bluegills and crappies and any other tiny fish that would bite. It was cool to see that same excitement in my girls.
     As for the big-boy fishing, I planned on trying for a musky for a few hours Friday night and Saturday morning, mostly when the girls were sleeping. After all, family camp-outs are no fun if you don't spend them with your family! However my Friday night fishing almost didn't happen. The wind really kicked up in the afternoon, which is a problem since I was planning on paddling out there in my little inflatable pontoon boat. I'm not too crazy about kicking around in whitecaps, and it's a real pain to stay in position long enough to actually fish when it's windy. I tried to wait it out, but it didn't look too good. Then with about an hour of daylight left, the wind subsided JUST a hair, so I ventured out. Just upwind from our campsite was a big island which blocked the wind, and the lee side of it was pretty calm so that's where I headed. A couple minutes' paddle later I was almost within range of the corner of the island, so I fired-at-will as they say.
     I made a couple test casts, just getting used to the feel of the big Vibrax bucktail. Everything seemed to be in good working order so I began to fin my way towards some fishier looking lies. However, about half way through my third cast the lure stopped dead, so I set it. I felt weight but not much else at first, so I thought it was maybe some weeds or moss, but then I felt the big and slow head shakes of something that was definitely not moss. 
     Surely it had be a big bass though. It couldn't happen just like that could it? If the musky was the fish of 10,000 casts, I still had 9,997 to go! I've failed at catching a tiger many times before so to be honest I was prepared for and maybe even half expecting another skunk. And yet, here I was attached to something massive midway through my third cast!  Heck, I hadn't even gotten to the spot I was planning to fish yet!
     I applied as much pressure as I deemed appropriate for my 10 lb Maxima, and whatever it was began to come closer. As it did, It became more and more obvious that it was no bass, and the closer it got, the angrier it seemed to become. After pulling me in a couple circles and giving my drag a workout, he drew near and I knew I would soon see what I had tied into. 
     By this point I pretty much knew it was a tiger. The only question was, how big was it? I was not prepared for the answer to that question. The fish finally broke the surface in a half-jump five feet from me - teeth first. I peed a little was calmly impressed by the gravity of the situation. I just remember seeing a giant gaping maw thrashing its jaws around like the weapons that they were. I've never seen a more intimidating first jump from a fish. I had my tiger musky. And it was huge.
Something wicked this way comes...
Curlew Lake Tiger Musky
     At this point, several things went through my mind (besides the obvious exclamatories...). I was relieved to see that the lure was lodged solidly in the roof of its mouth, so it wasn't likely to come out on its own. My steel leader was worth its weight in gold just then as I saw it scraping across its teeth. I then realized that I needed proof or nobody would believe me; so I one handedly fumbled out my camera to snap a few quick insurance pictures while it was at the surface just in case the line broke or something. I then looked down at my ridiculous little pontoon boat and realized that there was no freaking way I was going to land it there without injuring myself, the fish, my boat, or (most likely) all three. My bleak options for landing it in the boat were to either reach over the side and try to grab him there, or I could bring him in the front way, but there was no way I was going to bring that thrashing dagger filled maw between my legs. So I decided on a non-traditional third option; since I had not even quite reached the island yet, the boat launch I had just passed wasn't too far off. So I began kicking my flippers for all I was worth.
     A minute or two later, I arrived. The fishermen on the dock gave me some very confused looks as I motor boated backwards past them towards the boat ramp, but they gave some very satisfying shouts of wonder when they saw what I was towing. I felt much safer landing it there in the shallows with my feet beneath me, and I was glad somebody else was there to take pictures. My children were very impressed. Earlier that day while driving to the lake I had been twirling the blade around on my spinner, and they asked me how any fish could possibly fit such a huge lure in its mouth. They now understood.
Curlew Lake Tiger Musky
Curlew Lake Tiger Musky
The colors are washed out in this picture, but you can see the girth (of the fish...) better.
     We snapped a bunch of pictures in very quick succession. I pulled the hook out, which was a terrifying experience since I had stupidly brought my little four inch hemostats instead of the big ones. Then I got to have the satisfaction of gently cradling it in the water as it recovered and finally kicked out of my hand. 
     I didn't have a tape with me, so I don't know exactly how long it was, but I sort of managed to measure it against my arm. With the tip of its under bite even with the ends of the fingers of my left hand, the tail went clear across my chest all the way to my right armpit. I measured that when I got home, and it's right about 45 inches. But whatever the measurement was, I don't really care. It was a true monster to me, and I'm still shaking a little from it! I'll be surprised if this isn't my favorite fish of the year. It'll be a tough one to beat!
     I called it a night after that, with the satisfaction that for once the big one didn't get away. It did take a while for the adrenaline to wear off enough to go to sleep though. The next morning I was out the tent and on the water by 4:00, but all I had to show for my efforts were some overly ambitious little bass. Apparently a musky every three casts was a lofty goal, but it was fun while it lasted!

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