One of my main fishing partners is an actor and as such is often prone to fits of embellishment and excessive emoting, perhaps somewhat of an occupational hazard as a character actor typecast into bad guy roles, so it was not without a healthy degree of skepticism on my behalf when he disclosed the secret location of a place that had apparently never been fished by humans since the beginning of time. This unsupported and historically inaccurate claim was fairly dubious, for we were not flying to virgin waters in the wilderness but rather fishing a spot within an hour of a major metropolis with over two million inhabitants. To his credit, he had stated unequivocally that there would be muskies in the newly formed basin, adjacent to the weedline where he had seen one a few days earlier while wading off the point. It had swam in perfect view right next to him. The water was almost to shallow for the inflatable. We lifted the engine and drifted over the giant weed mat with the wind. Some carp spooked from the weeds leaving clouds of mud behind. A dead walleye, close to ten pounds, bobbed in the weeds. It was impossible to determine whether it had died after spawning or simply of natural causes, like old age as it did not look as though it had been sick. There was little probability that it was a post-release mortality, for such a monstrous walleye would never be released in this part of the country, where very few local anglers practiced catch & release - hook ’n cook was their mantra.
We spotted the first fish just as we reached the deep water on the outside edge of the weed line. It was a fifty inch fish and bolted at the sight of the overhead inflatable. Mark turned to me with a familiar smirk and ”told you so” look on his face. He felt validated in the accuracy of his prognostication. It seemed only fitting that a few moments later, a large fin emerged from the weeds, like a shark, and inhaled his bait. The fish went wild, tailwalking across the water and taking several nice runs before allowing herself to be ushered boatside. She was a large fish, with incredible spotted patterns, almost like a tiger musky and her upper jaw was gruesomely deformed, the result of some trauma suffered in youth that had since completely healed over. Most likely the fish had been captured by a negligent fisherman who in an effort to retrieve his lure, managed to rip off part of its upper mandible. Despite the handicap, the fish had survived to full maturity and showed all signs of being an extremely healthy specimen. We beached the boat on a small rock island and took a few quick photos before releasing the fish into the clear water. It was a good start to the day.
There was a series of rapids above the island, inaccessible by boat yet not by foot and we waded upstream. The rapids were loaded with bass and we quickly caught several dozen on flies before wandering further upstream, dragging rods, cameras, and a bucket full of minnows in tow. On the way, we both fell in the water twice as we negotiated our way across the slick algae covered stones that made up the riverbed. It was a veritable comedy of errors, a blooper reel of highlights but thankfully there weren’t any cameras rolling. Above the third set of rapids, nestled between the slate rocks was a smooth rock basin carved out by eons of cascading water that had dug a deep trench in the rocks. This pool turned out to carry the mother lode, holding almost every specimen of fish representative of this ecosystem. There were gar, smallmouth, pike, musky, channel cats, and quite possibly, both trout and sturgeon in this pool. We tossed some minnows in and within seconds the floats submerged and we had a double header of acrobatic five-pound bass. For the next hour, until we depleted all our minnows, the action was non-stop and most of the fish were all between four and five pounds. They were all large post-spawn females and would feed voraciously in the river for a few weeks before returning to the lake. These were the same fish we had encountered a month earlier just as they were entering the system. Since our first meeting they had entered the river, moved all the way up into the back bays, paired with a partner and spawned in the shallow flats, then deserted their beds for the males to guard as they moved upriver in search of massive schools of minnows to gorge upon and replenish their energy. Once the minnows ran out, we fly fished with leech imitation patterns, and while not as effective as the minnows, nonetheless managed to deceive a few bass, including a huge twenty-three inch fish that hit like a freight train.