by Bret Amundson
Among the well-manicured lawns and million-dollar-plus homes sits a 14,500 acre body of water that holds a giant predator. It reportedly roams these waters consuming unsuspecting prey before moving on to another ambush location. We spent 10 hours on this lake just west of the Twin Cities on Saturday in search of such a giant without any success.
Maybe we should have just gone after Lou, the legendary sturgeon that supposedly lurks beneath the surface of Lake Minnetonka, but instead we were casting giant baits in search of 50″ muskies.
“We’ll be targeting 50-inchers. We’re not going to be going for 40-inchers or anything like that,” said muskie guide Joe Foxx during last week’s MNSJ Radio show. Foxx spent 3 days with the film crew from “The Bucket List” on the Outdoor Channel. “We’re just going after large fish right now.”
Foxx would eventually put a big fish in the boat which is tough enough on it’s own, but when you put cameras in the boat the pressure level goes way up. That’s usually what happens when I take out the still camera…the fishermen in the boat tend to get mad. “The Curse” of the camera.
Mandy Uhrich and I would climb in Joe’s boat on Saturday to chase these big fish, knowing full well that this time of year the big mamas are putting on the feedbags. We also know that we might cast for 10 hours and not see a single fish. Such is life in a muskie boat.
We’d put in around 8am and began by casting giant crankbait-type lures the size of your arm.
“People at the landing always ask if we’re fishing for alligators when they see those,” Foxx said. We’d cast them along weedy breaks and current edges in search of hungry fish but as the morning drug on, we’d see more jet-skiers and surfers than fish.
That’s the problem with a big recreational lake like this. There are going to be people out for a cruise on a nice Saturday afternoon. Even if you don’t expect to see it during the backside of October. There were literally people in snowsuits riding jet skis.
The forecasted temps were in the 60’s (despite the winds that kept it feeling cooler) and that’s probably what prompted the deluge of giant cabin cruisers and sailboats that zipped and coasted across the water. We’d have to compete on a few spots with other fisherman, but mostly had to deal with boats the size of small homes coming too close to where we were casting. You’d wonder how that could happen when you have a body of water the size of a small country.
We’d change lures from giant rubbery contraptions with huge treble hooks, to spinners with multiple blades of varied sizes. Whether it was the moon phase, the relative warm water temps (54 degrees) or water that was too clear to fool the fish in, we weren’t sure. But it was obvious that the fish were turned off.
That wasn’t going to stop us from trying. It’s always fun to get a bunch of fish in the boat, but when you can hook into a creature that weighs around 50 pounds, you’ll cast until you’re arm falls off to do it.
“There’s bass fishing. And then there’s muskie fishing,” Foxx explained. “If you lay into a 50″ fish, you’re never gonna have a hook set like that. You’re just never gonna have that feeling-that rush.”
One popular method of muskie fishing that has been taking off in recent years is sucker fishing. It’s essentially the equivalent of down rigging like you would for walleye or lake trout, but there is a different method for muskie. It involves using “bait” fish that are bigger than some of the game fish people target.
“We are literally dragging 20″ suckers right now catching muskies on them,” said Foxx. “We use whitefish suckers. There are a lot of guys that drag them shallow, but what I do is drag them along deep weed edges. If you can find a combination of deep weeds to rocks to coon tail? That’s where the fish are holding right now.”
“We got an epic sucker bite (recently). We got 16 fish over 50 inches in 3 weeks (of fishing),” Foxx said while adding that one day he got 11 muskies on suckers. While I’ve always been one to shy away from down rigging as much as possible, if you said we could catch big muskies like that? Let’s go!
“One of my clients (is) the owner of Lord Fletchers… (he)caught a 40-pounder with me,” Foxx said while explaining that it was a 51.5″ (long) x 24″ (girth). The replica is hanging in the Oar House Bar at Lord Fletchers.
We’d break there for lunch and to see the mount before heading back out. A few curious glances were cast in our direction as our runny noses were drying and our fishy-smelling bibs stood out among the North Face vests. But they were there mostly to watch the Gophers lose a heartbreaker to Illinois. The food was delicious and a microbrew or two were tried and soon we heard those magical 50 inch-fish calling our names.
The rest of the afternoon offered a few camera opportunities, but they’d end up being pictures of casting and figure-8’s versus catching. We’d be more awestruck at the various Minnesota celebrity and athlete homes instead of giant fish.
But as reports came in from around the state, it sounds like most muskie fisherman experienced similar results on this day. That’s just the way it goes. I can see the allure of hooking into one of those giants, but I can also see why it turns off many fisherman. Casting baits that are upwards of a full pound with 9-foot rods for 10-12 hours a day can be a good workout and a good way to get burned out.
“A long time ago I was bass fishing on Tonka,” Foxx described the day he became a muskie fisherman. “I had this moving log behind my bait. I looked over at my buddy and said ‘Is that a pike?’ And he said, ‘That’s no pike! I think that’s one of those muskie things!’ I’m like,’What the heck is a muskie?’ Ever since then I’ve been ruined.”
“I tell people that haven’t caught one, don’t catch one because everything you do is going to be about this fish.”
While I haven’t caught one since I was very young, I’ve been around the big ones enough lately that I will continue the chase. I’m not sold yet on abandoning every other fish out there to focus on muskies, but then again, I haven’t caught a 50″ fish yet. Hopefully there will be another opportunity or two out there yet this year. Only I think we’ll find a spot that has fewer rooftop swimming pools along it’s shorelines.