Craig Sandell 2010

As Muskie fishermen, we all tend to go through periods when we are not catching fish. This is especially true if you are unable to 'butterfly' from lake to lake.

Before the 2001 seasoned opened, I was sitting around the kitchen table with John Dettloff. I mentioned to John that the Chippewa Flowage had not been as kind to me in recent years as it had been in the mid-1990s. John listened to my lament and then jumped right in the middle of my chest with some hard reality..."You've changed the way you fish from the way you used to fish", he said. "Remember that the Chippewa Flowage is not a 'run and gun' body of water. You can't fish it as though you were in Canada and you have to pay attention to what the water is telling you about the prospects for fishing success".

Rob & MeI came away from that kitchen conservation with John intent on recapturing the methods that had produced fish for me in the past. My good friend Rob Meusec and I exchanged ideas on strategy for the Chippewa Flowage. Rob observed that many times we tend to overlook the potential that is no further than the dock at which the boat is moored. He reminded me that Fred Hirsch, one of the trailer residents at Indian Trail Resort and owner of Ghosttails lures, starts an early morning fishing adventure by sneaking away from the boat slip without starting his motor and fishing the resort shoreline before he motors to other locations.

We decided to take a more methodical and relaxed approach to our Muskie hunt in the 2001 Muskie season; fishing the area leading up to the 'prime water' and after the 'prime water' so that we truly were fishing the spot clean.

On June 7th Rob and I hit the water of the Chippewa Flowage armed with our plan for success. We knew that the water temperature being in the mid to low 60s would have the Muskie closer to the shoreline and we knew that the high water in the Chippewa Flowage would likely contribute to keeping the Muskie in close to the shoreline.

There is a shoreline and a shoreline connected bar called Miten's Bar not more that 2 minutes away from Indian Trail Resort that had all of the elements in our fishing plan. It has a deep water drop (18 feet) adjacent to a shoreline shelf (6 feet) with good vegetation and a reputation for Muskie.

The mid-morning weather was overcast with a light drizzle with the air temperature around 70 degrees and water temperature around 63 degrees. I cut the motor in around 20 feet of water and positioned the boat using the trolling motor to accomplish a very slow path parallel to the shoreline. The boat was in roughly 16 feet of water as we began our troll and we were casting up at the shoreline into 5 to 6 feet of water. Rob was using a bucktail and I was using a surface lure, a Best American Tornado Globe.

I positioned the boat during the troll to maximize the shoreline coverage of our casts, moving the boat away from the shoreline on our casts and toward our lures during the retrieve. (The wind being calm afforded me this boat position luxury.)

Miten FishWe were settling into the routine of cleaning out the shoreline prior to the 'prime water' of Miten's Bar when a Muskie came up from an isolated weed bed in 6 feet of water and attacked my globe from beneath the surface. I felt the fish...I set the hook with a firm tug and kept the line tight as the Muskie rocketed toward the deeper water under the boat.

Anyone who has had a Muskie at the end of his line knows that there is a moment of truth in the battle when the fish either gets off or is sufficiently hooked to give you a fighting chance at successfully boating the Muskie. As the fish came up from under the boat, I could see that it was hooked reasonably well and that it was up to me to 'do the right thing' to get this fish in the boat.

Since I was using some of the super strength line on my reel, the drag was not set as tightly as it would have been if I had been using braided Micron or Dacron line. I also depressed the free spool button so I could thumb line to the fish and prevent him from using the leverage of line and rod to straighten or dislodge a hook. Since the water was a bit cool, the Muskie put up a good scrap. Five to seven minutes after the fight began, Rob netted the fish as I lead it boat side...Once in the net, the hooks were loose and my Muskie opponent thrashed in the net as we kept him in the water to keep its time out of the water to a minimum. I cut the hooks from the globe to easily free it from the net...making it safe for me to firmly grip the fish and remove it from the net once we were ready to take pictures and make a length measurement.

As I pulled the fish from the net, I commented to Rob that it was a beefy beast. It measured 38 inches but it had a lot of body to it and was probably in the area of 19 pounds...A couple of pictures and it was on its way.

It was a heck of a way to start the day and Rob and I set off to visit some similar shoreline structures. The rest of the day did not produce any fish in the boat but did produce swirls and fish hitting short.

We took a break for lunch and again for dinner after which we started out for an evening adventure...We continued to use the methodical approach that had produced the early fish and the day's other action as we hit the water around 7:30pm. Following our philosophy that the 'grass is not greener elsewhere', we concentrated on areas close to Indian Trail Resort that had a good reputation for fish and shoreline connected shelves adjacent to deeper water.

Although the overcast was still with us, the drizzle had been replaced by enough wind to make boat control more difficult than it had been earlier. As 9:00pm approached, we motored up to the back side of Pine Island, a piece of structure that was less than 1 minute from Indian Trail Resort. We started with the submerged finger bar adjacent to the East side of the island and zig zagged the boat toward the 'prime water' along the back side of the island to maximize the coverage of our lures. As was the case earlier in the day, Rob was tossing a bucktail and I was tossing the Best American Tornado Globe.

Sometimes the wind will take hold of a boat so that your cast is not in the perfect position for a hook set during a retrieve. Pine Island FishThis was the case for me as my globe passed over an isolated weed bed in 4 feet of water and was assaulted by a Muskie. It hit a good 20 feet from the boat and it was fortunate for me that he didn't come out of the water.

I set the hook as best I could, announced to Rob that I had a fish and began to wrestle with this Muskie hoping that the Muskie spirits would favor me and not the fish. This fish put up a good battle, but he had hooked himself pretty well and I managed to keep my wits about me as I played him boat side for another perfect net job from my fishing partner Rob Meusec.

Once again, the fish became unhooked in the net, making it relatively easy for me to neuter the lure to prevent damage to fish and fisherman and extract the Muskie from the net for a measurement and a photo. This fish measured in at 39.5 inches and, given the bulk of the body, was easily 19 or 20 pounds. As I placed the fish in the water to release it, I supported its belly and held it upright grasping it near the tail. The fight was not that long but this Muskie seemed to be a bit more lethargic than the fish earlier in the day. I moved the fish in the water and after a time it seemed that he was almost in a trance. I gave him a light tap on the head with my fingertips and he exploded from my grasp.

I was numb. It had been a very good day of fishing. The two boated fish and the other action during the day were as the result of that methodical 'fish the spot clean and fish the whole spot' approach. That approach may not have the excitement of slicing through the water with wind in your face and the power of your boat throbbing under your feet but it produced the excitement of two nice fish in the boat for a time investment of about 8 hours of fishing.

Tight Lines