The Third Man

Everyone Has A Job In A Crowded Boat

By: Craig Sandell 2010

This summer I had the great pleasure to share a Muskie adventure with my good friend Rob Meusec. He joined me for a few days during my annual pilgrimage to the Chippewa Flowage…so I hired a guide, John Dettloff, for a half day (evening & night) and we set out on our quest in search of Mr. Muskie. This was no philanthropic exercise on my part for you see, Rob is the person who infected me with Muskie fever some 25 years ago and this is my way of thanking him for all of the memories and adventures since our first excursion.

petesbar.jpg (23283 bytes)We set out hitting several spots and Rob and I absorbed all of the information about fish and water that John eagerly shared. It is always a pleasure having John for a guide. He will always impart some very valuable knowledge as part of the guide experience and over the years I have benefited greatly from such outings with John.

This particular evening, however, was a real eye opener for me. I have fished the Chippewa Flowage for a number of years hitting such notable spots as Fleming’s Bar, The Eagle’s Nest, Rudy’s Island, Willow Island, Church Bar to mention just a few. The one place that had remained a mystery to me was Pete’s Bar. Pete’s bar is a very large sub-surface piece of structure. It has numerous depth variations and vegetation population locations and, quite frankly, can be very intimidating by virtue of the fact that there are no surface structures that can be used for location assessments. To the uninformed Muskie angler, Pete’s Bar is just another open expanse of water on the 15,300 acres of the Chippewa Flowage.

To complicate the issue, this outing we would be fishing Pete’s Bar at night with no moon. As we pulled up on Pete’s Bar, I watched closely how John positioned the boat. As I was getting ready to ask some positioning questions, John began to explain every aspect of how he was positioning the boat using shoreline and tree line references and further explained the sub-surface depth and vegetation. As we made our first pass across what John called the "Sister’s Edge" I found myself spending more time absorbing the location markers than fishing…not so my good friend Rob.

Rob & JohnHe was intently pitching the Orange Frenchy creeper that John had given him to use. The creeper made its usual loud splash entry into the water and its characteristic Muskie calling plop as Rob retrieved it through the blackness of the evening. We finished our forward pass over this prime edge location and John then employed a technique he calls a "double hover". This means that you simply retrace your forward path back over what most folks would consider used water. This is a technique that many of the best guides use and it usually will coax a fish into striking if one is about.

This evening was no exception. About half way through the double hover at the edge of a weed line, a Muskie inhaled Rob’s creeper. We all heard the water explode and, upon setting the hook, we heard Rob colorfully announce that a fish was on.

When a Muskie is on, an 18 foot tri-hull with 3 excited fishermen can become very small. Everyone in the boat has to know what to do in order to support the angler with the fish on the line. In this case, the guide’s job was easy. John encouraged Rob to keep his line tight and gave him tips on fighting the Muskie as it foamed the water and inspected the bottom of the boat. For me, as the third man, I had some tasks to perform also. First was to get my lure in and ensure that my tackle did not get in the way of the fight. My next task was to watch the progress of the fight closely. It was up to me to make sure that I did not become an obstacle in the boat. Since the night had stolen our normal visual acuity, I made sure that head lamps and flash lights were available when needed. It doesn’t sound like much of a contribution to the battle, however, staying out of the way in a crowded boat is a very important part of the process.

Rob AloneAfter about 10 minutes of tussle with his Muskie, Rob positioned him along side the boat where John netted the fish. The lure, upon the relaxing of the line, dislodged from the Muskie’s jaw and came to rest at the rim of the net. John removed the lure from the net…I took the rod from Rob and placed it out of the way. I got the camera (s) out and got ready to snap a couple of photos for prosperity. John reached into the net and extracted the Muskie to measure him…a healthy 42 inch 20 pound Muskie. I snapped a couple of photos using John’s camera. As I readied Rob’s camera, John handed off the fish to Rob for another couple of pictures. Photos completed, Mr. Muskie was back in the water and on his way…a little tired but none the worse for the experience.

On your next Muskie outing where you are sharing a boat with another angler or two, remember that everyone in the boat has a job to do during a Muskie encounter. Remember also that keeping clutter in the boat to a minimum is an important aspect to preventing hooks in fishermen and broken rods. Fishing at night demands even greater care to ensure that your boat is free from clutter. Take only the rod you will need and only the lures you can safely transport.

As a footnote to this story, I would like to direct your attention to the two photos shown here. Both photos are of the same fish taken not more that a couple of minutes apart. Notice, however, that the fish looks smaller in the photo of Rob by himself. The reason for this is the fact that the fish tensed its tail section moving its tail toward Rob’s body and away from the camera. It is interesting to note how different the same fish can look by small adjustments to the fish or the camera position. Many of the photos that you see in publications like Musky Hunter Magazine are taken using a camera angle that exaggerates the size of the fish.