The Frank Suick Story

By: Todd Koehn 2013


When the name Suick comes to mind most musky hunters think of "Muskie Thriller" jerkbaits. Frank Suick was born in 1899, a month before the turn of the century. In the 1920's he started fishing Pelican Lake in Wisconsin every summer. Making the 28 mile trip was not simple in those days. Most travel was with Model T Fords and in the late 20's, Model A Fords. The trip involved traveling on poor and many times impassable roads, with time commonly spent fixing flat tires and other repairs. Frank's parents owned a tavern in Antigo, Wisconsin where many of the local Chicago & Northwestern railroad workers would come to exchange railroad stories. Antigo was a in hub of this railroad line. It tracked north along the east shore of Pelican Lake to Monico Junction just north of Pelican Lake. Frank developed a close relationship with many of these railroad workers, and this opened an opportunity for easy travel to Pelican Lake by steam powered freight train. Once he made the one hour trip he would rent a boat from Guths Bay Resort or Otis Bait Shop. In these early days most Muskies were caught by casting or trailing suckers behind a rowboat. This was a tedious, time-consuming method. When a fish finally hit the bait a long wait was required before setting the hook. This waiting process is what Suick wanted to eliminate. One day in the early 1930's he began whittling with a jack knife on a piece of cedar. His handy knife work developed into one of the all time classic jerkbaits, the Suick Muskie Thriller.

His new Thriller lure accomplished what he wanted it to, by simply allowing fisherman to set the hook as soon as the fish hit. This concept came from observing trout feeding in of one the many ponds at a hatchery he owned. He noted that the only time trout would attack was when it's prey was sick, injured, or off-guard. When trying to dip-net a sick or injured trout, he noticed that it would dive down 18 to 20 inches to escape the net and then come back to the surface almost immediately. When the attempted netting was repeated, the diving trout attracted others that noticed its weakness. Soon this floundering fish was attacked by larger fish. It is ironic that the principle of the Suick evolved from watching the feeding habits of trout. Trout are the prey of musky in many of our deep, cold-water lakes.

When whittling out an early prototype, Frank's knife slipped and cut off part of the cedar tail. This accident soon led to the development of an adjustable, stainless-steel tail which allowed the lure to be tuned to run at different depths.

The earliest color combination had a gray back with a white belly and red gill markings. The stainless tail also produced a flash which improved it's attractiveness. These original prototypes ran from 12 to 18 inches below the surface, the same as they do today.

When Suick began testing his lure on Pelican Lake, it quickly became apparent that he had a winner. Soon he had caught and mounted several heads of large musky on his garage in Antigo. (Keep in mind this was before the days of catch and release, and the first size limits.)

HIS EQUIPMENT

The earliest rod and reel combinations, used by Suick to work his lures were 5 to 5 1/2 foot rods made from pool cues or Caluatta canes, fitted with guides and a Pflueger Supreme reel. This type of cane pole was different from the bamboo cane poles we think of today. Caluatta is a woody plant stem with knots or knobs that grow closer together than bamboo creating a material twice as strong. These rods were light and had a stiff action capable of heaving suckers long distances.

Braided steel leaders were used for years. Frank was always looking for an alternative, because the braided wire would fray and break where the swivel or sleeve was attached. Frank soon located some piano wire and began to make his own leaders.

The boats of his day were 14 foot wooden shallow V hulls with a narrow bow. Even at that time most fishermen stood on the bench seats for better visibility, while wearing polaroid sunglasses.

REPUTATION

Soon after this new Suick lure was perfected, the news spread of Frank's incredible catch of 30 muskies in 30 days. Many serious musky anglers tried to beg, borrow or steal more information about his success and the new mysterious Suick lure.

A few area fisherman even got together and decided to put together a petition, as a joke, to prohibit Frank Suick from fishing on Pelican lake.

This petition read;

We, the undersigned hereby petition your honorable body and the Honorable Governor of the State of Wisconsin, to hereby issue an order to prohibit Frank Suick of the city of Antigo, County of Langlade, State of Wisconsin from fishing or taking of fish in Pelican Lake, located in Oneida County until such time whereby other fisherman are able to catch fish out of the above mentioned lake. We hereby do this in the interest of Muskies at large.

There was one Pelican Lake cottage owner that didn't take this petition as a joke. He said he would refuse to pay his taxes for that year if Suick continued fishing. Over 60 signatures were documented.

Musky anglers traveling through Antigo on the way north would stop at Frank Suick's tavern the "Muskie Bar" just to try to get a glimpse of his new lure. This bait was the flrst commercially produced jerkbait which was first offered for sale in 1942.

During World War II it became difficult to find good treble hooks and rivets to mount the lures' adjustable tail. Automobile brake-shoe rivets were the only available fasteners. Many of Suick's friends would stop at automobile repair shops and buy whatever brake shoe rivets were available.

In the late 1940's his tavern and dining room was a big attraction, since it had the largest display of musky mounts and heads in the world.

Suick was known as a die hard musky hunter. Once he was on Pelican Lake it was almost impossible to get him off the water. Suick's wife told a local newspaper reporter "He is so crazy about catching muskies that when he falls asleep, he often dreams of fighting fish and would actually reach back and clutch a bed post and pull on it like it was one of his rods."

Once his lure was established as an essential lure for the musky fisherman, Frank got involved with a commercial motion picture photographer. The photographer was in the Pelican Lake area filming a commercial for an outboard engine manufacturer, and a brand of lures other than the Suick Muskie Thriller. After several fruitless days the photographer had not a single fish. He then talked Frank into guiding him.

Suick told him he knew where there was a nice musky, and took him to the spot. After a few casts Suick set the hook into this fish. The weather conditions were excellent for filming the ensuing fight. With the camera rolling the whole episode was captured on film. Soon a nice 24 pound musky was in the boat, another victim of the Suick Muskie Thriller.

Many months later the photographer sent Suick a copy of the film. As he watched, Frank could not believe his eyes. The edited movie included a lure, but not the Suick Muskie Thriller. The fish had another lure hanging out of its mouth. From this point on, Frank became wary of promoters.

Suick was the master of Pelican Lake because he studied muskies and their feeding habits. One local angler said, "it was like he could crawl under the skin of a musky, which better enabled him to understand their daily routines".

With Frank gaining notoriety as the "Musky Professor", Heddon Tackle Co. had him design many different musky rods. Heddon made several rods for Frank with the custom inscription "Made by Heddon Specially for Frank Suick". These custom Heddon rods were the ones he used until his death in the mid-seven-ties. Frank's largest musky was taken on a 9 inch Suick Muskie Thriller, a 46 pounder from Pelican Lake.
Frank's two sons John (Pete) and Jim took over the lure business in 1951. The original 9 inch model of the Muskie Thriller didn't takeoff until 1960. The 7 inch Thriller went into production in 1956, followed by the 4 inch in 1985, and the Super 10 inch in 1987. Today the business is operated by Frank's grandson Steve Suick. As of today, there are 17 different color combinations with the exception of the4" model, which has twelve.

Many different gamefish are caught on Suicks of all colors and sizes. In northern Minnesota and Ontario it is not only known as a top musky lure but also as a trophy northern pike producer. In the southern states many fisherman use the 7" Thriller for trophy large-mouth bass. In 1993 Suicks will be sold in England for northern pike. No matter what the gamefish species, there is a Suick that will work.
Although Frank Suick was best known as a musky hunter, his first love, he also enjoyed many other forms of fishing. Few people realize Frank enjoyed chasing trout and would often spend an entire day on the famous Wolf River with a fly rod. Bass and panfish were species he pursued with a passion during the spring before musky action began. This broad experience probably made him a better overall musky hunter.

Considering the Suick's great tradition, it seems every musky box deserves a piece of history like this famous jerkbait.