DETROIT LAKES, MINN. - Readers of this vaunted column are keenly aware of this author's quest to hook, net and boat a large muskellunge. To date, and we're talking about a period of years now, the effort has proven miserably fruitless.
The legendary "fish of 10,000 casts" is rapidly approaching one in a million, perhaps more. No muskie has been hoisted from the lake by the sturdy arms of this dedicated angler, this despite an untiring effort that has worn out line, lures, elbows and a vast assortment of fishing equipment - all to no avail. Therefore, it is with a great deal of angst that I am about the reveal the absolute truth about a recent event that proved both fortunate and unfortunate. If you'll quit glancing at the accompanying photograph of that huge muskie, I'll explain in detail.
For background purposes and for those yet uninformed about this author's muskie quest, let me share with you what many refer to as a "bucket list." Mine looks like this:
Kelli Fundingsland, Minot, with a 46-inch, 30-plus pound muskie pulled from Big Detroit Lake, Minn. Now please quit gawking and staring at this photograph and read the official details from the accompanying column.
1. Catch big muskie.
2. Catch big muskie.
3. Catch big muskie.
4. Catch big muskie.
I'd continue, but there's no change from five through 100. I don't remember, or even care, what 101 is. I'm still concentrating, albeit considered utter foolishness by some, on number one.
Please, dear reader, quit looking at that previously mentioned photograph. I need your attention here. I know you understand. What follows is vital knowledge about a monster fish that cannot be obtained anywhere else than a Herman Melville novel, except Melville's fish was white and suspiciously fictitious. My story is reality.
On the Friday past, times two, I set forth with boat in tow for Big Detroit Lake, Minn. It marked my third venture to the much heralded muskie haven, all for the purpose of hooking one of those angry beasts and securing a lifetime of gloating rights among my fellow anglers. Humble is a term reserved for fishermen who never catch anything.
My daughter asked to make the trip. It was Father's Day weekend and I readily agreed. I did so despite knowing she can catch fish in a parking lot and has been known to outfish her father in the past. Still, I reasoned, these were muskies and she was about a zillion casts behind my pursuit of the toothy predators. There was just no way I could be upstaged again. Impossible.
Confident in my superior muskie angling skills, I welcomed her help to load and unload the boat. I also instructed her on the proper use of the camera so that she could capably record my crowning achievement for angling history.
Please. Please, dear reader, quit glancing at that photograph and read on. Thank you.
Upon arriving at Big Detroit, I backed the boat down the ramp and my daughter made a successful launch. I parked the tow vehicle and began a rather lengthy walk back to the dock. In the meantime, she remained parked in the boat about 200 yards away, walking from one side of the boat and then to the other. Must be motor trouble, I figure. Nope.
She starts the boat and drives it to the dock. As soon as she was within hearing range she begins jabbering and gesturing about a "grossly humongous fish" that swam under the boat and that she didn't know what to do. I, however, being a calm and cool muskie hunter, knew precisely what needed to be done. It would also be, I reasoned, a perfect opportunity to teach her a few muskey tricks utilized by the masters.
Hey! You are looking at that picture again! Please let me continue.
Calling upon my vast muskie wisdom accumulated from watching numerous fishing shows and from reading countless books and magazines devoted to the subject, I eased my reliable craft to the area where the muskie sighting occurred. It was cabbage weeds, something real muskie hunters eat for lunch. Numerous sunfish and young bass could be seen swimming amongst the cabbage. Perfect!
I employed the most clever of tactics possible, but to no avail. I didn't eat any cabbage for lunch either. Instead, after an hour of fruitless failing with a myriad of terrific presentations, I made the decision to leave the area in favor of other places that provided me with similar misery during previous visits to the lake. Some would say the results were predictable, but I stayed with the muskie fisherman's code of not knowing when to give up. Then I gave up, at least on those locations.
I recalled another credo in the muskie fisherman's code - just prior to sunset always return to the spot where a muskie was sighted previously. This I did, and explained to my daughter the reason why. She asked what she should use and I handed her a large spinnerbait that I was about to snap onto my leader. I grabbed something else, a monkey-puke obliterator, I believe. Muskie lures have great names.
Anyway, it was with a great deal of certainty and anticipation that I twirled that lure towards my mark. If that previously sighted muskie was there, I'd surely catch it. Then my daughter yells, "Dad, I've got him!" As I said previously, the details of this story are both fortunate and unfortunate.
As the big fish swirls at the surface and then dives alongside the boat, it becomes obvious the thing is about the size of Connecticut. After an iffy and testy tussle I get the muskie's head in the net. That was about all that would fit. Geez, that thing was big! As a dad I was very happy. As a fisherman I was very jealous.
A boat came by to take pictures as daughter Kelli was holding that monster. We made a successful release too, then returned to the dock. It seems several people were watching the whole thing from shore, one of whom said to me, "You netted that thing, huh. Who caught it?"
I had to suppress my real feelings, which was to cut him up for bait right where he stood, and managed a phoney, but polite reply, stating that I did net it and it was my daughter who caught it.
"So she's a darn good muskie fisherman, huh?" he said. "We all watched it. Good work with the net."
I can't write what I was thinking. Cripes, I can barely type these lines now just thinking about that guy.
So now Kelli is a Minnesota Master Angler, has her fish on the beloved Musky Hunter website, is getting congratulatory e-mails from everywhere imaginable, and Dad remains without a single muskie to his name.
On the way home we stop for a couple of hours to fish Devils Lake and she yanks out a catch-and-release-club white bass, another first.
All of this was great, of course, but I fear it has caused irreparable harm to my fishing ego. I can't stop looking at the picture either. I hope that someday I will be in one, too, and I don't mean with the net!