Everything Went Wrong
By Craig Sandell © 2008

It was September 1st, 2005 and the beginning of my fall trip to the Chippewa Flowage. After opening my trailer and getting the boat in the water the night before, I was ready to hit the water and cast my lot on the water along with the other Musky anglers who haunt the trailer court at Indian Trail Resort (the trailer court is commonly referred to as "The Hill" for obvious reasons.)

The advantage of being a semi-local is that one gets the odd bit of information about fish patterns, effective baits and the places where fish have been seen. It’s kind of like being in a Musky club…but not really.

I slept in and greeted the day about 7:30 am. I went over to R & R Bayview to renew old friendships and enjoy a FREE Bloody Mary with breakfast.

By the time I got back to Indian Trail Resort, the wind had picked up and was blowing out of the West at about 25 miles per hour. By all of the conventional wisdom, Musky are more likely than not to be on the move when the wind is up…the down side is that you have to fight the wind when casting as well as deal with the question of boat control. Unfortunately, some times we find ourselves spending more time engaging boat control in a heavy wind than actually fishing.

I took a look at my fishing diary under ‘productive areas for windy days’ and found a spot that had yielded a 42" and a 38" fish on a bucktail. The area had a large expanse of open water with an adjacent shoreline of reeds and rocks.

I set off on the hunt about 8:45 am and by 9:00 I was casting a black bucktail with a green blade, searching for the fish that history dictated was likely to be there.

The wind was howling at 25 – 30 mph and I decided to do a wind drift over the large expanse of water that preceded the approach to the shoreline of reeds and rocks. I had my front trolling motor down, but I was only using it to make minor corrections to the wind drift.

As I reached a 12’ trench that emptied onto the large sloping flat of the shoreline, I was going to motor the boat back around and do another drift. I was still pretty far from the shoreline, so the rocky shoreline posed no real threat…I decided to make a few more casts toward the shoreline. This would have my bucktail being cast up on the shoreline shelf and retrieved over the 12’ trench. On the second cast toward the shoreline, the bucktail stopped and I set the hook. The fish hit about 25 feet from the boat and, as is typical with most bucktail fish in deep water, it stayed down as I tried to coax it to the boat with a tight line.

The wind was howling and relentlessly pushing my 18’ tri-hull toward the rocky shore but I didn’t have time to worry about that…I had a fish on the line.

I could feel the fish thrashing below the surface as I steadily took advantage of every opportunity to bring it closer to the boat. Finally, the fish’s head and shoulders broke the surface. I gasped as I saw a lot of head and shoulder beef and thought to myself, "This is a big fish." As the rest of the body came to the surface, I could see that the fish wasn’t the beast that I originally thought it to be…it was just a beefy Chippewa Flowage fish about 40 inches long.

It was then that everything started to get ugly. The surface light caused the fish to make a run and strip some line off the reel…he relaxed, and then made another run, but this time no line was coming off the reel. I tried to adjust the star drag to lessen the tension but about that time a white cap slapped the side of the boat causing me to lurch forward…when that happened, the line went slack just long enough to loop back on the reel and wrap itself around the star drag and reel handle.

Well, here I was with a green fish and no way to give it line or reel in line. I was forced to follow the fish around the boat as I tried to extricate the tangle of line from the drag and reel handle…I was sure that the fish was going to get off. Now the wind was still pushing the boat toward the rock populated shoreline and I could now hear the splash of the white caps as they crashed against the rocks.

By some unknown set of circumstances, I was able to free the line and I was back in the fight…that is until I realized that the back treble hook of the bucktail was hung up on the shaft of the front trolling motor…I was now sure that this fish was going to be history. I looked at the fish "making love" to the trolling motor and a feeling of helplessness rose in my soul. About that time another white cap slapped the boat and the rolling action freed the fish from the trolling motor…I was back in the fight again.

After a couple more attempts to escape, and a few more feet closer to the shoreline, the fish was ready to be netted. I reached down with one hand to grab the net while keeping my rod high and line tight with the other hand when the rolling motion of the boat caused another rod in the boat to bounce and its reel became tangled in the bag of the net. Upon seeing this, my heart sank into what I can only describe as despair. After all of the ups and downs of this battle, I was going to lose this fish to a freak net tangle. I had to attend to the net but I also had to keep fighting the fish and during all of this the wind kept driving me closer to the rocks of the shoreline. After what seemed like 10 minutes, (it was really only a couple) the net was free and at the ready as I guided the nose of the fish into the bag…The fish was in the net, but there was no time to relax or celebrate. The rocks were dangerously close and I still had to get the lure out of the fish’s face, get the fish from the net, measure it, snap a photo and then release it.

As I leaned over the side of the boat, I could see the faint outline of rocks under the surface. The lure came free from the fish but the fish had the net embrangled in his mouth and teeth. I had no choice but to lift the fish and net out of the water and bring the fish in the boat (something that I don’t like to do because it really stresses the fish). I got the net out of the fish’s mouth after receiving a tooth puncture or two and measured it at 39 inches.

I could now hear the spring on my ‘all terrain’ trolling motor groaning as the wind pushed me onto the rocky shallows…no time for a photo…the fish had to be released NOW…so over the side it went. The stress of the fight and the landing meant that the revival of the fish was going to take a bit longer. I held it upright and tried to move water over its gills to revive it…the spray of the waves hitting the rocks was splashing me in the face…the trolling motor spring was groaning and during all of this, I had to raise the boat motor to fend off prop damage from the rocks.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the fish swam lazily off leaving me to deal with a howling wind and a boat in peril. I managed to use a paddle to get me enough slack to raise the front trolling motor. That done, I set about trying to turn this 18’ slab sided boat against the wind to get enough water under me to allow me to redeploy the front trolling motor and power me off the shoreline. Adrenalin is a wonderful thing and it was pure adrenalin that gave me the manpower to do what I had to do to put some distance between myself and the perilous shoreline.

Once I was out in deep water, I had my first chance to savor the adventure of the catch and reflect on how lucky I had been to catch this fish and avoid damage to my boat…I powered back to Indian Trail Resort, registered my fish, had a beer and went up to my trailer for a well deserved rest.

Tight Lines