I’ve Still Got It!

Come adventure with the Wildman

I’ve Still Got It!

Fishing Guide Minnesota

On a sunny October morning, I woke with a mental dilemma. Hunting, or fishing? Such is often the case for me, and it’s been that way for my entire life – for I enjoy both nearly equally (hunting has the edge) and especially on a day such as this, something in me feels torn: I want to do both.

Decisions, decisions. I opened my computer and looked at the weather – for today, and the ten-day forecast. I thought about what I had done the previous week. About what I would do this week, and the next.

The previous day was also stellar, and I had taken my Gordon Setter Sam out for long hike and scout in the Northwoods. We had flushed a number of ruffed grouse and woodcock, and had managed to down a few. As is often the case, I was still feeling the effects of the exertions of the day before – so I finally decided that I’d give my body, and Sam’s body, a rest. Instead of hunting again, we’d take my “puddlejumper” – a 14-foot jon boat with a 20 horse Yamaha – to a nearby lake. I decided that I wanted to see the changing leaves from the perspective of the water, before the wind came up and they all came tumbling down. I also wanted to catch some largemouth bass before they went mostly dormant for the winter. A big bonus would be to see a musky – though I had no expectations to catch one.

I dug out my phone and called Colton… a young man who I have mentored since he was very young, and who I thought might be able to accompany me on a short-notice excursion such as this.

I grabbed my iPhone and dialed him up.

“Master Tim!”
It’s something Colton calls me – an inside joke that I won’t go into. “Colton-Me-Boy!”, I said, with my best Irish accent, and as loudly as I could.

After our typical greetings, I was thrilled to learn that I would have company. We agreed to meet at my house.

When Colton arrived, we finished loading up, and headed for Cedar Lake – a very interesting lake just down the road from where I love. I call it “The Gull Lake of Aitkin County.” It has stretches of very desirable shoreline which are developed with upscale houses. Other stretches of shoreline have swamp, wilderness, older cabins, and a great chance at seeing deer, ducks, geese, or otter. The lake is made up of bays, channels, islands, and underwater structure. Beneath the surface swims bass, pike, walleye, panfish, rough fish, and best of all – musky. I hadn’t caught one in over a decade, and hoped to at least see one on this day.

I thought to myself how things had changed in my life, and in my mind. I used to be a multi-species fishing guide in Minnesota, and muskies were my specialty… something I helped my guests to catch on a regular basis. But ten years ago – I had switched gears to become a saltwater guide for salmon in Alaska, and I hadn’t been back to Minnesota to fish during the summer since the summer of 2013.

Absence from something for that long sometimes has a way of shaking the confidence. Had things changed? Was the fishing still good on Cedar? Were fish populations good? Were fish still in the same places eating the same things? Would I still have what it takes to figure out how to fish successfully here?

I decided that all I could do was do my best. That, and not get too far ahead of myself. I’ve learned it’s best to remain in the present moment, and enjoy life to the fullest potential in the here and now.

Colton and I small talked the ten-odd miles to the lake, catching up on the goings-on since the last time we’d talked. When we pulled into the lot, we discovered that we’d be one of two boats on the lake – something I enjoy in the fall, as most sportsmen are working on their yards, houses, are hunting, or preparing for the upcoming deer season. Others are family men, or might be watching a ballgame – but in any event, it tends to weed out the competition – and that’s alright by me.

Speaking of competition – Colton and I do our fair share of trash talk, and it had already begun.

“How about a little fishing tournament, Master Tim?” says Colton.

“I’ll out-fish your ass, Colton-Me-Boy!” I replied.

Sometimes I’m a bad influence, but it got me a good laugh and eye roll… just what I was looking for.

We usually have three categories: most fish, biggest fish, most species. The one with the most species is awarded the honor of being “The Species King.”

I put on one of my favorite lures – a chartreuse spinnerbait with a single, colorado blade. I wanted largemouth bass the most – something I regularly dreamed about since I had left for Alaska (I’d only recently returned). But I also knew that I might catch almost anything on a spinnerbait. Colton began twitching a weedless worm through the slop, and bullrushes that abound along the shoreline, near the access.

In less than ten minutes, I was hooked up with a 16-inch largemouth that hit me deep in the reeds. The water was cold, and after some half-hearted attempts at jumping – I kept the bass near the surface and slid it to the boat. Sam-dog was along, and he tackled the bass as I swung it into the boat.

“One-zip, potlicker!” I said, as I egged Colton on. He gave me a look that assured me that he was not worried.

Until a few casts later, when I hooked and landed a nice northern pike – which I slid on the stringer for dinner.

“That makes most fish, biggest fish, AND Species King!” I declared.

Still unworried, Colton switched to a suspending Rapala Husky Jerk in blue, orange and silver.

A few casts later, a high-thirties/low-forties musky followed my spinnerbait to the boat; I attempted some circling – a technique I’ve had more luck with than the traditional “figure 8” – but after the first corner, the musky disappeared into the dark water. Still, I believed the fish was hot enough that we might be able to trick it into biting at a later time – so Colton and I made plans to fish a nearby spot for a half hour, and then return and try the musky again.

A deep weed line was nearby – one that I knew used to be good in the fall for bass and pike – so we headed there. I set up a drift, so that I wouldn’t have to be bothered by having to use the motor – giving me more opportunity to fish. I alternated using one rod with a Kevin VanDamm Sexy Frog, and the other with my proven spinnerbait. Colton used the Rapala, and a deep running jig with plastic. We were searching with baits that would cover the water from the surface down to twelve feet, both slowly, and fast.

“Got one!” Colton hollered, and soon he was slipping in a pike on the jig and plastic.

Then… “Boom… Screw You!” Colton screamed as he hooked up again – this time with a bass that soon revealed itself by jumping.

“Oh no! I’m no longer The Species King… we’re tied” I offered, by stating the obvious… my way of encouraging Colton, while keeping track.

Further back into the bay, I went into the deep, shallow slop with the frog – hoping that the water would be warm enough that a bass might still be willing to eat a topwater. The bulrushes were green, but turning yellow/brown. The forest was a mixture of maple, oak, ash, and underbrush – the yellows, greens, reds and oranges of the season illuminated by the sunlight – the kind of jazzed-up color you’d expect to see if you turned up the color intensity on your television. Some leaves flittered about in the breeze; others had come to rest on the lakes surface, and skittered from left to right on the breeze – ends turned up like mini sailboats.

A pair of wood ducks sprung from beneath an overhanging willow tree – making Colton and I wish we had brought a shotgun.

Soon I became satisfied that the bass weren’t going to hit a topwater. “What do you say we go try that musky again?” I offered.

“I’ve never caught a musky before Master Tim. I’d really like to. What do you think I should use?” Colton asked.

I dug through my tackle box, and dug out an old favorite – a black “Showgirl” made by Musky Mayhem Tackle. The black tinseled bait had size six double- nickel blades.

“I want you to catch it Colton, even if it does make you “The Species King.” I said. “Cast from here at numerous angles. I will circle the area where we last saw it. Keep it high in the water column, and moving fast. If you get a strike, set the hook HARD! And if it follows to the boat, lean out, keep the bait in the water, the blades moving – and draw a big circle and play keep-away.”

Colton did everything I said. At one point, he had a strike, but it was only another pike. We never saw that musky again.

We moved from spot to spot. Colton kept trying different baits – all artificial. As is typical for me, I went back to my chartreuse spinnerbait, and stuck with it.

The fishing tournament see-sawed back and forth. We kept catching more largemouth bass and pike, and the leader for most fish changed several times. Colton caught a really nice bass in the 3.5 pound class. Then the next cast, another strike.

“It’s a walleye! Species King!” screamed Colton.
Annoyed, but liking a good challenge, I wondered how I was going to beat that?

“Put that spiny-golden-carp on the stringer… Granny, Joe and I are gonna eat that one for supper.” I joked.

The bay we were in was 15-20 feet deep in the middle, and lined with rushes which came out in a series of points jutting out into the deeper water. The rushes had clumps of cabbage mixed in – a great combination for predators.

I tried to prepare my fishing partner by saying: “Be ready in here, Colton. When I used to fish this lake often, I’d see musky here on a regular basis.”

Two casts later – I saw a huge flash under water. A split second later, I saw the spinnerbait disappear, and felt the weight of the fish when my rod loaded up.

“Musky!” I yelled excitedly.
Colton quickly reeled in and put his rod down. “Where’s the net?” He asked.

“Oops… I’m afraid I didn’t bring one.” I said, not too worried. It was an oversight on my part – but I wasn’t worried about losing the fish. If I did, it was no big deal to me. The fun was in the hookup, seeing the fish, and playing it up to the boat. Getting hands on it, and photos is fun – but not a necessity for me.

I was putting as much pressure on the fish as I could, trying to keep it near the surface – so it wouldn’t get buried down in the thick weeds – but, one can only do so much with a light bass rig.

“Well, what are we gonna do?” Colton asked.

“I’m gonna hand-land him, Colton-Me-Boy” I replied. It had been awhile, but I wasn’t too worried about it. Then main thing is not to get bit!

When I got the fish to deeper water, I moved the boat out away from the weeds, and kept it there. The fish took multiple runs and ripped out drag; we both oo’ed and aw’ed at the power of the fish. It probably took ten minutes or less, and the fish began to tire. When it came alongside the boat, I held the rod in my right hand, and tried for the fish with my left – but missed. A second time I tried, came close, but the thick fish wiggled away again. On the third try, I slipped my left hand under the fish’s left jaw, clamped on hard, and lifted it into the boat – supporting the fish’s middle with my right had after I had set down the pole.

For the reader – this is no small task. Many a big fish is lost when the net is forgotten, or when you are forced to hand-land it.

Quickly, I dished out some orders. I didn’t want to stress the fish by keeping it out of the water for too long.

Here’s my phone Colton. Lets get a few photos fast. Lets plan to get the fish back in the water within 30 seconds.”

I posed with the beautiful, green, thick fish – and held it horizontally. Colton snapped a few photos, confirmed that he had them, and I slid the fish back in the water to revive it and watch it swim away (one of my favorite parts.)

Colton exclaimed – “Wow – now I really want to catch one of those!”

“I want you to get one too. Lets try” I returned. “But don’t forget that we are tied for “The Species King”, and now I have the biggest fish by far!” That was gonna be hard to beat.

Our focus switched to Musky, and we went from favorite spot to favorite spot. We continued to catch numerous pike and bass – but no more musky or walleye bit.

Supper time was coming, and both of our bellies were growling from hunger. I had promised Granny (my mom) that I’d be home with fish for dinner – so it was time to go.

The tournament was a split. Big fish for me. Most fish for Colton. Tie for “The Species King.” Overall, we enjoyed a great fall day on the lake – a fun subject to share for a first blog post.

I invite you to come with me on one of those adventures.

Have question? Call Tim
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