In the pale light of morning, the 18-foot boat was launched into the quiet, slow-moving, shallow muddy water. With rods, tackle, and the days provisions organized, the 40-hp jet drive Mercury had us speeding up river. Bald eagles, cormorants, ducks and other birds flew off as we interrupted their early morning riverside rituals. Coming to a stop off to the side and downriver of a small riffle, the boat was anchored in 14-inches of water.
Viewing the pool below the riffle, I started casting across the pool and working the lure upstream in 5-foot intervals to make sure I brought the lure across every inch of water where a fish could lie in wait.
Cast 101, then 102, then another and another … nothing! Every time, that 6-inch crankbait would hit the water with a loud splash, my anticipation of a hard strike rose.
“When it hits the water, start reeling and reel fast” Guide Jimmy Kirkland said.
I was losing count on how many casts I had taken that morning. These were not included in the casts I had taken on this trip last year. I did get bit once last year, so should I start counting all over again, I don’t know. I was just happy to be there fishing for musky just a short drive from my home and with my good friend Jim again.
Cast “number something or another” hit the water and I turned the handle of the reel as fast as I could to get the large wooden crankbait to swim with that extreme erratic action needed; just over top of the dark water that revealed the drop off of the pool.
Suddenly, the lure came to an abrupt halt and the line went tight. Instinct took over and I pulled as hard as I could on the rod to set the hooks of the lure into what I hoped was a bony jaw.
Within a fraction of a second I could feel the head shakes of something very large and angry; a giant olive missile erupted from the water and made a hard run trying to dislodge the lure and get to the safety of deep water. I would not allow that to happen, I had waited too long to finally get into a pure-bred musky to let it get away.
Three more leaps into the air, one with a full cartwheel, I was able to gain leverage on the toothy fish and guide it toward the net. Obviously, the fish did not like the looks of the man with the net. I’ll not judge Jimmy’s appearance, but the fish took off on a long run that made the reel scream so something obviously startled it.
Holding tight with the rod tip held high in anticipation of another jump, the thick, green torpedo dug deep and regained all of the line I had put back on the reel.
After a few more attempts to put distance between me and himself, the fish tired enough to get its head turned and I was able to guide the fish into the net. Success at last, my first pure-bred trophy musky measured 46-inches and its estimated weight was 15-pounds … take one more item off my bucket list.
The fish of a thousand casts came to me well under the thousand cast count, just a few hours from Fulton County, and within 25 minutes of launching the boat.
My desire for musky goes way back. A few years ago, Dick Bumpus won a trip to Ottawa, Canada with Guide Musky Joe. I went with him and we fished all day raising just one musky to the boat, no hook ups despite trolling for hours.
Bumpy caught a nice northern pike, we saw amazing scenery of the Ottawa River and tributaries, and met some terrific Canadian fishermen, so the trip was a huge success despite no musky.
Now, I was fishing in my backyard and landing a giant fish here makes it even more meaningful.
The pure-bred muskellunge — Esox masquinongy — is also called the muskelunge, muscallonge, milliganong, and maskinonge. Whatever you want to call it, the largest member of the pike family (Esox), is just pure adrenalin and undisputed beauty. The varied colors of olive, green, yellow, brown and gold are unique to this species and make it one that needs to be held in hand to fully appreciate its savage beauty.
Long pearly teeth that resemble that of a crocodile, let you know that once it has prey in that big mouth, its not getting away. Everything from small mammals; including muskrat and birds, reptiles and amphibians are all on its list to eat. It’s no wonder they grow so big.
Art Lawton has the state record with a fish he caught in 1957 from the St. Lawrence that weighed 69 pounds, 15 ounces. The current IGFA world record hales from Wisconsin by Cal Johnsson. In 1949, Cal weighed in a 67-pound 8 oz. fish that measured 60.25 inches. The Lawton fish was never weighed in on a “certified” scale so its rank as number 1 in the world could be disputed, who knew back then?
According to the DEC, there are two native muskie types or “strains” that occur in New York state, the Great Lakes strain and the Ohio River strain. The Great Lakes strain is found in the St. Lawrence River and tributaries, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the Niagara River. These populations are self-sustaining.
Ohio River strain fish are native to the Allegheny River watershed but have been introduced to the Lake Champlain, Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds.
Jimmy’s knowledge and experience in this south-central New York water is second to none and he knows where these true trophy’s lie.
In 33 trips this year, Jimmy’s clients landed 32 and hooked into 45 muskies. This type of fishing isn’t for everyone. Casting large, 6-to-9 inch crank baits, stick baits, huge spinner-baits, and casting long feathered flies are what you can expect. No sitting back trolling on these trips, this fishing is for those who like to be active and work hard all day. Working the lures fast and getting the action needed to ignite a strike is demanding and will tire the arms and in fact, the whole body. Using heavy rods and reels spooled with 80 pound braid and 100 pound leader, keep the fish on once they’re hooked, most of the time.
Time of year, water temperature, air temperature, flow rates of the river, and water clarity are all factored into fishing for muskies. Jimmy runs his trips in central New York anywhere from Memorial Day through early September. Days that are optimal to fish are selected based on all of those factors and conditions. That might seam odd, but it maximizes the opportunity to get onto musky and his trips are limited.
Since muskies are Apex predators and their numbers are relatively low, Jim’s trips are catch-and-release only. This helps preserve the numbers of fish and maintain the sustainable fishery. Based on his catch record, I’d say he’s going to make a trip worthwhile.
If you’re interested in booking a musky trip with Jimmy, call him at (607) 239-7861 or send him a note at [email protected]. Jimmy is a regular at the ADK Outdoorsman Show at the Moose Club in Johnstown, so catch up with him there. He will be on the Salmon River drifting in his boat for salmon, steelhead, and brown trout and if you want to catch 30 lb. king salmon and big steelies, give him a shout. I’m sure he’ll be glad to get you out on the river this fall.