Aliens! That's it. Aliens. Something other-worldly. Something resembling an illicit co-mingling of an alligator and a python with a bifurcated tail. A quarry potentially three-quarters the size of myself, full of bad attitude and a reputation of trying to bite you even as you attempt a release. We're not talking biting gums with a few rough spots to hold their prey. We're talking some serious dental work that can cut you deep, wide and frequent. This is the apex predator in these parts. Nothing, absolutely nothing scares these critters, not even when they're hooked on the end of your line, thrashing in your net. That's not fear motivating them, it's downright meanness and they are mightily offended that you had the audacity to interrupt their plans for that day. We are talking, ladies and gentlemen, about the fish of 10,000 casts. Esox masquinongy. Muskellunge, more commonly referred to simply as musky.
The genesis of this escapade was some young friends whom I sort of mentored along their fly fishing way in life a few years back. How they came to be obsessed with stalking only those finned creatures of legendary disappointment I do not know. The fact is, these days they're chasing either steelhead or musky. Ordinary trout, bass or bluegill have long since been cast aside for the unquenchable desire to fish only for those species no one catches on a regular basis. As young as these guys still are, they've each got, on average, over 15 years of fly fishing experience but it's almost as if they skipped some of the stages we mere mortal anglers go through. You remember, you want to catch a fish, then you want to catch a lot of fish. Soon you want to catch a big fish which progresses into a desire to catch a specific big fish that requires a higher level of skill and then, finally, you want to catch the fish that no one else can catch. I don't recall these guys going through some of these interim stages. You should only desire those final two stages after a long life of fishing.
Yet, here we were. Me right in there with them, wolfing down a gas station pork chop biscuit in the dark and cold while launching our boats. Anticipation was high, but it always is with folks of this persuasion. If you don't think every cast to these prehistoric monsters could be THE cast of the trip, then you don't belong here. Perpetual optimism is mandatory. You don't count catches in this game. You count follows and hook ups. Hoping the end of the day has you with at least one in one of the categories. Seriously, it's like sighting an Ivory Billed Woodpecker!
I leaned into that Winston rod like a roping horse into a calf and nothing was happening. I couldn't budge the big fish so I leaned hard to my right trying to move it sideways rather than upstream. The fish didn't like that at all and began taking line from a seriously cranked down Abel Super 9. As it swam toward a log jam, I leaned harder but noticed the line as it curved around a mid-stream boulder. "This ain't gonna be good." flashed through my mind. Seconds later the line went slack. My heart rate still pumping steadily at around 175, 180. And all is quiet. I can hear the swoosh of blood in my ears. My fingers are no longer cold. I have no desires right now other than just one more chance to do it right.
The consensus of the once screaming groupies was 35 to 40 inches at least. I'm good with that. It was over in the blink of an eye but, strangely, it's still with me. I can still feel that unbelievably heavy pull. Unlike anything I've tussled with since those 20 pound sea run brown trout at the end of the world in Tierra del Fuego. It was that kind of essence with which I was briefly connected. It was as if my first contact suddenly became an unforgettable part of my being. Like my fishing life changed abruptly right then in less than a couple of minutes. Like, like I've got to do this again some time soon. Have my new young mentors warped my life the way I once warped theirs? They do crazy things to have a shot at connecting with these fish. Is this what I have to look forward to?