Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fuck fishing. Especially Tiger Musky.

Fuckin'skunked Lake at sunrise

There is only one lake in all of western Montana that contains Tiger Musky.  This is the only lake within 500 miles of me that contains Tigers, and this lake is only 20 minutes from where I rest my head.  Lucky me, huh?  Notsomuch.

Two winters ago, I finally got wise enough to download and study the stocking reports of the last seven years of the lakes in my area.  Had I done this research earlier, I would have found out that in 2007, they dumped a truckload of golden trout in a pond just 30 minutes from here.  The fish were destined for a mountain lake with still-inaccessable roads and so they dumped them in a pond just a mile off the highway.  Now, I've fished for goldens several times at high altitude lakes in Montana and Wyoming.  But my luck was as bad as the outdated info I was using in trying to find them, and they have remained on my species-yet-to-catch list.  In that spring of 2010 I first visited this lake with hopes of easily catching gigantic goldens.  Skunked.  I visited again in late June and found the water to already be at intolerable warmth.  This pond was simply not suitable habitat for trout, not even brown trout.  Any chance I had of catching a golden from this puddle was long gone, as those fish had had no chance of holding over.  They remain a species not crossed off my to-do list.
But what I also discovered in reading through those records was a very interesting tidbit.  In the spring of 2006, FWP planted 1000 Tiger Musky into one of my local lakes.  In doing some Googling, I learned that the planting of these sterile, trashfish-eating monsters was an attempt to bring down the number of chubs, squawfish, etc. that populated the water so that they could eventually plant trout in it.  They would systematically introduce Tigers each year, and being sterile, they wouldn't have to worry about these non-native species taking hold and eating precious trout in the future.  But there was a problem with supply.  In late 2006, the Illinois hatchery that supplied the Tigers, (and from what I understand every Tiger Musky that is manufactured), became diseased.  So no more Tigers for this lake anytime too soon.  Or any lake for that matter.  Only the survivors of the original 1000 were left to do the job.  These fish are now approximately 7 years old.  They look to me to be about 15 pounds.  But I wouldn't really know, because they don't really wanna play too closely.

I decided when I started this blog not to name the waters I fish, unless those waters were ridiculously well-known.  So I've been changing names around a bit.  Anyone who really wants to know could probably figure it out with any amount of research, though.  But this name I will call Fuckin'skunked Lake.  It's an Indian name.  Fuckin'skunked Lake is an unusual lake for this area in that it has no inlet nor outlet.  It's a pothole lake unlike the others which are generally all connected to one another by creeks or stream.  Like a cloverleaf pool, it's a hole in the ground made up of several holes, or bowls.  I have no idea how deep it is, but I suspect there are some areas that are several hundred feet deep.  The entire shoreline is very steep, and thickly wooded.  The water is cold, gin clear, and has a glacial tint coloring to it.  The water is gorgeous, and when the sun is high in the sky, you can see the white, pollen-coated floor of the lake in depths of twenty-plus feet.  It makes for some exciting sight-fishing, but as you can see them, they can most certainly see you.  To make things even more exciting, the entire shoreline is thickly covered in downed, submerged trees making for tons of habitat and even more areas for a fish to tangle your line.  Not that I've had to worry about that too much.
I've had good luck fishing Fuckin'skunked Lake for both smallmouth bass and squawfish in the early spring.  After that, though, the squawfish seem to disappear and the bass become very wary.  Only the little smallies seem to want to play later into the summer.  But it's not really bass that you fish this lake for; there's plenty of better lakes for that, and fishing clear waters for bass is difficult.  Compounding the difficulty of fishing here is that there are no weedbeds in this lake.  None.  No lillypads, either.  Without an inlet, there's no significant nutrient flows into the lake to make for a muddy bottom enough to grow plants.  Just pollen and whatever falls into the water.  So the only structure to this lake seems to be the steep, lumber yards of the shoreline; submerged fallen trees, painted in ghostly white pollens.  And it doesn't take long to find the fish when the backdrop is white.  Especially when the fish are close to four feet long and are seemingly indifferent to the boat and idiot at the helm who's literally bouncing clousers off their nose.
Up until yesterday, I've fished here for Tiger Musky maybe 15 times.  Except maybe a day or two of cloudy weather, I've always been able to sightcast to several of these monsters.  Always with the same result of complete indifference to my fly.  I am confident that, if I wanted to, I could drag a hook across one of these fish and snag 'em in the snout.  And I've thought about it.  Steelhead are known as the fish of a 1000 casts, and if you had asked me in my first few years of steelheading, I would have thought that number was grossly conservative.  Musky are known as the fish of 10,000 casts; the math indicates they are 10x harder to catch than a steelhead.  That's just stupid.  But yesterday morning things changed.
I got on the lake early, too early and too little light to spot the fish yet.  I was chucking a heavy fly and heavy sinktip along the shore into likely, dark spots along the shore.  As I was stripping it off the shore, one of those large dark spots moved a full 180, and began to follow my fly strip for strip.   My god, I finally moved one!  The initial stripping was rather slow and when I saw him, I sped it up, but he didn't follow as quickly so I paused the fly and as it dropped, he charged it!  And then he stopped.  My heart was pounding like a motherfuck!  I could feel the pulsing in the jugulars of my neck, and I couldn't help noticing that I was fucking shaking in my hands!  This was it!  "Strip strike!" I told myself, remembering NOT to set the hook with the rod.  I began stripping again and he followed, getting just offset with the fly as if eyeballing it with only his left eye, just as I have seen pike do right before they crush the fly from the side.  I thought my heart was going to explode.  This fish was a goddamn monster!  I'm guessing 15 pounds, maybe 40 inches, I don't know, but this fish was my fucking Moby Dick at that moment.  Strip strip strip strip, pause, he's charging again!  he pauses.  Excruciating shit!  It seemed to take forever, and I remember having time to begin thinking about remembering to turn on the trolling motor to get me away from those underwater logs if he decided to take my fly that direction.  My cast had been about 60 feet of line, and he had already followed for about half of that.  Any closer and he was going to notice my boat.  So I began giving the fly sharp jerks of action, but letting it dive, hoping that the Tiger would face more to the bottom than directly at the boat.  But as my fly went into seizure and dead feign, he lost interest, holding his position as my fly jerked around below the boat.  Eventually he turned and went back to his lair.  My heart thumped wildly for several more minutes as I sighed out profanities.  A fish of 10,000 "FUCK!!!!"s is more like it.  After giving it some thought, I decided against casting again to this fish.  I would have changed the fly if I tried again, but instead I decided to continue down the shoreline and look for other fish, and then come back.  I did find more fish, all indifferent, and I regretted my decision to leave a semi-(but not really)-willing fish, especially when he wasn't there when I came back. 

For some, a lifetime of fishing small brooks for willing and naive cutties or brookies is thrilling enough that they never try for a more challenging adversary.  And for others, like speyrodders slinging greased lines for steelies; like those that endure year after year of skunked trips looking for their first Belize permit; or even those who fish trout waters where 7x flouro is still considered "cable", it's the rare occurrance of catching a fish that really just shouldn't be caught that makes fishing exciting.  Things that are earned through repeated sadistic beatings somehow feel better to us.  Not catching an impossible fish trumps catching an easy one.  I get asked by friends and family and the kids I work with, "Why do you like fishing so much?"  And I used to have trouble answering this question  in a way that felt right to me.  That is, until I realized, I don't actually like fishing.  I mean, obviously I do at some level.  But I don't enjoy fishing as much as, for some reason, I like to create problems for myself and then try and solve them.  Or not.  And like it or not, that's what fishing is to me now.