Fishing Muskellunge - Outdoor Skills
Fishing Muskellunge - Outdoor Skills
Fishing for muskellunge, pickerel, and bass, is quite another thing, though by many valued as a sport scarcely inferior to fly-fishing for trout. I claim no especial skill with the fly-rod. It is a good day when I get my tail fly more than fifteen yards beyond the reel, with any degree of accuracy.
My success lies mainly with the tribes of Esox and Micropterus. Among these, I have seldom or never failed during the last thirty-six years, when the water was free of ice; and I have had just as good luck when big-mouthed bass and pickerel were in the "off season," as at any time. For in many waters there comes a time—in late August and September—when neither bass nor pickerel will notice the spoon, be it handled never so wisely. Even the muskellunge looks on the flashing cheat with indifference; though a very hungry specimen may occasionally immolate himself. It was at such a season that I fished High Bank Lake—as before mentioned—catching from forty to fifty pounds of fine fish every morning for nearly two weeks, after the best local fishermen had assured me that not a decent sized fish could be taken at that season. Perhaps a brief description of the modes and means that have proved invariably successful for many years may afford a few useful hints, even to old anglers.
To begin with, I utterly discard all modern "gangs" and "trains," carrying from seven to thirteen hooks each. They are all too small, and all too many; better calculated to scratch and tear, than to catch and hold. Three hooks are enough at the end of any line, and better than more. These should be fined or honed to a perfect point, and the abrupt part of the barb filed down one-half. All hooks, as usually made, have twice as much barb as they should have; and the sharp bend of the barb prevents the entering of the hook in hard bony structures, wherefore the fish only stays hooked so long as there is a taut pull on the line. A little loosening of the line and one shake of the head sets him free. But no fish can shake out a hook well sunken in mouth or gills, though two-thirds of the barb be filed away.
For muskellunge or pickerel I invariably use wire snells made as follows: Lay off four or more strands of fine brass wire 13 inches long; turn one end of the wires smoothly over a No. i iron wire, and work the ends in between the strands below. Now, with a pair of pincers hold the ends, and, using No. i as a handle, twist the ends and body of the snell firmly together; this gives the loop; next, twist the snell evenly and strongly from end to end. Wax the end of the snell thoroughly for two or three inches, and wax the tapers of two strong Sproat or O'Shaughnessy hooks, and wind the lower hook on with strong, waxed silk, to the end of the taper; then lay the second hook at right angles with the first, and one inch above it; wind this as the other, and then fasten a third and smaller hook above that for a lip hook. This gives a snell about one foot in length, with the two lower hooks standing at right angles, one above the other, and a third and smaller hook in line with the second.
The bait is the element of success; it is made as follows: Slice off a clean, white pork rind, four or five inches long, by an inch and a half wide; lay it on a board, and, with a sharp knife cut it as nearly to the shape of a frog as your ingenuity permits. Prick a slight gash in the head to admit the lip hook, which should be an inch and a half above the second one, and see that the fork of the bait rests securely in the barb of the middle hook.
Use a stout bait-rod and strong line. Fish from a boat, with a second man to handle the oars, if convenient. Let the oarsman lay the boat ten feet inside the edge of the lily-pads, and make your cast, say, with thirty feet of line; land the bait neatly to the right, at the edge of the lily-pads, let it sink a few inches, and then with the tip well lowered, bring the bait around on a slight curve by a quick succession of draws, with a momentary pause between each; the object being to imitate as nearly as possible a swimming frog. If this be neatly done, and if the bait be made as it should be, at every short halt the legs will spread naturally, and the imitation is perfect enough to deceive the most experienced bass or pickerel. When half a dozen casts to right and left have been made without success, it is best to move on, still keeping inside and casting outside the lily pads.
A pickerel of three pounds or more will take in all three hooks at the first snap; and, as he closes his mouth tightly and starts for the bottom, strike quickly, but not too hard, and let the boatman put you out into deep water at once, where you are safe from the strong roots of the yellow lily.
It is logically certain your fish is well hooked. You cannot pull two strong, sharp hooks through that tightly closed mouth without fastening at least one of them where it will do most good. Oftener both will catch, and it frequently happens that one hook will catch each lip, holding the mouth nearly closed, and shortening the struggles of a large fish very materially. On taking off a fish, and before casting again, see that the two lower hooks stand at right angles. If they have got turned in the struggle you can turn them to any angle you like; the twisted wire is stiff enough to hold them in place. Every angler knows the bold, determined manner in which the muskellunge strikes his prey. He will take in bait and hooks at the first dash, and if the rod be held, stiffly, usually hooks himself. Barring large trout, he is the king of game fish. The big-mouthed bass is less savage in his attacks, but is a free biter. He is apt to come up behind and seize the bait about two-thirds of its length, turn, and bore down for the bottom. He will mostly take in the lower hooks, however, and is certain to get fastened. His large mouth is excellent for retaining the hook.
Sears, George Washington. Woodcraft. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing, 1884.
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