The “Bass Bait Bummer”
James R. Aist
“Things aren’t always as they seem.” – Carl Hurley, Kentucky humorist
This is a true “fish story”, I swear it! By that I mean this really happened, believe me.
I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin at the time, and my wife and I decided to take a summer vacation of hiking, canoeing and fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area just north of the Wisconsin border. I was an avid fisherman and couldn’t wait to get my “hooks” into a monster muskie up there. With eager anticipation, I brought along a light-weight, collapsible gig (a three-pronged spear, as it were) just in case the muskie was too big to land with my light-weight fishing line. As you will see, that scenario developed alright, just not as I had expected.
We launched our canoe at the first lake and portaged from the end of that lake to the second lake. There I decided to fish for an hour or so before we pitched our tent and retired for the night. It was a bit windy, so we were going to have to paddle upwind, fish as the wind drove us back, and repeat, repeatedly. It was a small lake with a bluff and weed bed on the far side, and I surmised that, if there were any muskies to be had, they would be lurking in or near the weed bed. So we launched the canoe, and I started fishing as we paddled toward the weed bed. To my surprise, on the second cast I had the most powerful strike ever! This fish fought harder and longer than any other fish I had ever hooked. I could tell that it wasn’t a muskie when it surfaced, and it wasn’t a large-mouth bass either. When I got it landed, I could see that it was a good-sized, small-mouth bass. That’s when I had a vision of frying it for dinner that night! After hooking this fish onto my stringer and lowering it into the water to keep it alive for later, we continued to paddle toward the weed bed.
When we were sufficiently upwind and near the weed bed, I began casting toward the weed bed as we drifted downwind, pulling the bass along in the water as we went. I got 4-5 casts in before we had to paddle upwind again, with no muskie. Each time we drifted downwind to fish, the bass would get tangled up in a few weeds, so we had to pause to free it. After the third pass alongside the weed bed without any sign of a muskie, I noticed that the bass had gotten entangled by a clump of weeds much wider and longer than before. So we paused once more to free up the bass, and that’s when I took a closer look at the clump of weeds. Suddenly, it occurred to me that this was not a clump of weeds at all. It was a huge muskie, about three feet long, that had chomped down on the bass we were dragging in the water! I was shocked, and it took me a few moments to figure out what to do next, without spooking the muskie and causing him to release the bass. I wanted to land both of them, but how could I possibly get the muskie in the boat without spooking him?
Well, that’s when I remembered the gig I had brought with me. Perhaps I could spear him with it and lift him in. So I began to carefully and quietly assemble the pieces of the shaft. Then I leaned carefully over the edge of the canoe, lowered the gig slowly into the water, aligned the business end of the gig over the back fin of the muskie, and, with all my might, I jabbed at him violently. At first I thought I had him, because I saw the gig strike him squarely and shake him. But, alas and alack, it was only a glancing blow. The muskie gently released his grip on the bass, and we slowly drifted away from him until he was too far away for me to try again. “Dagnabbit”, I said to myself, “I almost had him, and that would have made such a great fish story”!
Unfortunately, that was my one and only encounter with a muskie on that trip. But, on the upside, the bass made a delicious dinner for the two of us that night. And, just in case you were wondering…yes, the bass had the tell-tale pattern of muskie tooth marks on both sides. Now that was impressive!
(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)
we launched our canoe