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From the November 2012 issue

50 Muskie In One Day

By Bernie Barringer


The fish of 10,000 casts…the elusive predator…the muskie has a reputation; it also has the heartbroken and frustrated muskie anglers to back up that reputation. But as Sir Isaac Newton would say, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
    Okay, that bit of Newton's law doesn't fit perfectly in this scenario, but the point I am making is that there are exceptions to every rule. There are places where you can catch muskie by the dozen. Doubles. Three muskie on three consecutive casts.
    Just to be clear, this is an opportunity at quantity not quality. The places I am about to describe are places you can legitimately catch so many fish you lose count, but you won't see any 50-inchers on these lakes. There simply aren't any. The average is going to be more like 30 inches, and probably even under that. But before the big fish zealots give up on me, let me give you more information so you can decide for yourself if you want to give this a whirl.
    My first encounter with these “numbers” muskie lakes came in Northwest Ontario a few years ago. I learned that there were several lakes that had large numbers of small muskie in them and decided to take my son Dawson, who at the time was a little tyke, but an avowed muskie nutcase. We grabbed a fly-in for a day into Pincher Lake and caught more muskie than we had fingers and toes. We had fun, but the largest we caught was about 30 inches.
    We then tried Wigwam Lake, which was a pretty athletic hike, pulling a boat and carrying a motor around two waterfalls. We caught 14 in one day and the largest was 36 inches. We have since been back to Wigwam a couple times, and plan to go back again. That whetted our appetite for more muskie action and we have since discovered a dozen other lakes that have huge numbers of aggressive muskie in them. That led us to Beach Lake in August of 2012. This is where we first broke the 50-muskie-in-one-day barrier.
    Admittedly, these numbers lakes are difficult to access, which is one of the reasons the muskie are abundant, aggressive and unsophisticated. You won't be dropping your Ranger boat into any of these wilderness muskie lakes.
    Beach Lake, for example, requires a commitment to get to it. You must take a boat to the trailhead on Armstrong Lake, then take about a mile walk through the forest to Beach Lake where there is a 14-foot boat stashed that was pulled in there by a snowmobile. The owners of the boat, Hideaway Cabins of Redditt, Ontario, have toted a six hp motor and a can of gas in there for you. From there, you are on the lake all by yourself for some of the most amazing muskie fishing action you can imagine.
    Dawson and I caught 50 muskie the first day we went in to Beach Lake. We only fished 5 1/2 hours because we were combining it with a bear hunt and had to come back out to go to the treestand for the evening hunt. Yes, that is about five fish per hour each. We saw probably twice that many. We caught them on figure-8s; we caught them by casting back into areas where we had just caught one. We had doubles, and we caught them on consecutive casts. Our best bait was a small, double, Colorado-bladed bucktail my son makes called the Baby Bulger. We also caught them on top-waters and spinnerbaits, but the Bulger was the number one bait by far that day.
    After I shot a great big bear and got it skinned, quartered and in the freezer, Dawson and I could concentrate on the fishing, so we began to scheme. By looking at Google Earth, we could see another lake named Ethel Lake that was connected to Beach Lake by a series of creeks. Rumor was that Ethel had a little bit larger fish in it.
    The next day, Dawson and I made the hike back to Beach Lake and slowly worked our way up the creeks. Eventually, through a mighty struggle, we found ourselves in Ethel Lake. We had to keep unwrapping weeds from the motor's prop as we struggled up the streams. And we had to get out and drag the boat over four beaver dams. We had high hopes that it would be worth all the trouble. It wasn't.
    It was disappointing in that the fish we caught in Ethel were basically the same sizes-22 to 30 inches-that we had caught in Beach Lake. But now we knew what to expect, and we were on a very beautiful little wilderness lake that hadn't been fished for many, many years. We enjoyed fishing the lake for a couple hours before deciding to move on.
    Back down the stream we went and we proceeded to catch another 25 to 30 muskie (we lost count) out of Beach Lake before sunset sent us hurrying down the wooded path back to the boat we had stashed on Armstrong Lake.
    These numbers muskie lakes of Northwest Ontario are more plentiful than you might imagine. I know of no publication that lists them and, for the most part, you just have to go exploring to find them. They are mostly quite difficult to access, but the adventure of getting to them is one of the positives in my opinion. My sons and I have had a great time working our way into these lakes, and shared hardship forms bonds that last a lifetime. I have found a few lakes that I can drive to and unload a 16-foot boat off the trailer, but these tend to get a little more fishing pressure.
    I suspect that these smaller, numerous muskie are a subspecies of some sort. They just don't get very big. They do not seem to be stunted versions of the bigger muskie strains, like the Leech Lake strain, St. Clair strain or Mississippi strain. They have a little different look to them, and in most of these lakes a 40-incher is a very rare specimen. Many lakes simply do not contain a fish larger than 35 inches. Minnesota has a separate strain of smaller muskie called the Shoepack strain, and likely Ontario's muskie in these lakes are similar to the Shoepack strain in Minnesota.
    Possibly, being isolated for thousands of years has created a separate genetic strain. You may go into one lake and find that the muskie have a marking pattern and color that is quite different from another lake only a few miles away.
    We take traditional muskie tackle into these lakes, because you never know what you are going to find, and we want to be prepared for the largest possible fish. But in most cases, you could easily fish these lakes with heavy bass tackle. Large bass lures work well, and you will have no problem catching fish from the weeds on spinnerbaits and buzzbaits or from rock points on deep-diving crankbaits. But downsized muskie lures, like the Baby Bulger, work the best. Muskie are still muskie, even in these lakes. They like muskie lures.
    I am aware of more than a dozen of these muskie lakes, and I suspect there are a couple dozen more that I haven't heard of yet. If you are interested in a fun adventure catching muskie by the dozen, you will have to do some research, but I can assure you it will be worth it. After all, how many people do you know that have caught 50 muskie in one day? You could be one of a very select group!

SIDEBAR:
Things To Take With You When Walking Into A Remote Lake
o    Snacks like granola bars, cookies, trail mix, jerky, sandwiches
o    Plenty of drinking water
o    One box of lures that can easily be carried
    A hike into some of these lakes can be quite rigorous. Downsize your tackle selection.
o    Backpack to carry it all
o    Tools: hook cutters, pliers, jaw spreader, tape measure, line cutters
o    Two casting rods per person
    On these remote wilderness lakes, a backup is essential for obvious reasons.
o    Folding net
o    Portable depthfinder
o    Camera
 





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