Kelly and I hit the Owyhee this evening after work and, what do you know, the fishing was on fire! Kelly caught a big fish that I estimate at 22-23 inches on one of his first casts with a big streamer and it all snowballed from there. We each caught about 5 fish in 3 short hours but we fought and lost at least as many and had as many again make a hard strike only to be gone. The smallest fish of the day was an 18 inch football that came completely out of the water as soon as he slammed my white zonker. I had never seen a Brown put on that kind of aerial display until one of the last fish of the day for me did a tail walk that was purely amazing. He made a big run downstream and my drag was zinging even as he broke water and crashed back into the river. Another crazy fish did some fancy stuff I could hardly believe. Right before we left for the night I had a big brown do a circus act with my streamer. I could have sworn he popped the thing out of the river with his nose and then jumped out of the water to grab it in mid air. In my dumbfounded stupor I failed to properly set the hook on him so he spit it before I could even get a tussle out of him but it was quite a sight to see. All the rest of our fish would go between 20 and 22 inches. They were a bunch of hawgs. What a night....
Well here we go with another story, telling on myself again. I really wish I could get out and get some pictures as that is what I like to do rather than bore you with semi humorous tales of outdoor adventure, but alas this is what happens when I haven't been out much over the last few weeks.
Often the funniest stories from our experiences come from incidents that at the time they are happening do not seem funny at all. In fact they can seem downright frightening, or just plain embarrassing at the time. Only later can we look back and have a good laugh once our adrenal gland has stopped pumping us full of juice or the sting to our pride has worn off. Take for instance a time I was on a solo backpacking trip in the Hells Canyon Wilderness to a little lake 11 miles from the nearest trailhead in, thank goodness, complete solitude.
My mission was to catch some vibrant cutthroat trout in the pristine waters of one of the more off the beaten track lakes in the area. After arriving at the lake, and setting down my backpack the first thing I did was, not set up camp, but grab my fishing rod and head for the nearest log jutting out into the lake to make a few casts.
In these lakes it can seem quite important to the exuberant fisherman to fling his or her lure to the very middle of the lake, even though a majority of the fish probably live somewhere much nearer the shore. In order to accomplish this feat a downed log that juts out in to the water can seem like the perfect casting platform in order to get you just that much closer to the middle of the lake. Of course, the biggest fish in the lake, unquestionably, live in those dark foreboding waters that nary a fisherman before has been able to reach. I found my perfect log near where I planned to camp and made my way out.
As I carefully balanced on the half submerged log out to the point it completely went under the crystal clear water I felt it wobble under my feet and wondered then if maybe this in fact was not the best log to be standing on. It would have to do though as I had one thing on my mind and that was getting my line wet and to turn back now would cost me a whole two minutes of valuable fishing time. I casted as far as my arms could fling the lure (no where near the middle of the lake), let it sink a few seconds, and began the erratic retrieve. Almost instantly I was rewarded with the strike of a nice fish. Everything was going just to plan to this point but things would change in an instant.
It all started with a harmless little bug, ok it was ferocious killer wasp, that decided my leg would be a good place to stop and rest until he felt up to continuing his journey across the lake. Feeling his creepy crawly legs as he shuffled around amongst the hairs on my legs my natural reaction was to lift up the leg, while simultaneously bringing down my hand to swat away the annoyance. This leaves me in the following precarious situation: standing on a semi submerged, and not so steady log, 20 feet from shore, on one leg, fighting a scrappy trout with one hand, swatting a pesky wasp with the other.
Now I am no balance beam gymnast, however I am not exactly uncoordinated either, but everyone has their limits. When I slapped the wasp he only did what comes natural to wasps, just as I had only done what comes natural when one feels something crawling around on your leg. He stung me. Several times. It felt like he just wasn’t going to stop. Well it was all too much and my precious state of balance had been sufficiently compromised and I took a sudden plunge into some very frigid alpine lake water. The water was just deep enough where I fell in that I couldn’t touch. For those wondering, yes, I did still hold on to the fishing rod and yes the fish was still on the other end probably thinking, “Wow, I actually might be winning this tug of war.” I can only imagine the stories he is telling his buddies right now about the time he, a little 12 inch trout, pulled a gigantic 6 foot man into the lake. The incident alone probably became legendary in the lake and he likely became very famous, possibly even gaining instant membership into the very exclusive “Middle of the Lake Lunker Club” usually reserved for the much older, wiser, and bigger trout. The deep dark waters there are a place often feared by small fish like him but he has free reign there now and the larger fish give him a wide swath remembering the legend.
Back to my end of the line, I gasped and sputtered to the surface. These alpine lakes are cold even in the heat of the summer and the surprise of it all added to the shock I was experiencing. I think there was a time where my brain just said “this is too much sensory overload, I am shutting down for a bit” as I really remember very little between this time and when I was safely wringing out my clothes on the shore. I had held on to the pole this whole time but the fish came unpinned somewhere in all my flailing around.
I have always been very glad that the access to this lake was a grueling, rocky 11 mile trail thus assuring me of solitude as I did my version of “Swan Lake” there on that log. Now had there been witnesses present they may have been able to see this as it was, a very funny incident right from the start, but I admit it took me a few sputtering moments to see the humor in what had just happened.
The following true story is actually only about one percent true, just enough to make you wonder what is real and what is not. The names have all been changed including the name of Mr. Bleep to protect the innocent, the guilty, and my own sorry self. Any similarities between subjects of this story and real live people should be considered a coincidence and a personal problem and should be dealt with in an appropriate manner. Preferably with professional help.
Mr. Bleep has always lived a fairly normal life by Muskie’s standards. He is just a regular old muskellunge fighting for his piece of territory in a cruel world where often, to Mr. Bleep, it seems that only the most devious and conniving Muskie’s get ahead. As a Muskie Mr. Bleep was used to all the stereotypes he had endured and the solitary lifestyle he was forced to lead due to a couple slanderous articles written about his fellow Muskie’s gone bad. “Muskie bites child, 100 stitches needed,” “Rouge Muskie on loose in Lake Winnebashabalarama, causes panic in townsfolk,” “Small deer swallowed by Muskie while attempting to cross Lake Muskellunge,” on and on they went, stories that struck undue fear in the hearts of fishermen, swimmers, ducks, and kittens. Mr. Bleep tried to not let these tall tales affect his attitude towards people in general, knowing that two wrongs would never make a Muskie loveable, but he found himself becoming more and more elusive and withdrawn as each story came to print. He would usually only come out of his hiding when driven by the severe hunger pains that would come upon him in a flash. He had discovered that a simple duckling or five would tide him over and he could go back to his humble lair to sulk again and wonder why he was so misunderstood. Meanwhile a little puff of yellow duckling down would float softly from his lips to the glassy surface of the lake. It was certainly a tough life, being a Muskie.
On one relentlessly humid afternoon in August on the porch of the cabin of the Muskie fisherman a visiting young, know-it-all, college kid named, uh…um well let’s just call him Joe, was sitting around waiting for the next mosquito to land on his arm so he could continue some ongoing testing of his longstanding theory in entomology, the theory of the exploding mosquito. The basis of this theory was really founded on some dedicated research done in third grade standing in the middle of a flood irrigated pasture teaming with the little pests, so its results were a little up in the air and unofficial but Joe persisted. The Muskie fisherman and his loving family could only stare in awe at the sight of actual, highly regarded research being done, right before their very eyes by a genuine student, of a very illustrious American university. The testing method used was to allow mosquitoes to bite Joe and when they got their pointy schnozzer down deep in his muscle fibers, he would flex as hard as he could, thus “trapping the mosquito” as the pressure on his sucker wouldn’t allow him to pull it back out. Joes unproven theory, then, was that mosquitoes do not have a shut off valve thus meaning the trapped pest would keep on taking blood but be unable to fly away until finally, BOOM, it finally exploded. Interesting theory, but all Joe ever got from it was a bunch of big itchy mosquito bites. After a couple hours of fruitless testing Joe got up to try to find some Benadryl ointment. As he ambled past the coffee table on the way to the first aid kit he noticed a book lying on the beat up old end table. It was a book that would have made Mr. Bleep cringe.
“When Muskie’s Attack.” A book by Joe P. Muskie Hater. A book filled with gruesome tales of Muskie’s and their apparent disregard for human life. However, Joe noticed that even with all the terrible, yet fascinating stories in the book there was a disclaimer inside the cover stating that most of the stories could not be confirmed as actual Muskie attacks and could have simply been the result of general human stupidity and/or drunkenness. So, Joe concluded, what they were saying was that the guy with the jagged missing finger he tells the ER he got while simply washing his hands in the lake, where a misguided Muskie mistook his wedding ring for the flash of a bait fish, could actually have been the result of some poor choreography in a ceremonial “fat, drunk, and stupid guy, pretend knife fight, with real, rusty knives” around the camp fire. Despite Joe’s previous behavior in this story with the mosquitoes you will have to trust me now, Joe, himself, denies having ever participated in such a ridiculous ceremony in his life. Joe, though, liked the thought that animals as ferocious as the mighty Muskie did in fact live in the waters surrounding the weathered cabin he found himself in.
Catching Joe reading his high class literature the Muskie fisherman saw an opportunity to really mess with the snooty kids mind and offered his boat and expert guide services for a Muskie fishing experience he would never forget. The plan? Get up at o’dark thirty, eat a breakfast fit for a grease fire, and slap the water with lures the size of baby gators. Joe could never say no.
Joe had several dreams that night, and they all ended the same way. With an elongated fish with huge fangs slashing at his lily white toes, which he had been instructed to dangled in the water over the side of the boat, as the now decidedly deranged Muskie Fisherman’s idea of chumming.
“Is this really why he wants me a long,” Joe began to question? “Am I just bait?”
After one especially vivid and terrifying nightmare Joe sat bolt upright eyes wide just as the Muskie fisherman stood over him holding a five foot long musky mount that had been hanging over the dusty black fireplace. Really, all he had wanted to do was wake the kid up in the proper frame of mind, ready to tackle the task of the day, but the timing became too perfect. Suddenly arising from a terrible dream only to open his eyes and see the gapping mouth of the mounted Muskie staring back at him with two inch incisors at the ready was a supreme catalyst for Joes fight or flight instincts. His choice it turns out was flight. Later, when Joe’s sobs had slowed to a reasonable interval the Musky fisherman went up on the roof to assess the damage done, and to consider the possibility of simply adding that skylight he had always wanted in the hole Joe made in his vertical escape. Then in his kindest voice he began to attempt to coax Joe out of the top of a nearby giant pine. What Joe decided he really would need to calm his nerves was a double latte, foo foo, mocha, frapacoacoa, whatever coffee drink that all the college kids were drinking in those days. Preferably in a double insulated Styrofoam cup with a prefitted lid to prevent spills, and one of those little plastic stirrers that Joe sometimes liked to see if he could use for a straw. Just another bit of research Joe liked to do in his spare time and why some said he had a narrow head. Sucking an entire Wendy’s Frosty through that small of a hole, while possible, does have long term affects. What he got instead was a cup of black, oozing, semi- liquid, more grit than not camp coffee in a metal cup with no handles prestirred by the Muskie fisherman’s mustache. And so began the day Mr. Bleep was named.
On the water the day began to slip into a monotonous rhythm. You see, Muskie’s also have another, far more reasonable, and accurate reputation. “The fish of 10,000 casts.” So the best way for Joe to improve his chances for success was to keep casting. Cast, retrieve (9,999 to go), cast, retrieve (9,998), cast, retrieve (9,997), soon the lack of sleep was catching up with Joe. The problem was the camp coffee was playing another game on the young fisherman’s nervous system. On one hand he wanted curl up on the floor of the boat and just sleep, on the other he wanted to climb out of his skin and with his legs churning in a blur like some hyperactive cartoon character zoom out across the water and see how far he could make it before he sunk. It was funny what a half gallon of black coffee could do for you.
It was nearing high noon when the boat pulled up to waters surrounding the island claimed as Mr. Bleep’s royal kingdom, and fate was set in motion. A bleary eyed college kid, a grim determined Muskie fisherman, and a misunderstood down on his luck Muskie all converging on this one point in time.
There was one word of advice the cranky Muskie fisherman had told Joe that soon would stick in his head, and for time to come cause him to ask, “how do you do that again?”
“If you see a Muskie following your lure” he had said, “when you pull it in close to the boat jab the tip of your rod in the water and splash it around, this will make the Muskie think its prey is getting away and could incite a vicious and fatal attack.” Then remembering the kid’s nerves were a little shot he had tempered his words. “I mean bite…on the lure...not you…I promise.”
Simple enough Joe had thought at the time. But Joe is a trout fisherman from a land where one doesn’t worry about dangling your feet in the water. He was not wise to the way a five foot long fish with a head shaped strangely like a gators, looks as it cruises up to within inches of the boat, especially when one is under the frayed nerve influence of dank camp coffee.
Joe threw his chunk of painted wood with wobbly plastic eyes and ominous treble hooks, which could double as an anchor in a pinch, out into a promising protected bay by the little island. Just like every other cast before this one, he retrieved it (9,322 casts to go). But this time as the lure approached the boat there was an odd presence ghosting along in its wake. In the ripples of the lakes surface it was hard to make out and comprehend just what this slow moving thing was. Then it clicked and Joe did what every self respecting person would do in this situation. He let out an almost inaudible “son-of-a-b#$%&” that had about as much life as the last words of a dying man in an old western movie. Before he could tell himself it was okay, “listen to the words of the wise Muskie Fisherman, rod tip down, splash around,” he instinctly yanked the rod UP pulling the lure safely away from any undue harm it may have been subject to in the mouth of such a beast. Sudden realization came upon Joe that he had failed at the one word of Muskie fishing advice he had received, Joe glanced over at his Muskie mentor and saw a big toothy grin had enveloped his face. He hadn’t seen it happen but by the sputters and coughs, the pale complexion, and the sudden cursing habit the usually mild mannered Joe had taken on the cagey Muskie Fisherman knew exactly what had transpired. “Mr. Bleep” he chuckled. “That’s his new name. We’ll remember he is here and come try him again later.” And Joe? Suddenly he wasn’t tired, and he felt surprisingly immune to the effects of the camp coffee. “So this is what keeps a guy casting” he thought. Cast, retrieve (9,321), cast, retrieve (9,320), cast, retrieve (9,319)…
Mr. Bleep slunk quietly back under his log and pouted. He had seen the fear in the kids face. The way he had reacted to seeing a Muskie up close and personal, and it just hurt too much. When were people going to understand? The harsh realities of Muskie life were upon him again. Suddenly he caught the movement of a young Loon’s frantically paddling feet out of the corner of his eye and he felt that little twinge of hunger. The Loon was at least as big as five ducklings. Being a Muskie was tough business for sure. But, he decided, when you are hungry it pays to have sharp teeth. He slowly moved off in the direction of the panicked Loon.
“It never hurts to check things out” he thought.