Mainely Outdoors: A big fish with big thrills

Bill Graves, Special to The County
4 years ago

Pretty much everyone has heard that old adage: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, that’s just what more and more Aroostook fishermen are doing. Over a decade ago an unwanted fish species got into several St. John Valley lakes and rivers from Canada. The muskellunge, a voracious, toothy predator, wreaked havoc on salmon and trout in the waterways they had invaded, much to the chagrin of local gamefish anglers. Little could be done except to attempt to contain the muskie to the areas it had taken over — a real basket of lemons.

Advance the clock to present day, and now we have an annual fishing tournament with sportsmen from far and wide heading to Fort Kent to compete for the largest muskie. Each year more local sportsmen are gearing up to cast for or troll several lakes and the St. John River with anticipation and hope of actually hooking and fighting one of these double-digit denizens with the nickname “Water Wolf.”

Muskie fishing is a fairly new endeavor for most Crown of Maine casters, and it’s different in several aspects from trout, salmon and togue outings. A sturdy, stable canoe in the 18- to 20-foot range or a comfortable boat of at least 14 feet is a great asset. While it’s not impossible to catch a muskie casting from a shoreline, the feat is difficult, and it’s possible to cover more water and more fish from a watercraft. Whatever boat is used, it should be fitted with at least two sturdy rod holders; rods, reels and baits used to troll muskie are fairly heavy duty and just not comfortable to hold by hand for several hours.

Tom Wolters of Madawaska Lake enjoys trolling all along the great length of the St. John River for these toothy quarry, and even if he catches only every two or three outings the battle is worth the effort.
(Courtesy of Bill Graves)

There’s no question that casting lures or hard plastic baits for muskie is more interactive than trolling, but it’s a challenge, too. Muskellunge have been named “The fish of a thousand casts.” A 7- to 7 ½ foot spinning rod of at least medium weight with a spinning or bait casting reel loaded with a minimum of 17-pound-test monofilament would be a good starting outfit. Don’t forget the razor sharp teeth. Use a heavy shock leader of at least 50-pound-test fluorocarbon, or better yet a 8- to 12-inch section of coated wire leader.

For trolling, a longer rod gets the line further from the boat, and allows a trio of rods and baits to be set out with limited chance of tangles. There are rods built especially for trolling; some are fly rods for those who prefer to use long heavy streamers but I prefer the larger guides, longer fighting grip and stiffer backbone of a nine foot medium/heavy spinning rod. A spinning reel with room for at least two hundred yards of line and a strong easily adjustable drag system balances the outfit.

Saul Morris of Fort Kent hefts a mammoth musky taken from Glazier Lake. Though these fish were originally looked upon with disdain, they are now picking up quite a few fans.
(Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Selecting an enticing bait in the form of a metal lure or plastic plug is the next step. Size, shape, color and an attractive motion in the water are crucial to success. This is where having multiple rods and baits in play increases the odds. Productive muskie lures tend to be large, at least 6 inches and upwards of a foot, and if they have the flash and wiggle of a bait fish, it’s all the better. Other more experienced fishermen will usually share some insight as to their favorite plugs with novice trollers, but trial and error is the best tutor.

Once the equipment is rigged and ready, it’s time to select a waterway and start trolling; July, August and September are all productive months. Whether you’re on a lake or river, refrain from driving the boat in a straight line. Steer in slow, lazy S-curves to cover more area and cause the baits to alter speed and depth. When trolling upstream on a river, keep boat speed at 2 to 3 mph against the current. Up the pace heading downstream to about 5 mph for the best action to trailing lures.

Rookies seeking muskie lakes for casting and  trolling should consider Baker, Glazier and Beau in the St. John Valley, and of course the long, wide, winding St. John River and its branches. Don’t expect results similar to trout and salmon angling, but when all is said and done the battle will be very memorable. Perhaps you’ll enjoy some “lemonade” in more ways than one.