This show is about Esox Masquinongy, the Muskellunge, the largest member of the pike family, and its ability to capture the imagination of so many committed fishermen. This is one of the most physically demanding activities a recreational angler can get into. It can be described in two words: Muskie Mystique. Clearly, there’s something about the Muskie here in Eagle Lake, that makes its fishermen behave like Knights on a quest for the Holy Grail. And for generations it has been said that this Grail swims in Eagle Lake.
Here are some factors that add to the aura of this fish.
Firstly: they’re huge – the number 1 apex freshwater predator in North America.
Secondly: there are not a lot of them and they’re elusive, relative to our other native species.
Thirdly: they tantalize with their fussy eating – following a lure right to the boat while they decide whether to eat it or not.
That’s what this Fish’n Canada episode is about: fishing, or should I say “searching” for Muskie.
When you look at the Eagle Lake on a map, the topography practically screams Muskie. Gouged out of the earth by retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago, its 658 kilometers of rugged shoreline shows hundreds of bays, points, inlets and channels, providing countless opportunities to bag a trophy no matter which way the wind blows. It’s a relatively large lake of over 255 square kilometers, and contains 490 islands with their own little bays and points. Potential is everywhere… the reality can be something else.
Eagle lake is located in north western Ontario in what’s known as the Unorganized Kenora District. This district covers 35% of Ontario’s land mass, but holds only 0.05% of its population. That’s one person for every five square kilometers.
If you want to fish solo for a while, this is the place to go.
The only people here on any kind of regular basis, are the people who work the lodges, curious anglers and their friends, and a handful of hard-core Muskie fishermen. One thing everyone can agree on is that it’s beautiful wilderness. A must see, whether you fish or not.
I decided before the trip that I was not going to troll for these Muskies. I wanted to catch em’ the hard way… by casting! But, I wasn’t going to be stupid about it either. Eagle Lake is a big body of water, and if I wanted to get on them quick, I was gonna’ need an expert on all things muskie.
That expertise would be coming from Ron Buth, the head guide and previous owner of Eagle Lake Island Lodge, my beautiful home for the trip. His 41 years of knowledge would essentially shrink the size of this formidable looking lake into much smaller fishing “zones”, by telling me where to go and what to look for.
From there I would use my Garmin units, find likely spots, and saturate the area with a variety of baits and presentations.
Musky’s have a low reproductive rate and slow growth rendering populations highly vulnerable to over-fishing. This is why you see such strict size and creel limits for this magnificent creature. There’s a 54 inch limit here on these fish – an unnecessary rule in my opinion… all Muskie’s should be released!
The so-lunar tables promised good fishing this particular week but remember… the Muskie being a combination of “dominant predator” crossed with “fussiest eater” means they don’t always read the so-lunar tables very well.
By the end of the first day, I was totally frustrated, working my mind through the Muskie Mystique. This is the fish of 10,000 casts. Throwing huge Muskie baits with heavy line and heavier rods, and no hits all day, beat me up physically and emotionally.
Day two and back to the grind again. After a good night’s sleep, and dreams of a giant smashing a bait and thrashing boat-side, a Muskie angler is raring to go… with of course hopes of that great dream sequence becomes a reality.
I tried a variety of baits so far; inline Bucktail’s were my main choice followed closely by a Yamamoto Swimbait as well as a couple of diving Crankbaits resembling a Walleye. These Muskie are big here and a 1 to 2 pound Walleye makes a great meal so don’t think your bait is too big.
Cast after cast after cast after cast…. again and again… I was wondering what a guy has to do to hook up with one of these beasts of the north!
Not willing to give up completely, I took a break from the Muskie and headed out walleye fishing. I figured it would give my arms as well as my mind a bit of a rest.
The walleye were hanging tight to cover and even they were slow to bite. I was actually getting a little nervous because I was thinking, “what am I doing wrong here”? Thankfully I wasn’t alone. Ron Buth spoke to some fishermen from a few other lodges, and nobody was catching any Muskie. We’re all pretty much at a loss trying to figure out what’s going on, and my time here is fading rapidly.
Day 3 fishing:
This was my final full day on the water… I can’t believe that I went so long on the fabled Eagle Lake without a Muskie hook-up. I had some follows… but no takers.
Muskie fishing isn’t always as tough as this adventure. Take last years trip on the French River with Ang for instance… We each landed a 50+ incher and they both came in the first half hour of 2 consecutive mornings.
I know for a fact that the same can happen here on Eagle. It’s all about timing and mine was unfortunately bad.
THE LAST DAY ON EAGLE
On my last evening on Eagle, I slid into an isolated weedy bay and pike start hitting. I hoped this would be a good omen, in that if one member of the Esox family is active, maybe their bigger cousins would too. Problem was, it was getting dark. If I had another full day to fish, this hunger strike might be ending. But I had to get out of there tomorrow morning… I was scheduled to arrive at the Nipigon River for my next shoot.
I did have one more sliver of opportunity… get up at first light, bomb over to a nearby rock point, fish for “maybe” and hour and then trailer the boat and move on… yeah, like 1 hour could make up for the past 3 days!
The morning is perfect… calm and warm. Using a big inline Bucktail with two massive size ten blades whomping in the water, If that point didn’t produce right there, right then, I’d be going home empty handed. No show for the waiting team back at the studio.
With the big Bucktail thumping in just under the surface, I had a great fish literally “nose” up to the bait… but didn’t take. ARRRGGGG!!!! He was just too close not to eat it! I got to thinking maybe it was the lure’s fault, so I switched to a smaller inline black Bucktail with a single number six blade and I tipped it with just the tail of a white Yamamoto swimbait… something to give it a bit of flare and a target at the hook. Maybe this little finesse move with a colour change and a smaller lure would entice him.
I recast to where I thought he might’ve gone. Low and behold, he pounds the bait. I rammed the hook home with a big 8’ heavy duty Carrot Styx rod and 65 pound braid… the hook was definitely set.
Something happened over those days to shut these fish down, and I’m still scratching my head about it. But, there you have it in a nutshell, folks: the Muskie Mystique. They’re on, they’re off, they follow but don’t strike, and they’re HUGE.
Thank you Eagle Lake… I’ll “definitely” be back!
A Muskie’s diet mostly consists of fish, but can also include frogs, ducklings, snakes, mice, mink, baby muskrats and beavers as well as small birds. The mouth is large with many long, shark-like teeth. Muskie’s will attempt to take their prey head-first, sometimes in a single gulp. They will take prey items up to 30% of their total length. Early in the season, they tend to prefer smaller bait due to a slow metabolism, while large bait are preferred in fall as preparation for winter.
Adult muskellunge are apex predators, residing at the top of a food chain. Only humans pose a threat to an adult Muskie, although juveniles are often eaten by other Muskie’s, Northern Pike, Bass, and birds of prey.
Eagle Lake has all 3 different color patterns of the Muskellunge. Clear, Spotted and Barred. I think I had follows from all 3, doing their best to make my time here a real challenge.
The Canadian record muskie caught by Kenneth John O’Brian weighed an astounding 65 pounds. It was 58 inches long and had a girth of of 30 and a half inches. It was caught on October 16, 1988 in Georgian Bay.
You may have heard of the Tiger Muskie but the fact is it’s not a pure Muskellunge. It’s a cross between a Muskie and a Northern Pike and they too live in Eagle Lake. They’re quite rare and “very” sought after.
The term “figure 8” is synonymous in the Muskie world. Essentially it is a continuation of a cast once there is no more line to reel in. Muskellunge are notorious for following a lure to the boat and often times a figure 8 will catch them.
Each and every cast should have at least a portion of a figure 8 before pulling the bait from the water even if you don’t see a fish… just in case a Muskie is following in the depths just out of site.
GETTIN’ THERE with RAM TRUCKS
To get to today’s whirlwind Muskie adventure I drove north on Highway 400 to hwy 69.
I then headed north west on HWY 17
I stayed on 17 at the highway 11 – 17 split and carried on north west.
I finally turned south on 594 to Eagle River where I met the crew from Eagle Lake Island Lodge and then took a short boat ride to their great facility.