For over 4 decades the majority of my muskie fishing was in the Chippewa Channel of the upper Niagara River. That stopped during the pandemic. Today, Friday, August 20, 2021, I returned to my muskie fishing roots for the first time in 2 years. It was good to be home.
The day was fair. Sunny with light winds. Not necessarily the best type of day for muskie fishing. But I, having been a fair weather fisherman for some time now, wasn't fazed. I've learned over time that you can still catch decent muskies on these fair weather days. In fact, I find them more predictable than other weather systems.
The morning started rather foggy, too much so, in fact, to fish on the Canadian side of the Triangle. So my first drift was above Strawberry. But before I finished the drift the fog began to dissipate. So I reeled in and headed towards Frenchman's. Did a couple drifts there, and it felt good. But nothing happened. Tried a drift through the Triangle, but nothing there either. Headed up above the International Bridge and tried a couple more drifts.
By the way, I was using a black Red October Bait Ninja Tube. An old and dependable friend. In two drifts I had about 6 snags. Good to know that some things haven't changed. Although I didn't hook any fish, after one of my retrieves my previously clean lure came back with a few new slashes. One of those phantom bites that all of us tube fishers occasionally experience. I never felt a fish, but I did have a number of times where the lure would stop and stick to the river bed, I thought, before breaking free. One of those times must have been a fish. At times it's hard to tell the difference. But the slashes told me something - that the muskies could be lured to the bait on this bright, sunny, cloudless and almost windless morning. That knowledge raised my confidence in the day.
I ventured back towards the triangle and took a drift along the west side of Strawberry, after which I planned to head down river to one of my other favorite spots. Towards the end of the drift I felt the unmistakable thump of a muskie and I immediately set the hook. It felt like a good fish. As I've learned, I reeled in as fast as I could to maintain pressure and prevent the fish an opportunity to spit the hook. Of course, the peril of the solo single-hook tube angler is the netting of a big muskie. It's never an easy task. Once the fish is near the boat you have to hold the rod with one hand and hope you're able to maintain pressure while reaching for the net with the other. It's this netting process where the solo anger loses most of his big fish, especially when using single hook tubes.
But I was able to net this fish without too much trouble. So I cut the hook and quickly measured and released the fish. It was 46 inches. A potential Top-Ten? Maybe not this year.
After releasing the fish I went up and started another drift over the same area. At the same location where I had hooked the 46 incher my tube stopped. I momentarily thought it was a snag but then immediately felt movement and weight. A good combination. Once more I cranked the fish in. It felt heavier than the 46. At the very least I wanted a good look. As the fish neared the boat I saw, through the sun's blinding glare reflecting on the water's surface, what appeared to be a veritable horse of a muskie. This fish was much bigger than the 46 I thought.
But I've been here before. This exact spot. Thoughts of Deja vu haunted my mind as I fought this fish. I got the fish quickly to the boat and now the hard part. The netting. As I reached for the net the great fish swam to my left, towards the front of the boat, then turned and headed towards the stern. I readied the net but the fish made a power run and a frantic twist and turn while shaking its head in an effort to throw the lure. It succeeded.
All I could think was the words of my saintly mother following events such as this. OH FUDGE!
I examined the lure but knew that there was nothing I could do. Not the first time. Won't be the last. I tried a few more drifts pondering how the fishery has changed over the past forty years. Can't catch nearly as many fish as we did in the 20th century, but when we do hook one they're now so much huskier and powerful. I hope that's a good and lasting thing.
Went down river to try one of my favorite drifts, but my heart was no longer into it and nothing happened. Back to the Triangle but by this time the river was baking. One drift and I left.
And I will return.