Muskie Fishing on Opening Day
Text and Photos © 2013 by Russ Fimbinger
It was a day to remember. As a member of the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association I recently had the opportunity to fish for muskellunge during the state-wide opener in June. Captain Steve Vanesse and first mate Jeff Smith took three Michigan outdoor writers, Mike Papiez, Jay VanHouten and I aboard the Bushwacker II and headed out into the rolling waves and blue-green water of Lake St. Clair. As we motored out of Detroit’s Harbor Street Canal and into the big lake, Captain Steve made a bold prediction. “The wind and water look almost perfect today. We should get about 15 fish.” I mused to myself, ‘how the heck does he know?’ At that point, we hadn’t yet discussed how long we might be on the water. In fact, the afternoon weather forecast called for severe thunderstorms, a fact that would not be ignored by this land-lubber fisherman. But little did we know just how good a fisherman Capt. Steve would turn out to be.
We were on the big water and fishing by 8:00 a.m. Capt. Steve and Jeff had 12 lines in the water—8 on planer boards and 4 off the boat—long before the 3 writers even had their gear stowed and cameras ready. But it was a darned good thing those cameras were with us: by 8:30 a.m. the cry of “fish on” was called. This writer just so happen to be standing near the half-bent fishing rod. And as charter- fishing etiquette dictates, I offered the action to my colleagues. They gave me the green light and the battle was on.
It was a fight of a lifetime. The fish tugged and fought for a good 10 minutes before Jeff dipped the net into the water and told me walk backwards, steady and slowly. Together we pulled the boat’s first muskie of the season onto the deck: a beautiful, young fish about 38 inches long. It was a striking silver- brown in color and its teeth showed that famous muskie grin.
Capt. Steve’s auto pilot trolled the boat around his favorite spots at about 3.5 to 4 mph. He and the first mate worked the fishing lines and trolling baits less than 100 feet behind the boat, about 2 to 4 feet below the water’s surface. We were fishing in water about 15 feet deep—rather shallow when you think about a big body of water like Lake St .Clair. And it was surprising to learn there is very little underwater structure to conceal the fish. In fact, the lake is flat and, for the most part, smooth along the bottom, comprised of hard sand and clay.
“So what are the fish doing there?” we wondered. According to our captain, the muskellunge in this lake feed on the wide-variety of fish species and bait-fish that inhabit Lake St. Clair. Their diet consists of small pike, smallmouth bass, perch and young walleyes, not to mention their own kin—other small muskies. They also consume large numbers of small baitfish such as freshwater shad and a host of different minnows. Being a newcomer to big-water muskie fishing, I was able to make the big connection: the large, hard-bodied baits we trolled for baits looked just like the bait fish that make up the big fish’s diet.
Capt. Steve explained further. “These fish are swimming around on the prowl for food about 5 to 7 feet below the surface. They eat constantly and strike at the baits from underneath, not from behind or head on.” He further explained that when the fish hits the bait from below, the hooks more-or-less set directly into the muskies mouth. In fact, we had excellent hook sets with almost every fish. So that explained that’s why we lost so few fish during the day. Now here was a charter boat captain who really knows his business.
Which leads me back to Capt. Steve’s earlier prediction about how many fish were might catch. It was 1:00 p.m. and the wind had died down to nothing. The air temperature had risen to over 90 degrees. No breeze at all meant those famous Great Lakes biting flies were beginning to pester us to no end. And we had boated an even dozen muskies. Like a good sport, I made a suggestion: Why don’t we just call it a day? My words, however, fell on deaf ears. Almost as soon as I opened my mouth two rods were simultaneously hit hard by two fish. The next thing I knew Jay and I had a “muskie double” on deck. It was within the next hour the 15th fish was netted and released.
To book a charter with Capt. Steve Vanesse, visit his website at www.bushwackerscharters.com or give him a call at 810-123-4567. Without any stretch of the imagination, Lake St. Clair’s muskie opener was a huge success.
About the author: Russ Fimbinger is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer from Marion, Michigan. His work has appeared in most of Michigan’s major outdoor magazines and journals over the past 25 years. He is a member of the Michigan Outdoor Writer’s Association, professional outdoor journalists serving Michigan’s outdoor and recreation industries.