It is not often I find my knees knocking uncontrollably, but that is what they were doing last week when I spotted a mammoth muskie following my bait to the side of the boat. It was noon, on an otherwise warm, sunny, calm, blue bird-type day with puffy white clouds—the worst fishing conditions you could conjure up.
I was casting a silver-bladed black tinsel double #10 Handlebarz bucktail—okay, so they were #8s because my elbow was killing me—off the end of a boulder-strewn point on Northwestern Ontario’s famed Eagle Lake. I hollered, "big one" when I spotted the giant so Liam could get ready to grab the net and swing into a figure eight. But the whopping great girl—easily 50- to 52-inches long with super thick silver sides—made a lazy left-hand turn, blinked her eye at me, and sunk out of sight like a fading dream.
“It was as big as you,” I said to Charlene Snow, the general manager of Eagle Lake Island Lodge where we were staying. Oh my, if you are looking to make your Ontario fishing dreams come true, trust me, this is the place to do it. We regrouped at the bar before dinner that evening to drown our sorrows and recount the day’s tall tales. Charlene is one of those people who, five minutes after you meet them, feels like a friend you’ve known for life. She’s also been bitten badly by the muskie fishing bug, so for the several months leading up to our arrival at the lodge, we shared notes back and forth, as well as thoughts about mid-summer fishing strategies. Charlene promised we’d see some giants and she didn’t disappoint.
Not surprisingly, Eagle Lake has historically ranked high among a small handful of waters capable of producing record-book fish. It prospers from a unique blend of ingredients that allows muskies to grow big, fat and sassy. That includes copious beds of cabbage, coontail, and milfoil, as well as green-as-grass pencil reeds and more hard rock reefs, humps, bars, saddles, and island points than you could fish in a dozen lifetimes.
Oh, yes, and it has history on its side as well.
According to muskie chronicler Larry Ramsell, in A Compendium of Muskie Angling History, Eagle Lake started making a name for itself in 1936, when Larry Coleman landed what Ramsell says is the first verified 60-pound muskellunge. He goes on to point out that Coleman’s catch was
And then, four years later, Edward Walden one-upped Coleman by landing a 61-pound 9-ounce Eagle Lake supertanker. Walden’s monster muskie measured 59-inches long and sported a 32-inch girth. Legend has it he hooked the fish on bass gear and fought it for almost an hour. You have to love muskie lore, but what isn’t in doubt is that Eagle Lake was the first in the world to produce two verified 60-pound plus muskellunge.
Here is something else I love about big waters like Eagle Lake which stretches for 70 miles and covers 70,000 acres. Because it is such a renowned muskie water, the other species like walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, and walleye often fly under the radar.
When Liam and I were at the lodge, for example, we made friends with Barry and Landon Broer, who hail from Iowa. The father and son duo were enjoying a multi-species Eagle Lake adventure, primarily targeting walleye and, are you ready for this? Seventeen-year-old Landon caught, measured, photographed and released two 31-inch Walters on successive days. Are you kidding me? Catching personal best over 11-pound plus walleye on back-to-back mid-summer evenings? That is crazy.
Another time, Liam and I were pitching top waters for muskies in a narrow necked-down channel between two islands when we spotted a huge smallmouth bass—I kid you not, it was approaching six pounds—shoot up and look at his muskie lure. The bass was big enough that it was thinking about choking down a foot-long muskie bait. I can only imagine what kind of action you would enjoy if you intentionally targeted the big bronze potbellies. But to do that, you’d have to put down the muskie sticks and having seen what swims in this lake, I have to confess, I am not ready to do that yet.