I've heard muskie called the "fish of 40,000 casts" but in some areas of Lake St. Clair the description no longer applies. Thanks to biomass changes over the last two decades the once elusive muskellunge now flourishes as the top predator in these waters.
From Lighthouse Cove Marina at the mouth of the Thames River, Lake St Clair appears through the July haze. I'm aboard a 30-foot Rampage Express fishing boat owned by Terry and Debbie Van DeWauwer of Rampage Charters. As Debbie idles down the twin 350 engines, Terry begins hauling out the heavy-duty fishing gear. Exceptionally stout rods and huge capacity reels are filled with 40-pound-test monofilament line. This is necessary to pull 6 - 14 inch St. Clair Hound spinners and large wooden Ziggies lures through the water at four miles per hour. Although we are only fishing in 16 feet of water, the fast trolling speed means Van DeWauwer must use heavy lead ball weights to keep these massive lures running below surface.
Boat anglers on Lake St Clair are allowed two rods per person and, with four of us on board, Van DeWauwer begins setting up an 8-rod program including planer boards and even a pair of rods running lures directly in the prop wash only 20 meters behind the boat.
During the initial setup, Terry starts shrieking "fish, fish, fish!" as one of the rods starts bouncing like a willow switch in high winds. It amuses me that after three decades of doing this, Terry still passionately enjoys every fish that strikes.
Lake musky are strong and, despite the boat speed, this fish breaks surface one moment and plunges to the bottom the next, seeming never to tire. Eventually, it succumbs to the landing net. At 42 inches, it is a magnificent water monster. Everything about this fish is large -- from the protruding razor teeth to the blood-red tail. Terry notes that this fish fought so violently that it drove blood into its tail rays contributing to its brilliant red coloration. The successful angler's fingers have a similar look.
The daily limit is one fish per regular fishing licence and muskie must be greater than 44 inches to retain. The season runs from the first Saturday in June to December 15. Van DeWauwer says that the average St. Clair muskie is 40 inches long and Rampage Charter's best fish exceeded 54 inches. Average catch rate is about one per hour although Van DeWauwer tells of a 42-fish day this season. "We boated 729 muskie last year and it looks like we will exceed that this year", says Terry.
In four hours we catch and release four St. Clair muskie. It seems that these giant fish are not quite as elusive as legend would have us believe.