Muskie season had just begun in central Ontario when Ashley Rae, fellow contributor here at Ontario Travel, asked me to join her for a birthday fish on her home waters of Ottawa. Of course, I could never turn down a birthday wish from a friend.
Having grand plans for her big day, Ashley wanted to fish a quieter, non-pressured body of water, however Mother Nature had even grander plans. With a high of everything; humidity, winds and heat, we were forced to launch at a more sheltered, albeit busier, waterway for our quest.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thankful for the 50-kph winds that acted as the perfect scapegoat for me to pick up conventional gear for the day. Having thrown an 11-weight fly rod with 10-inch flies for three 14-hour days prior, my arm welcomed the break from my personal quest of landing a muskie on the fly.
At the very least, the pain would be transferred from my casting arm to my reeling arm.
With the high heat, reaching 38° C before 10 am, we made an executive decision to get lunch before we hit the water, foolishly thinking we’d be off the water for at least half of the hottest part of the day. Staying hydrated and well covered on days like those can’t be stressed enough.
We worked our way upwind along weed beds. It was more work for Ashley to control the boat, but our casts weren’t being wasted by drifting into them, allowing us to work our baits back to the boat effectively.
“Got one,” Ashley claimed, calm as can be.
It dove into the weeds putting on an excellent show of force, but when it came to the boat we realized it was a mid-sized pike with a gargantuan appetite. The colouring on this enthusiastic pike heavily contrasted its very dim, mud-clouded environment.
As we headed further up river, guzzling water, Ashley stopped at an ideal split in the river. One side held the main channel, while the other sported a glorified canoe route full of reeds and meandering shallow water.
The large grass edge provided cover for ambushing predators awaiting prey, it also had a mud line from the wind crashing waves into the shallower edge. Conditions were perfect, and I got that “fishy” feeling we all know so well.
Two casts into the muddy waters, I received a strike followed by head shakes with such gumption I was convinced I’d just hooked into a 40-plus-inch muskie. I kept saying to Ashley, “This one’s big! It has to be the ski we’ve been looking for!”
Grabbing the goliath-sized net, Ashley watched the surface for my “one” to appear.
As a pike just scrapping past the 30-inch mark death rolls to the surface, we had a few good laughs at my misplaced excitement. A few casts later, however, the mood was about to change drastically.
An actual 40-inch fish follows my lure into the eight, the scarred-up muskie sulked under the boat, not to be enticed by a minute’s worth of eights.
Suddenly we were out of our heat slump and back into full muskie drive.
Not 10 casts later, I get an even harder hit than the fish before, dragging my line effortlessly before it starts running straight at the boat. Unable to reel fast enough, I could feel it knock itself off the hook. With sunken heart and high hopes, we both make casts into a fallen tree just past the attack, hoping there may be another taker.
No such luck.
At this point, we’ve been on the water for six hours. Modified into muskie time, barely a minute had gone by.
Needing a morale boost, Ashley found us some shelter from the wind so we could enjoy a quick snack. The humidity had made the skies cloudy, but somehow the sun was still shining through relentlessly.
I thought to myself, how can the muskies possibly be active in this heat? Water temperatures were already 74° C in early June despite our obscene amount of rainfall and high waters.
After several pepperettes and hickory sticks, our break was over.
Optimism was the only source of logic telling us that scarred-up 40-inch fish wasn’t the muskie that hit far out from the boat shortly after her follow, so we decided to return to the grassy edge for another shot at her.
Using a lipped bait with an additional curly soft tail that had done so well so far, I decided to keep it on for this pass. Am I ever glad I did.
With the launch around the next bend, I started to get a little silly with retrievals, trying everything and anything. Even talking to myself—it had been eight hours on the water in 38° C heat, after all.
“Come on muskie, you want to bite right now!”
Much to my surprise, this time it worked, and two seconds later I had the smallest fish of the day on my line. Convincing myself it was another pike, it flew into the air doing summersaults boat side.
“Are you sure that’s a pike?” asked Ashley, unconvinced.
“Yeah, it’s just an even smaller—wait,” I said.
After another flash of the fish leaping, it settled briefly at the surface. “I’m getting the net! It’s a small muskie!” exclaimed Ashley.
As the fish was netted we let out two very exhausted yelps of accomplishment, did the obligatory high five, and marveled at the fish.
Both agreeing it was one of the prettiest we had ever seen, we were so happy it was the first muskie we boated together. Come October, I hope Ashley catches a muskie on my birthday, but I certainly wish we get more before that.