What do we think of if the topic is Indiana?
I suspect for we, who live in the West, it might be basketball or the Indi 500. As my wife and I looked forward to taking a road trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, we were anticipating a visit with our son and his family in Minot, North Dakota and a scenic excursion across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Muskie fishing wasn’t exactly on our radar screen. That changed when conference planners sent out a list of pre-conference outings that included muskie fishing on nearby lakes.
While we might think of Indiana as an agricultural state (and it is), several counties in northeastern Indiana are blessed with an abundance of lakes, both small and large, including Lake Wawasee, Indiana’s largest natural lake, plus other lakes that support a muskie fishery.
The muskie, or muskellunge, to be more correct, is a cousin to the northern pike. Muskies are native to northern states, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, but have been stocked in a number of other states, including Indiana.
Jill Boggs, executive director of the Kosciusko County Convention and Visitors Bureau (visitkosciuskocounty.org), arranged a big Hoosier welcome for my wife and I and two other writers, Bob Baldwin of Michigan and Jay Ledbetter of Colorado. She arranged lodging at a great, classic lakeside lodge, Oakwood Inn, on Lake Wawassee, and guided muskie fishing on nearby Lake Webster with one of the area’s top muskie guides, Chae Dolson (websterlakeguideservice.com).
After introductions and some instruction on the heavy duty casting rods we’d be using, we boated out to the middle of the lake, which Chae (pronounced Shay) knows like the back of his hand. He said the lake was once a series of several smaller lakes, but the local Tippecanoe River was dammed up; merging the lakes into one large lake, with lots of weed beds in relatively shallow areas.
Chae said muskies were introduced in 1979 and after a rocky start have thrived in a number of lakes. Chae grew up as a fishing enthusiast and at one time made some tentative ventures into tournament bass fishing. But, he said, “I like to catch big fish, and muskies were the biggest fish around.” He started specializing on muskies and developed a local reputation for having the knack for catching muskies, and friends encouraged him to start guiding.
He has mostly given up his previous business as a siding contractor to chase muskies, and he lives, eats and breathes muskie fishing from spring until the lakes freeze in early winter.
Muskies have a reputation for being unpredictable and contrary. That reputation, we neophyte muskie anglers quickly learned, is well justified.
We were throwing a variety of muskie lures and we’d occasionally see, as we brought the lure back to the boat, fish emerging from the depths, apparently interested in our lures. The standard technique is to move the lure in the water in a figure 8-pattern to hopefully trigger a strike. Most of the time, however, the fish would silently disappear back into the deep water, much to our disappointment.
Bob broke the spell, at one point, when a small muskie took his lure. It was on just a couple seconds before flipping the lure and escaping.
We were near the end of our outing, still striking out, when a muskie hit my lure. This one didn’t get away, and Chae quickly netted the fish and brought it in.
It wasn’t a monster fish, by any means, but it still measured 32-inches, so a respectable muskie, though In-Fisherman magazine reported on a recent record muskie, caught in Michigan, that measured a formidable 58-inches and weighed 58-pounds.
My fish wasn’t in that class, but I was tickled pink with my catch. I have done a lot of fishing over the years, but that was my first (and likely last) muskie of my lifetime.
So, if and when travels bring me back to Hoosier country, I’m going fishing.