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A weekend full of memories on Eagle River

Joe McCartholds muskie boated Eagle River chanorthern Wisconsin. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Joe McCartin holds a muskie boated on the Eagle River chain in northern Wisconsin. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 14, 2012 6:33AM

EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — Off the edge of a wind-blown weed corner, a 3-foot long muskie floated up with its nose on my Crane Bait.

It’s those ghostly appearances that make muskie fishing addictive and memorable.

One second, you’re ripping a Crane Bait over the weed tops. The next, a muskie materializes on a figure-eight by the boat. Then it sinks into the depths, leaving a blank slate filled with the drab darkness of doubt.

Fourteen times last weekend, Joe McCartin and I raised a muskie during the 32nd annual Spring Classic — hosted by the Headwaters chapter of Muskies Inc. — on the Eagle River chain out of Wild Eagle Lodge. Only one of ours ended up in the boat.

While we didn’t boat any legals (34 inches or longer), 29 were caught among the 71-team field. Two teams caught three legal fish, led by winners Ron and Linda Crass (421/4, 341/4 and 371/4).

All in all, it was a weekend to burn in memory.

On Friday afternoon, as we started off on Scattering Rice Lake, a bald eagle floated over. We didn’t fish Friday; we just looked for weeds and did the shakedown on McCartin’s new Ranger boat.

‘‘[I am] fishing a lot memories up here,’’ said McCartin, a dentist on Southwest Side, who has had a place north of town for decades.

We made some new memories.

On Saturday, we primarily fished weeds and quickly raised muskie after muskie on Otter, Duck and Scattering Rice lakes.

The Spring Classic uses a split of 10 hours (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) on Saturday and five (7 a.m. to noon) on Sunday. With minutes to go Saturday, McCartin raised a muskie around 44 inches, big enough that the thought of diving in came up.

The next morning, we went back after the big one but couldn’t raise her. But other follows came again. And we were blessed with a doe swimming the width of a lake.

When I got home, I asked Bill Jacobs, the guide who has been president of Headwaters (the largest Muskies Inc. chapter) since 2003, what he did with followers who didn’t finish.

‘‘My best answer would be to have a throw-back bait different from what you are throwing,’’ he said. ‘‘I am a firm believer in speed to get a fish to react. I know this weekend, the follows I had were very lethargic and not wanting to react to anything I tried.’’

That made me feel better. I used smaller Crane Baits in brown perch, green with a white belly and green with a yellow belly. The second two were recommended by guide/teacher ‘‘Ranger’’ Rick Krueger when we tried to find a Crane Bait to replace the hot one that went out of tune.

McCartin primarily was throwing spinners and bucktails: Rizzo Wizzes, Bucher bucktails and ‘‘a secret one’’ his Professional Musky Tournament Trail partner Ed Haagenson found to work on Eagle River.

Hearing of our follows, Haagenson texted, ‘‘Violent figure-eights.’’

I tried that like a wild man Sunday.

McCartin went to classic advice from Joe Bucher: ‘‘Pull out deeper. You might be right on top of them if you’re just getting follows.’’

On Sunday, McCartin had us fish shallow weeds again, but he also pulled off past the secondary break. The follows came quickly again, but they were more aggressive.

At 11:40 a.m., McCartin finally boated one, but it came up short at 261/2 inches.

It was time.

We also boated five northern pike and a beautiful walleye and flipped two largemouth bass.

After a weekend like that, I added more memories by taking Route 45 — Three Lakes, Pelican Lake, Antigo, Clintonville, New London — to Route 41 in Oshkosh on the way home.

Stray cast

While Jorge Soler is a follow, at the least the Cubs are casting in the right waters.

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