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Pre-tournament fishing outing a net loss, even with good muskie

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Updated: September 17, 2013 8:53PM

COOK, Minn. — As muskies go on Lake Vermilion, a 37-incher is nothing much. Unless it comes with a story.

What is life well-lived without a fish story, especially one that includes a camera and a Beckman net sinking into the deep?

I thought the oddest thing on this trip came on the drive north with Steve ‘‘Big Tuna’’ Statland. As we rolled Saturday through Superior, Wis., I noticed a shop selling ‘‘Wild Rice, Lobster Tails, Fireworks.’’

That sounded like a party.

We are on the Grumpy Old Men team, part of a five-team, 30-man contingent gone north from the Chicagoland Muskie Hunters chapter of Muskies Inc. to fish the Gil Hamm Memorial Chapter Challunge. Other team members are Paul Hortenstine, Brent ‘‘Bert’’ Cunningham and twins Bob and Don Roman.

Hamm founded Muskies Inc. CMH, as the defending champion, hosts the Gil Hamm this year and keeps the Lunge Bucket (Stanley Cup in wood). The competition runs Wednesday through Friday, but most of us arrived and started fishing Saturday.

Fishing was tough. We didn’t move or raise any fish Saturday. Raising or moving a fish is having a muskie follow or float up and give your lure the predator eye.

That is where figure-eighting comes in. It’s a technique of making wide circles (or figure eights) at the boat to entice a strike. Some people, such as Statland, a Muskies Inc. Hall of Famer from Lincolnwood and the co-owner of the Chicago Muskie Show, have made it an art form.

We only heard of a couple of follows and one fish caught, a 37-incher by Frank Loye, the hottest muskie fisherman in CMH.

Sunday was even tougher. It started with rain and an east wind and was followed by a front and high, blue skies. Bucktails, spinner baits, topwaters and Bulldawgs — nothing worked. We heard of no muskies caught and only a handful of follows.

Monday morning brought 28 degrees and a thick fog rolling off the 64-degree water. After waiting for the fog to burn off, we tried trolling and casting, but we hit nothing.

We stopped for a late lunch on Frazier Bay. Then Statland thought we should do a troll around a reef. He suggested high-profile baits. Black-on-black baits are go-to on Vermilion. But they hadn’t worked in three days, so I picked a 10-inch Jake in chartreuse and orange with black bars.

We made two trolling loops before Statland suggested we go do something else. And he delivered our running joke: ‘‘Remember to watch for follows when you bring the bait in.’’

I made one turn of the reel to bring the Jake in, and it stopped.

‘‘Fish,’’ I barked.

Twenty feet out, I saw it.

‘‘Decent-sized muskie,’’ I said.

Statland, a veteran muskie fisherman with six longer than 50 inches, made a crack about the size but netted it without incident. He took some photos nobody will see.

For some reason, I took a step back and bumped the net overboard. I reached for it while holding the fish with my left hand and missed the handle by an inch.

‘‘Don’t worry, it will float,’’ Statland said. ‘‘Oh, no, it won’t.’’

So I reached and missed the sinking handle by six inches. He ran up and grabbed with his right hand, my camera slipping from his left.

Somewhere in 30 feet of water, there’s a digital camera and a Beckman net — both worth about $150 — in their final resting place.

There are several ways to go after that. You can start crying, begin bitching at each other or begin laughing. Thank God, we both started laughing.

More fish stories to come. Daily updates are at Stray Casts (

Wild things

Are bald eagles becoming passé as barometers of wildness? After all, they even nest in Chicago and the suburbs. So many fly around Lake Vermilion that you don’t even notice after a day or so.

Stray cast

Brian Urlacher is an American eel, headed back to sea. As for Jay Cutler, three-spined stickleback?


Eddie Coco of Lombard and Tim Heaney of Villa Park made a morning of it Saturday, casting crankbaits at the Ditch in Indiana.

Coco ended up with Chinook of 38 and 36 inches, the largest king (right) estimated at 25 to 28 pounds. Heaney caught a 34-inch brown trout. All three were released.

Using bass equipment, they were casting Fat Free Shads, broken-back Storm lures and Shad Raps.

‘‘What a rush,’’ Coco emailed.

We are going to see a 30-pound king caught on shore this fall.

Make Fish of the Week nominations by Facebook (Dale Bowman), Twitter (@BowmanOutside) or email (

Midwest fishing report

LAKEFRONT SALMON: Chinook are coming to shore. CHICAGO: Mike Repa at Park Bait said glow-in-the-dark spoons remain the top choice at Montrose, where the biggest so far reported was 18 pounds. Fish are in at Burnham/Northerly Island and on the South Side, too, according to Ray Hinton. INDIANA: Mike Starcevich at Mik-Lurch reported salmon all over: Ditch, Hole-in-the-Wall and up the creeks (Salt, Trail and Little Cal). They should be going soon at the Pastrick and Hammond marinas. Best bait has been Moonshine spoons. SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN: Tyler Harmon messaged a ‘‘few steelhead and salmon being caught in the rivers now,’’ but ‘‘pier and near-shore trolling on Lake Michigan has been slow.’’

AREA LAKES: Ken ‘‘Husker’’ O’Malley of Water Werks Fishing Team said big bass are heating up suburban ponds and lakes. He said key is wind-blown shorelines, especially those with weed mats. Starcevich reported crappie picking up all over.

AREA RIVERS: DES PLAINES: Marcus Benesch reported pike (some topping 30 inches) continue to be super-active, hitting anything thrown into brush piles. FOX: Ken Gortowski said ‘‘cooling water temps should see an increase in fish activity for smallies, white bass and walleye. Panfish and baitfish make a run up the river in the fall, and all that eat them follow along.’’ KANKAKEE: River is very low. Guide Matt Mullady reported some outstanding fly-fishing for smallmouth in the state park.

COOLING LAKES/STRIP PITS: MAZONIA/BRAIDWOOD: Last day of fishing is Oct. 8, but Monster Lake at Mazonia South remains open year-round. LaSALLE: The entrance road and parking lot are being paved, so be aware that the site and/or launches could be closed on any day. Call (815) 795-2448 for information. Last day of fishing is Oct. 13. HEIDECKE: Last day of fishing is Oct. 8.

DELAVAN/GENEVA LAKES, WIS.: DELAVAN: Guide Dave Duwe said fall patterns are beginning, with fatheads catching everything and fish scattered throughout the weed lines and main-lake points. GENEVA: Duwe said smallmouth are being caught in 21 to 25 feet. Very good bluegills in 22 to 25 feet.

NORTHERN WISCONSIN: EAGLE RIVER: Chamber of Commerce reported good-to-excellent pike (in and around weeds) and smallmouth (off break edges or over hard bottoms).

NORTHWEST INDIANA: See top for salmon. Mik-Lurch reported some walleye at Wolf. Willow Slough reopens to fishing Monday. Tyler Harmon messaged that steelhead are on fire in the Mishawaka section of the St. Joseph River.

SHABBONA LAKE: This is muskie-contest weekend, and the timing looks right. Go to or call (815) 824-2581.

WISCONSIN DELLS: Sturgeon season is open. River’s Edge reported no legals yet.

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