The best upper body workout around is casting a 10-weight fly rod rigged for musky. Do it on top of a moving boat and it turns into a full-body workout. Do it continually for hours at a time, and you may question your ability to make good life choices.
If you’re one of the three regular visitors to this blog (Hi mom!) you’ll know I like a bit of history along with my fishing, so here goes: the word muskellunge took a roundabout journey to reach us today, beginning first as the Ojibwe word maashkinoozhe (“ugly pike”), and later being replaced by the similar sounding French term masque allonge (“elongated face”) and mostly just shortened to musky by anglers who failed foreign language courses in school.
This explanation does so very little to underscore the grand cosmic synergy at work in the word’s etymology. Two vastly different cultures developed two dissimilar terms with syllabic parallels that both aptly describe the the same fish, a fish found in the geographic region where both of these cultures initially became aware of each other, cooperating and clashing for centuries, and laying the foundation for what exists today. If there were one word to best sum up the natural, cultural, and geographic history of Wisconsin, it might very well be muskellunge.
(Imagine now if it were the British that first journeyed deep into the New World’s interior and came upon the musky to “discover” and popularize it’s name. We may very well be chasing crumpetfish or something equally unpoetic, and that hardly sounds like a worthy gamefish.)
The etymology lesson also begs the question: How did the Ojibwe know it was an ugly pike? How often were Ojibwe sighting these fish that they were able to not only distinguish it from pike, but recognize it as the uglier one of the two?
I ask because, after an exhaustive day-long effort by four anglers in dogged pursuit of musky, I have yet to see a damn thing that looks like a fish. I did find where my waders are most likely leaking (judging by the dark wet patch on my pants, somewhere near the right knee). I spotted four bald eagles (one juvenile) along the river. I discovered that some of the fly patterns that looked badass on the vise threw for shit or coasted like a drowned twig on the strip. I watched as the light slowly drained from the river valley as the sun began to set. I saw attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion– whoops, sorry, wrong monologue.
If you get blanked chasing trout or smallmouth, it is frustrating. If you get blanked fishing for bluegills, you probably forgot to use a hook. But getting goosed on a musky trip is par for the course. To anticipate something, not find it, and to be able to walk away at peace with yourself and your decisions that day, having still found a worthwhile experience in the pursuit… there is something very zen about that.
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.” Thoreau probably would’ve made a good musky angler.