“Most of the world is covered by water.
A fisherman’s job is simple: Pick out the best parts.” – Charles W. Waterman
It’s a passion that etches itself into an individual’s spirit. Each cast is like a painter’s brushstroke in the canvas of the soul where nature is the setting and the passion for the sport are the various colors that breathes life into the angler’s work. Every scratch on the lure, frayed line, and even every reel that lost its crank are all part of the sport we call musky fishing.
Musky fishing is not something for the faint of heart as it takes time and dedication to find those “best” spots, earning one of its various nicknames’ “the fish of ten-thousand casts”. Chris Burnette and Harry Haddix, returned to Bear’s Den Lodge because of their successful previous outings fishing the French River, Ontario.
Harry with a 46-inch male French River Musky from 2016 | Featured in Muskies Inc. Magazine May/June 2017
Chris’s 53-inch “Musky for Father’s Day” featured image in the May/June 2017 issue of Muskies Inc. Magazine
The two seasoned musky fishermen had decided to come for season opener and fish the river for ten days with sights of catching trophy musky over 50 inches. With Chris, already having caught a 53-inch musky in their previous season, the two anglers thought fishing similar areas with similar techniques would produce similar results for Harry who had yet to catch a 50+ inch of his own.
Upon their arrival to the area, the two fishermen had noticed a change in the scenery as the water levels were now 6 feet higher than the previous season’s. The reason for this change was because of the environment with having a later spring thaw than normal for the Lower French River. At first, they tried hitting common areas they learned over years of fishing that would shelter the trophy fish. However, it proved to be a new challenge as most of the area’s normal structures were now in deeper and colder waters. This also affected the various species of fish such as the large and smallmouth bass who were now entering their spawn. While muskies can eat bass when the opportunity presents, the muskies had larger opportunities presented to them. They were primarily hunting their smaller cousins, the northern pike along with any other “soft-finned” fish that pressured the bass spawning beds.
Upon realization of this pattern in the third day of the season, Chris and Harry began searching for muddy and gravel bottoms where the bass would be in the French River. They traveled through a prime location called the Wanapitei, fishing both sides of the river as they headed through the old logging area, towards the Sturgeon Chutes where a constant waterfall separated the Lower from the Middle French River. It was also a “main highway” for various fish species to travel as they continued upstream to spawn.
On their way up to the Chutes, Chris cast into the flooded forest and hooked into a musky with his father’s handmade Suick. The fish rolled and fought all the way to the boat where Harry grabbed the net and expertly landed the first musky of the trip. After measuring the fish at 44 inches before releasing – things were starting to look up for the two fishermen. They continued trolling and casting the rest of the way where they saw an impressive sight.
Redfin Sucker (aka River Redhorse) trying to swim up the falls
Over 50,000 gallons of water a minute and three chutes at the falls, the Sturgeon Chutes roared like a miniature Niagara as schools of redfin suckers could be seen gathering around the base of the falls and fighting against the currents to continue up stream. “There’s got to be at least a musky waiting around here of all places,” said Harry before tossing his lure towards the falls. He made several casts before finally feeling a large hit with his reel squealing with his excitement to finally break the ice for himself; Chris grabbed the net and helped Harry land his 39-inch musky. After another successful release, the two continued to fish around the Sturgeon Chutes for awhile in hopes of finding a second musky that might have spawned with Harry’s catch. However, after what felt like hundreds of casts they decided to work their way back to Bear’s Den Lodge.
It was late afternoon, when they were turning the corner into Bear’s Den Bay. Chris had decided he wanted to fish the same point where he caught his 53-inch musky last summer. His intuition paid off. It was the same place, same time, when they both spotted a large boil. Chris tossed his father’s lure once more and immediately, “she smashed it”. Chris set the hook and started fighting the monster. His heart was racing and knees were shaking in anticipation feeling the weight on his line and he knew it had to be big. “Suddenly she thrashed about and I saw her,” said Chris, “I brought the monster to the side of the boat where she could be easy seen in the water.” Harry reached in with the net. The line snapped.
“Harry tried to scoop her up, but it’s my fault. I knew I should’ve retied my line after the 44,” said Chris, hurt knowing the musky was gone. “Her head was big, bigger than my last one. If I had to guess, she was around 56 to 58 inches. But my father’s handmade lure was gone.”
A sad lesson to learn. Despite this loss, the two continued their adventure on the French River. Chris dedicated time searching for the lure each morning and evening while out fishing for the next six days with hopes that perhaps the fish would spit the lure out so he could retire it. However, Harry was just as eager as the first day they went fishing and he was still determined to catch his own 50-inch musky.
But the days were counting down since seeing the monster fish. While there were bass to be caught and pike by the dozens, musky activity was slow for the fishermen. They tried other parts of the river before returning to the Sturgeon Chutes for their last fishing day. Harry and Chris agreed the falls had to be the best place to fish since it was where they had the most action.
Harry tossed his lure towards the falls and felt a big hit. His line, at 8lb test, immediately started running as the reel squealed from the weight of the fish. He tried reeling in but quickly found he had to adjust his drag, loosening the tension on the line so not to snap. Minutes turned into an hour as they passed the rod back and forth between them when exhaustion took over. It seemed like the fish was going to win but diligences paid off. To their surprise, a monster French River sturgeon surfaced sideways. They realized Harry had snagged the monster’s side beside her dorsal fin.
The fish was too large for the two to contain it as it occasionally thrashed at the side of the boat. Not wanting to hurt the fish further, they choose to bring the her to shore to safely remove the hook so as not to imbed itself further into the fish during spawn. Harry having never caught a fish over 50 inches before, wanted to have a quick photo of her before they released her.
Both raced to the lodge to share their unforgettable catch and release of the 66-inch, 88 pounds, sturgeon. “It was as great of catch as catching a musky,” said Chris still shaking in excitement for Harry. “What a magnificent creature and an experience! I learned one thing, always check your equipment after catching a monster musky. Always retie.”
Authored by Joe Barefoot, M.B.