LEXINGTON, Ohio - It is down there waiting like a stick of dynamite, a powerful gamefish just waiting to explode.
You just don't know what is going to light its fuse. Or when. That would be the muskellunge.
Fred Lederer, president of the 750-member Ohio Huskie Muskie Club, and his muskie-angling son, Jacob, 10, would second that notion.
"They're such an elusive fish," Lederer begins. "Yeah, you can go and catch perch and walleye all day long. But muskies - they've got attitudes that change more than Ohio weather does. When you get one, it's payoff time."
Fred Lederer and his 10-year-old son, Jacob, fish for muskies on the Clear Fork Reservoir.
He and Jacob had caught a pair of Ohio "huskie muskies" (42-inchers) just the night before last Friday's Division Day on the 966-acre Clear Fork Reservoir here. The reservoir supplies water for Mansfield.
Division Day is a casual muskie fishing foray with Ohio Division of Wildlife personnel, writers, and club members and Lederer arriving early to set up and get ready for a weekend club tournament. He and his son took both their muskies just 10 minutes apart in the evening during a turn-on period - "just before the front came through."
That would be a cold front, the stormy passage of which left muskies with lockjaw, sulking in their weedy hides, predicted Lederer, a Perrysburg resident and Owens-Illinois engineer. He also is a muskie swami with his forecasts. In Friday's fishing, 15 angling teams took just five fish, the largest being 35 inches - quite a bit smaller than the previous night's fish.
Still a muskie is a muskie, and fishermen with the fever, like
Lederer, will be trolling and casting for these toothy monsters from February until Christmas.
Muskies are closely related to and resemble more familiar northern pike, but may grow to super-size - 50 inches or more and 50 to 55 pounds and up. They generally are lighter in color and have dark, irregular, vertically arranged blotches on their sides. Pike tend to have dark sides with horizontal lines of spots and blotches.
In the Huskie Muskie Club, a fish under 42 inches receives honorable mention. Anything 42 inches and up is a huskie muskie. Any muskie caught entitles an angler to membership in the club for $12 a year, but the first 42-incher gets you a free dinner at the annual awards banquet.
As we circled Clear Fork in a lazy muskie-search pattern,
Lederer shared his thoughts about the club and muskies.
He likes Clear Fork "because it's close" to his Perrysburg home. Two hours. The impoundment's muskies grow 44 to 48 inches, 25 to 30 pounds and larger, and it has a good population of fish per acre. "So this is a good lake to get educated on."
Lederer has had muskie disease for at least 14 years, since he took a 51 1/2-incher in Ontario. "Since that fish it has just been nonstop pursuit."
The man also likes to fish Leesville, Salt Fork and Pymatuning reservoirs in Ohio, Lake St. Clair and Lake Hudson in Lenawee County, Mich.
He prefers to cast huge jerk-baits, such as the Phantom. In clear water with a topwater bait, he explained, "I just love to see that fish come up and see his jaws open up."
But the muskieman acknowledges that trolling is the way to produce fish. The baits, after all, are in the water down in the fishing zone - usually five to 10 feet down over a 15-foot thermocline in Ohio reservoirs - all the time.
"So in Ohio they just sit right on top of [the thermocline], and with their eyes pointing up [on the top corners of their heads], they don't go down."
June, Lederer said, is one of the best months at Clear Fork, which is located at State Rts. 97 and 314 in Richland County. He noted that 68 percent of the annual muskie take at Clear Fork occurs in June but added, "it varies from lake to lake."
For trolling Lederer selects Hot "N Tot Magnums, Rapala J-13 plugs, the Sisson lures, Bagley Monster Shads, and Burmeks, the latter being jointed plugs. He customizes some, like the Sisson, with a stainless steel pin to keep the lip in place, and adds stout Gamagatsu hooks. Muskies can straighten some hooks.
Speaking of which, Lederer is always checking his hooks and filing them to needle-sharp points. "You can have all the patience in the world to catch muskies [and you need it] but when the moment of truth comes and you don't have a sharp hook you are going to have a broken heart.
"I like trolling fast [3 1/2 mph]. Give the fish a quick look - if he's going to hit it, he'll hit it." Slower speeds may not exact a strike reaction from a fish, which instead may just follow along behind the bait, thinking too much and acting too little.
He generally uses heavy casting or spinning tackle, 35 to 50-pound-test braided line tipped with homemade, foot-long 75-pound-test wire leaders. You just do not mess around with these fish.
"Monofilament stretches so much it's hard to get a good hook-set; even with braided, sometimes, you miss."
Also: "Usually I don't like plastic rod-holders for muskies. I've had a couple that just exploded when a muskie hit. I caught a rod in mid-air one time."
And last but not least, a note from Don Weaver, immediate past president of the OHMC:
"I got my 700th muskie this morning [Tuesday] trolling with a brown tiger Sisson. A nice 35-inch fish and she made me bleed. Got to start using a glove on all bigger muskie. My first muskie was caught 5/20/1983 on a spinner. Twenty-three years of muskie fishing and 700 now caught, and 501 of those muskies were caught on Sissons."
Fishing report - Walleye fishing on western Lake Erie remains excellent, according to a check of area bait shops from Monroe to Lakeside.
On the Michigan side, the waters off Stony Point/Brest Bay are providing easy limits, as are 16 to 20-foot depths south to Luna Pier. Casting and trolling both are producing fish.
On the Ohio side, the waters from the Gravel Pit northeast along the outer Toledo Ship Channel, and around West Sister Island all are producing fish, as are the areas from Niagara Reef to C-Can and two miles west of Green Island. In the latter areas an evening fishery from 7 to dark is very productive.
Yellow perch angling also is very good off Toledo Beach on the Michigan side and Toledo Harbor Light, the outer Ship Channel and Toledo Water Intake on the Ohio side.
Inland, flathead catfish to 35 pounds are being taken on bluegills on the Maumee River in the Grand Rapids Dam area, and channel cats to 15 pounds are being landed from the river around Mary Jane Thurston State Park above the dam.
A few white bass also are being taken up near the dam, and in the Maumee-Perrysburg rapids though activity there is light. Largemouth and smallmouth bass in the rivers below the dams and in Lake Erie must be immediately released through June 23.
Contact Steve Pollick at: