Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Snake in the Grass
Angle Outpost Resort, Northwest Angle of Minnesota on Lake Of The Woods. Early Summer in the first decade of the 21st Century.
I am on the porch of our cabin, peering East at the dawn and sipping at my coffee. My son, John, makes the best cup of coffee I have ever experienced. No matter how carefully I follow his instructions the best I can come up with is a poor imitation. I take a few puffs on my little cigar and put it out.
It is chilly and there is a strong breeze coming out of the West. The arm of the Northwest Angle is “standing up” and whitecaps race toward the rising sun. I wonder what prospects there are out there for musky hunting today. I am not optimistic.
Over breakfast of walleye filets fried in butter, corn and biscuits we talk about what to do in this weather. A few days earlier it had been still, gray and drizzly. We had boated several decent muskys and limited on walleye for the table.
Today wouldn’t be like that. It would warm up, but it would be a “bluebird” day with a howling wind. Staying in camp was not among our options. Sunshine III, my 1981 Boston Whaler Montauk 17, was a boat that could deal with this, or any other, weather. We decided to run up to the islands in Ontario and fish the sheltered lees of some islands and places where current ran over bars and saddles.
It was always a thrill to twist the key on Sunshine III and have the Suzuki DF70 spring to life instantly and settle into a barely audible humm. We cocooned ourselves in Frogg Toggs, idled out of the Marina and set out to the northeast. We surfed the waves and braved the spray for about 15 miles, then bore to starboard behind a forested island.
Here it was rather quiet and felt a lot warmer than out in the breeze. There was a cluster of small, mostly rocky, islands in the sheltered area. We shed the Frogg Toggs, deployed the troller and selected rods and lures.
I decided, as I often did, to toss my home made, modified #5 Mepps spinner that I call Esox Doom. I had several, so I selected a fire tiger pattern. John’s favorite was a silver/black, single hook Mepps Musky Killer. Many musky hunters think we use lures that are too small for the big ones. Our theory that our selections also catch big smallies and walleyes provides us with a lot more action during our short, one week visits to the world’s finest fishing hole. There is also the fact that, in my 70s, throwing the heavy artillery for 8 hours a day is not an option. I can toss the lighter stuff for 10 hours a day and not wear out.
We worked a rocky shoreline with no action. Then we circled a couple of small rocky islands with the same result. A rocky saddle between two of the islands grudgingly gave up a couple of fat smallies and a follow from a small musky.
We stopped and ate our sandwiches while discussing the situation. I thought we should try some windy points or anywhere there was current. John suggested that we fish some of the drop-offs for walleye. There was a grassy cove with a steep drop-off right in the middle of a channel between islands that had a weedy saddle. We agreed to try for walleye on the drop-off.
John’s idea was a good one. I tossed a fire tiger Bagley DDKB2 to the top of the drop off and cranked her down the slope. Bang! A two pound walleye grabbed it. I actually caught three nice walleye on three consecutive casts.
John was casting a countdown #9S Rapala. It must not have been getting deep enough because nothing ate it. He switched to an #18S Rapala and tossed it up onto the grassy hump. When he retrieved it he let out a surprised yell. I looked and saw what appeared to be a torpedo trailing his lure. He did a figure 8 but the fish sank out of sight. I was sure it was a musky. . . too big to be a “snake” (Northern pike). John threw the Rapala up there several more times, but the fish did not follow again.
“That fish must be here looking for a walleye to eat, John. What have you got that is big, runs deep and could look like a walleye?” I ventured. John took a quick inventory and selected a big #6 Vibrax tandem spinner in brown and yellow. He cast it deep into the grass bed.
The fish grabbed it almost immediately when it hit the water. It took about 5 minutes for him to gently work the fish to boatside where I netted it. Only then did we realize that it wasn’t a musky after all. It was a really big “snake”. It taped at 42". I took a couple of pictures and we released her to get even bigger.
The run back to camp was an adventure in itself. We were running into a 25-30 knot wind and waves that got to 4-5 feet in open water. Though I have never feared for my life when I was piloting a Boston Whaler, they are not famous for smooth riding in a chop, and this was a serious chop. We were pretty sore that night.
(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the iboats.com Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)