muskie hunter "Sandy" Berdeen with his trophy 45 lb. muskie, caught in
the closing seconds of his third muskie hunt on the St. Lawrence River..
Playing "what if" can be a fascinating pastime. It has challenged some of the world's greatest minds. It's a process that has won and lost wars and been responsible for some of our greatest inventions. One of my favorites is "what if" the pilgrims had shot a skunk on that first Thanksgiving instead of a turkey? More often than not, it is fueled by boredom...a password among muskie hunters!
P.L. "Sandy" Berdeen is an avid freshwater fisherman from Norwalk. Ct.. He is a middle aged, well to do retiree, just remarried to an attractive blue eyed blond named Rochelle. She shares his enjoyment of the out of doors and has the patience needed to accompany him, as a spectator, on his annual muskie hunts to the 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River.
On their first muskie hunt in 1996 Sandy caught his very first muskie on the first day. Although legal size, it was photographed and released. On the second day he hooked, but lost, another. Although a little disappointing, the combination of catching and loosing muskies resulted in his catching muskie fever, an incurable "disease" shared by dedicated muskie hunters across the country.
This was the Berdeen's third trip to the 1000 Islands in search of a trophy muskie. It was mid October, a time when winds were more often high than low. Fishing the open waters of famous 40 Acre Shoal in 20 plus mile an hour winds is next to impossible, not to mention uncomfortable. On the first day of their annual trek we were forced to seek more sheltered waters near another popular muskie spot, the Gananoque Narrows.
Being a much smaller area meant that we were able to cover it in its entirety over the course of the day. Other than a few floating weeds that got wrapped on the downrigger cables and fishing lines, the day produced nothing but conversation, a few short snoozes and some "what if" we tried it over theres, as cause for occasional changes in an otherwise pre-planned course.
As it turned out, the highlight of the day was the renewal of Sandy and Rochelle's marriage vows in Canada, naturally conducted by me, as ship's captain. "We've been married in Maine and Connecticut" said Sandy, "why not Canada too?" What the heck I figured, there isn't anything else going on. Besides, your expected to be a little crazy if you're a muskie fisherman!
As the first day came to an unsuccessful close Rochelle said "tomorrow I'll bring my good luck charm." "Why in hell didn't you bring it today" I asked.
The following day dawned clear and chilly with a light, crisp breeze from the northwest. Walking down the dock every sense indicated a perfect muskie fishing day ahead.
As we left the boathouse there was no doubt about it, today was to be spent on "the Acres." Twenty minutes later the three Radtke Pike Minnow muskie lures were in the water doing their dance, an erotic combination of moves that seems to turn otherwise docile muskies into a state of vicious frenzy.
Rochelle was quick to point out her good luck charm hanging around her neck. It was sterling silver, of no particular shape or suggesting any particular purpose other than something to hang around one's neck. Regardless, it had a special significance to her that made it her good luck charm. That was good enough for me.
The hours dragged by without a touch on the lures. By three o'clock it had been a long day and disappointment began to set in. Would this be the second trip without even a strike in two whole days of fishing? It was now 4:45 and time to call it a day. "Well Sandy" I said, "it looks like it's muskies 2 and us 0 again this year."
As I headed for the rods to pull in the lines Sandy called through the drop curtains that my wife Susan was calling me on the radio. I returned to the cabin for a minute or two while we spoke and then headed back out to reel in the lines.
I started with the downrigger with two lines bringing in first the top line and then the lower one. I set the two rods aside, turned off the downrigger and headed across the deck towards the one remaining line. As I began to reach for the rod, the line snapped loose from the release and the drag screamed without a pause. Nuts, I thought, did I miscalculate my timing and get us into shallow water before I could get all the lines in?
I ran to the cabin and looked at the depth sounder. We were in 40 feet of water and I knew the lure was only down 25 feet. "Go land your muskie Sandy" I said, "it's a big one so be careful."
There was no rush with all but the last downrigger weight to bring in. Rochelle and I really turned the event into a spectator sport as we watched Sandy's every move as he handled the big fish without a hitch. Never was there any doubt who was in charge as Sandy allowed the fish every run it wanted but gently coaxed it towards the boat at every sign of rest. Although it seemed forever, the fight lasted only about twenty minutes before the fish was along side the boat.
I knew it was big from the start but was amazed the closer it got to the boat. By the time it was along side it looked like Jaws to the three of us. I netted it and hauled it into the boat, hooking myself in the calf in the process. Fortunately, the fish jerked, ripping the hook free of my leg, leaving me only to contend with the fish. You don't feel pain at a time like this!
Until we saw the true size of the fish, the intent was to release all catches. This however was a fish of a lifetime. Among the largest any muskie hunter could ever expect to catch and the largest to ever come on board A.B.'s Office.
Given its critical state of exhaustion from the fight and its doubtful survival, and its true record size, Sandy chose to have the trophy mounted. It weighed in at 45 pounds and measured 54 3/4" long with a girth of 26.5 inches.
In muskie fishing, I tell my clients, all it takes is a second. That one second can turn disappointment into success, a frown to a smile and a disappointing fishing trip into the trip of a lifetime. This day was proof positive of that.
Then I thought..."what if" Susan hadn't called me, taking me back into the cabin for those 90 or so seconds, thereby delaying my reeling in the lines?