My wife’s grandfather (who lives in St. Cloud) starts all stories with, “We left St. Cloud…” meaning, always start at the beginning and don’t miss a fact. So here we go. I left St. Paul…
This fish was the circumstance of a very cool culmination of life events. Gabe Schubert who had been chasing muskies on the fly for around 20 years, and Russ Gontarek who had been chasing them for about 4 years taught me the ways of muskie fly fishing. I met Russ about 6 years ago, through a friend of my wife’s when they came to visit Montana. Russ called me a few years later and said I should look into buying a fly shop (THIS fly shop). I met Gabe through a combo of the purchase of the fly shop and the fact that he was a good friend of Russ’.
Gabe, Russ and I spent countless hours fishing the rivers and lakes of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and in my first three years of fly fishing for muskies, probably putting close to 100 days on the water, I had only boated 8 fish. I had a year and a half drought where it just didn’t happen at all. Plenty of follows and hook ups but my TROUT SET was killing me.
Two years ago we decided to take the shop to the Saint Paul Muskie expo in the spring where we set up a fly booth right in the middle of the gear world. It was there that Ben Olsen, who had been guiding muskies on gear for around 10 years, stopped by our booth and chatted with us. He said he had been interested in chasing muskies on the fly and had even dabbled in it a little bit. Russ invited Ben out to show him how these flies can swim in the water a few weeks later, and Ben was in the shop getting set up with the right equipment a few weeks after that. I don’t think Ben has thrown a gear rod on his personal fishing time since.
I have gotten to know Ben over the last few years with the common thread of muskies on the fly. We have been doing a little fishing together along with Gabe and Russ. I was starting to think I was the banana (bad luck) in the boat as every time we went out together we would not even see a fish.
Ben invited Gabe and I up to Mille Lacs a few weeks ago, but at the last minute had to bag the plans due to some family stuff at home. Gabe and I went out that day on a different body of water and Gabe boated his personal best muskie in an amazing figure-eight boatside eat, a 51.5 inch monster. It was so cool to see this happen right before my eyes.
Later that week I got a text from Ben and said he had some room in the boat for the weekend of Nov 6th through the 9th. That Monday was looking like the only day I could join up, so I found someone to cover the shop for me and Russ and I were set to join Gabe and Ben and take turns casting in the boat as it’s a bit difficult to cast more than two fly rods out a a boat at the same time. Russ had to back out Monday morning after being called into work, so I drove up in the dark and met Gabe and Ben at the boat ramp. It was just starting to get light and it was damn cold out.
4 hours into the day and Ben was casting out of the front of the boat, Gabe was manning the bow mount motor, keeping the boat on the right line at the spot Ben has seen some giant fish in past years, I was casting out of the back of the boat. She ate the fly about 20 feet out. I saw her eat but she ate coming straight at me. I somehow managed to strip set on her three times!! Then she turned 90 degrees to the boat and I knew at that point she was an absolute GIANT fish. She came straight at the boat, I was stripping line as fast as I could (thanks to Gabe yelling “Strip Strip Strip!!”). She then made a 90 degree turn towards the front of the boat, and did a few giant head shakes out of the water.
Ben has probably seen at least a hundred muskies over 50 inches up to the boat and had boated a 57 X 26.5 the same size as my fish, on gear a few years back. When that fish was shaking its head up near the bow of the boat, and Ben was yelling “OH MY GOD” just before it went in the net, I knew it was even bigger than I thought. Ben said he got sick to his stomach when he saw the head out of the water and once it was in the net none of us even wanted to go look at the fish. Ben said repeatedly, “I don’t even want to look in the bag!” All in all the fight only took 17 seconds from hook up to in the net. I am just so lucky she cooperated so well and we could get her in quick. We took a few quick pics, put her on the board and got the length and girth. None of us could believe she was 57, we were all in shock. We got her back in the 45 degree water and after just a minute or so and she swam back off into the depths. Another group came over and congratulated us and got to see her disappear into Mille Lacs.
This fish would have never happened without Ben’s amazing knowledge of fishing these giants in lakes and Gabe and Russ constantly instructing me on how it is all done.
One word of advice, if you ever stumble across a potential world record while out fishing, be sure not to party too hard that evening, believe me. Thats it, thats all.