Fall Muskie fishing under a full moon is ideal on Lake St. Clair:|
ERIC SHARP DETROIT FREE PRESS OUTDOORS WRITER
Detroit Free Press - October 13, 2011 ET
LIGHTHOUSE COVE, Ontario -- Ask Rodney (Tug) Orr what he does, and he'll say he sells used vans with a sideline as a "demotivational speaker. I convince friends who are lawyers and businessmen to skip work and go fishing."
What the Wixom angler is most passionate about is trolling for muskellunge on Lake St. Clair, especially under a full moon, and as the sun set on this stunning October evening, he added muskie No. 2,586 to the book of fish he has caught personally or had a hand in landing over the past 10 years.
It's a 38-incher, puny by St. Clair standards, but the sixth landed and released in 2 hours by Orr and two other anglers aboard his 20-foot, outboard-powered "Tugboat." They were Roy Julien, a friend from Algonac who recently got back into muskie fishing, and Capt. Terry Van De Wauwer, a charter skipper from nearby Chatham enjoying a brief busman's holiday after guiding clients to 16 muskies earlier that day.
Sixteen muskies would be a good season on many waters across the country, but on St. Clair it's merely a better-than-average trip.
What they haven't seen yet is the reason Orr talked Van De Wauwer into coming along and adding two more rods to the boat -- one of the 50-inch fish for which this lake is renowned and which can add 20% to their weight during fall feeding binges under the full moons of October and November.
"I began fishing the full moon at night when I started muskie fishing. Most guys didn't do it, but a lot more are starting to catch on," Orr said.
"The problem is that sometimes the full moon comes on nights when it's overcast and raining, or the wind is blowing 30 knots and you can't get out.
"But if you get the right night, it can be spectacular. That's when the big mammas are prowling, and they'll eat anything they can catch."
This night couldn't be better as Tugboat trolled in 12 feet of water not far from the mouth of the Thames River. A huge moon was pouring liquid silver down into a lake so flat and shiny it looked like a sheet of plastic.
Orr's crew picked up the first two muskellunge in the hour before dark and continued to peck at them for the next couple of hours, but the biggest was 45 inches.
On the radio, they could hear that Scott Murray and his crew on "Down Time," one of Orr's cohorts in the Michigan-Ontario Muskellunge Club, were doing well with a couple in the high-20-pound range.
Then Murray reported landing a couple of 30-pounders and minutes later announced, "We have two fish over 50 inches on the deck. I can't believe it. They were hunting together, and we got them both."
Heading into the Thames to weigh them at the marina, Murray radioed, "Holy smokes! My mouth is so dry I can't talk," and a little later reported the fish were 37 3/4 and 34 3/4 pounds, and both over 53 inches.
Orr said, "OK, I'm jealous," especially since Tugboat hadn't had a strike in more than an hour. But the three anglers kept plugging away at their program, confident it would produce Big Bertha before the night was through.
This is the time of year muskellunge anglers start dragging "lumber" at 3.5-4 m.p.h., lures up to 18-inches long that attract big fish. "I'm a believer in big bait, big fish," said Van De Wauwer, whose clients have landed more than 300 muskellunge this season. "All they can see is a shadow, and if you put it close enough to them, they'll hit it. I also like lures with rattles in them."
Van De Wauwer said color can make a difference in the moonlight, and if the water is clear, the same Lokis, Nils and other muskellunge baits that work in the daytime sometimes catch fish.
But a better bet is darker colors, especially in muddy water, keeping them shallow and close to the planer boards.
While Lake St. Clair has a lot of muskellunge, Van De Wauwer said "it will never produce a world record. I do believe a 50-pounder eventually will come out of here, but there are just too many of them, and they have the wrong kind of food to get many over 40.
"Here they eat (lean) fish like bass and walleyes and perch. If this lake had a god population of oily fish like whitefish, I hate to think how big the muskellunge could get. They would be incredible."
At 11 p.m. something hit a dark frog lure, and when Julien picked up the rod, he said, "It's a
good fish. Got some weight to it." A few minutes later, everyone was admiring a thick, 52-inch muskie that weighed about 35 pounds.
"Now I feel better," Orr said. "I knew we'd get a 50 if we just kept at it."
That fish was still being measured when another rod went, and a 44-incher that weighed about 20 pounds battled all the way to the transom.
Thirty minutes later, another fish hit and got off by straightening out one of the treble hooks, but by then it was time to get Van De Wauwer back to the dock to get some rest before meeting his muskie charter clients in the morning.
It had been a good night, with 12 fish between 24 and 52 inches, and four that were at least 35 pounds landed and released, Four others struck but got off.
As he headed to the dock, Orr gave a last piece of advice for people new to the game:
"You have to know where you're fishing at night," he said. "I go where I know there are no buoys or deadheads. It's fun, but you have to use common sense."
Contact ERIC SHARP: 313-222-2511 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Order his book "Fishing Michigan" for $15.95 at www.freep.com/bookstore or by calling 800-245-5082.