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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 esharp@free­press.com. Order his book "Fishing Michigan" for $15.95 at www.freep.com/book­store or by call­ing 800-245-5082.