Heavyweight Bait

By Pete Robbins

About 15 years ago I fished a tournament on the James River at a time when the fishery was quite poor. Despite the conditions, I’d found an area that produced fairly consistent bites and felt good about my chances when I settled in on tournament morning. My non-boater put the first bass in the boat that day, a solid 2-pounder, so when my first one measured 12 1/8 inches, I was sure that I would cull it later. Unfortunately, the next one was slightly smaller. So was the next one. They were both legal at 12 inches, but barely.

When the day ended, the biggest fish in my limit was a whopping 12 ¼ inches, and the quintet pushed the scales to 4.51 pounds. As far as I can recall, that’s the lightest limit I’ve ever heard of being weighed in without the “benefit” of a penalty to drag it down.

Those five fish averaged less than 15 ounces apiece, and while I’m not sure that any of those anemic suckers was below 12 ounces, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. I thought of those fish this past weekend as I lobbed massive muskie lures on St. Clair. In particular, the big rubber Medussas that I flung for two days straight weighed in at about 11 ounces, just a few shad below the weight of the smallest fish I weighed in all those years ago.

My lure at St. Clair wasn’t even the largest in the boat. Our guide Matt primarily fished a Bulldawg “Pounder,” so named because it’s about 16 ounces, possibly more than any of the fish I weighed in at the James. He informed us that some anglers in Minnesota employ the “Two Pounder” that, as the name suggests, weighs twice as much.

While I’m extremely new to muskie fishing, I’m not new to fishing with baits that have the potential to put an angler in pain. I’ve cranked a 10XD through timber at warp speed for hours on end in Mexico. I’ve ripped a big prop bait in the Amazon until my hands bled, working it hardest when the temps hit 95 and the sun sat directly overhead at noon. On that trip, if we didn’t drink Emergen-C before bed, we’d wake up in the middle of the night with claws for hands, unable to straighten out our fingers. Still, nothing prepared me for throwing the big muskie baits on 9’ rods and 400-sized reels for 10-plus hours at a time.

By 10am on the first day of fishing I could feel the stress between my shoulder blades. By 3pm, the wife started to take occasional breaks to save her strength. While Matt would’ve stayed out much later, we decided to head in at 4 just to ensure that we’d be able to fish the next day.

Surprisingly, thanks to Advil, massive amounts of water and a good night’s sleep, we fished from 6am until 6pm the next day. As Matt predicted, the thrill of finally putting a muskie in the boat re-energized us and made pain go away.

As a side note, the particular Medussa that I used most of the time was in the “Ball Licker” color pattern. Take that, Andre Moore.