#17&18- Wisconsin & The fish of 10,000-er-2, casts, Do-Over in Illinois
Coming into Wisconsin we were preparing ourselves for the worst. We knew we had to catch a Muskellunge, or "Musky' as it is known. I had gone on some Facebook groups to ask how realistic that was, but they aren’t called the fish of ten thousand casts for nothing. We had heard that fishermen go their whole lives without catching one. Gulp!
We had a lot people offer encouraging advice, but we expected to be in for a long haul. We had friends in Milwaukee that had offered to host us, and through Facebook we had two people offered to take us out on their boats for musky, so we decided to fish for a couple days on our own in the Wisconsin River and then head South to Milwaukee. It was the coldest weather either of us had fished in (low 20’s) and the first time we had to deal with the guides on our rods freezing over. We were to learn that one could fish in even colder weather!
With no luck we headed to Milwaukee, where we stayed with the Berrien family on the north side of the city. They fed us steak and gave us warm beds - much needed after a couple of weeks of freezing outside. The next day we drove out towards a spot on the Wisconsin River where we were going to meet a guide, Thomas Droste, who had offered to take us fishing early the next morning. Thomas, was primarily a walleye guide but caught plenty of musky in the process below a paper mill that he often took his clients to fish. We met him at a boat ramp at 6:30 that morning, and it was 15 degrees. We got all layered up and then ran the river to a paper mill and started casting jigs, crankbaits, and some live minnow rigs. We fished for about 30 minutes and then Dan hooked into something big. He fought it for a few minutes before we saw it break the surface, and sure enough there was the first musky either of us had ever seen! He got it within five feet of the boat where it spit the hook and escaped. Heartbreaking! However, not even ten minutes later he was hooked up again, and this time landed a beautiful 40 inch musky. We fished for another several hours, and caught more walleye than we knew what to do with, including two fish over 20 inches, but could not get another musky on the line.
Thomas has been in the national guard for 17 years and has been deployed several times, and guides while he is home while on the pro staff of St. Croix rods. He had recently got engaged, and was one of the nicest guys we've had the opportunity to meet on our journey. Wisconsin in general turned out to be the friendliest place we fished! We did have a mishap on the trip out with him however, with Daniel dropping his phone in the river, and we were unable to retrieve it.
We drove back to Milwaukee that night, and stayed with the Berrien's again. We still had work to do because now we needed a musky AND a new phone, so we killed a day in Milwaukee trying to figure out a plan of action for the phone and the fishing. We fished on the bank of the Wisconsin river again the next day, and Dan ordered a phone that we hoped wouldn’t take too long to arrive and hold us up.
We then had a stroke of luck while staying with a friend of my Dad’s, Mike Jeffery, right on the Illinois/Wisconsin border. At his house, I was talking to reporter Paul Smith for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Paper, and right in the middle of our interview he found out I had yet to catch my musky, so he immediately said, “I know a guy hang on” and hung up on me. Five minutes later, he called me back, telling us to be at Pewaukee Lake at 7 the next morning to go out with a guide. So we drove up to Pewaukee, a lake not too far outside of Milwaukee that is stocked with musky and has a decent population.
We went out with Erik Lennartz, an all species fishing guide in the area who really knows his stuff, and fished from 7 to around 3. No bites. No action whatsoever. Back at the boat ramp, Paul was waiting, and we talked for a bit more about our story and he took some pictures. Paul had graciously paid for our boat trip that day. Right as we were leaving, Erik came over and told us he couldn’t send us on our way without getting us a musky, and said to meet him back at the lake the next morning. We were starting to understand Wisconsin better at this point!
So the next morning we went back out, trying a different spot with a different setup, using floats to keep our bait near the surface instead of putting it on the bottom as we had the previous day. We were using large live suckers as bait. We planned on putting out six total rods, and by the time three of the floats had been casted out one of them disappeared and the line started screaming off the reel of the first rod out. I grabbed it, set the hook, and minutes later had a 36 inch muskellunge sitting in the net. We couldn’t believe our luck. We got all the rods baited and out on the water, and about half an hour later Dan caught a 30 inch northern pike, the first one either of us had ever caught. It was a beautiful day, and so we didn’t really mind the lack of activity after that pike. Nothing picked up the bait for hours, and at around two PM we were about ready to call it a day.
Erik agreed, but told us that there was a favorable moon phase coming up in around 20 minutes. We were a bit skeptical, but he clearly knew much more about these fish than we did. Sure enough, right when he said we should be expecting it, a float went down, and as I was battling the fish, another went down and Dan ran over to grab that rod. We got them reeled in seconds apart, and had two of these incredible, elusive fish sitting in the same net. After taking pictures and releasing them, all three of us sat in silence for several minutes, just breathing in shock. We couldn’t believe what had just happened. Neither of us will ever forget that moment.
We had mistakenly caught pumpkinseed instead of bluegill in Illinois the first time, and given that we were close to the border that night we drove down and fished the next day in Illinois, catching plenty of bluegill and crappie. But we hadn't had enough of Wisconsin yet! The next day we drove back to northern Wisconsin to fish with Steven Olsen, a guy who had reached out before anyone else to help us out. The day was beautiful and it was a great opportunity to see more of the state. We then drove back down to Milwaukee to pick up Daniel’s phone which had FINALLY arrived, and then set off for Minnesota.