Tales from the Cabin
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The Getaway

Four fisherman battle nature – and one massive muskie

By Paul Sullivan
Published: April 16, 2010
Photo by © dreamstime.com
As we shoved off from the boat dock that hot muggy July afternoon, none of us had any idea we’d all soon be crammed together in a Forest Service privy.

I had a party of three inexperienced fishermen on board: George, his wife, Dora, and their 10-year-old son, Mike. The guide-for-hire sign I’d tacked up in the office of my family’s fishing resort in northern Minnesota that spring was paying off.

As a 16-year-old kid myself at the time, I knew Mike would be eager to catch fish right away, any fish. For my first stop, I double-anchored in between two waterlogged old stumps where a school of scrappy rock bass usually hung tight. We caught rock bass as fast as I could unhook ‘em and re-bait. Finally, Mike got bored catching them. George asked if we could cast spoons for bigger fish.

Earlier that spring, my fourth on the lake, I’d guided a party of macho men and quickly learned trolling was safer than casting – safer for me, that is. I did not want treble hooks flying past my ears.

A line of anvil-topped thunderheads rose rapidly in the northwest. In our shallow-draft, old wooden boat, building whitecaps made trolling difficult. When I netted a five-pound northern pike for George, I had to tell him to sit down. That’s when it hit me. I was responsible for the safety of these people.

Mike’s reel spun. Then his line came up and a 25-pound muskie exploded out of the water. Mike was bug-eyed and shouting. So was I. I’d never landed such a large fish. My net looked awfully small.

The approaching storm’s black face pulsed with lightning; its lower lip turned green. It was going to be a howler. The closest shore was about 10 minutes away. I knew it was the kid’s first big fish. Mine, too. It would be close. I decided we’d try to land it. Rain splattered the lake in windy bursts like birdshot as we wrestled the muskie half into the net and over the side. The lure’s treble hook fell out of its mouth.

Mom had her camera out. It would be a shot you couldn’t repeat on land, so I knelt and helped Mike cradle the big fish across his skinny chest. Just as mom said, “smile,” a rippling white cap broadsided us and threw Mike and me into the gunwale. The muskie slid out of Mike’s arms and into the lake.

I hauled for shore in the rough water as fast as the old boat could go. We dashed into the safety of a Forest Service privy and peeked out at the storm blasting through the Norway pines. Hail hammered the metal roof.

Dora said the picture she snapped showed only Mike and me sprawled against the gunwale. No fish. She was a split second too late to capture the big one that got away.

But then, we got away, too, didn’t we? Got away to fish another day.

Paul Sullivan has never met a cabin he didn’t like.

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