You’re here, towed the boat all this way, so you fish it
Photo: Tom Hazleton

We all love to fish clear rivers. Sun-lit crystal water intrigues the mind, enchants the imagination with possibility. A muddy blown-out river obscures, chokes, and demoralizes. Opacity means relying too much on faith. We are deprived of the little signs of life that we take to heart on long days of fishing: minnows, crayfish, logs, boulders, shadows, undercuts, even the reassuring side-to-side swim of a good fly. It’s as interesting as a dead television.

But you’re here, towed the boat all this way, so you fish it. Convention says to fish streamers: big flies, black or white or chartreuse, something contrasty, and fish them close to structure, in deep holes, along current breaks, up against the banks.

‘Course, in musky fishing, you’re already doing all that. Not much to change. Musky fishing is always a grind; now even more so, a finer grind, infinitely small particulate, infinitely discouraging. The river is like a driveway puddle that you can’t believe the dog’s drinking from. Nothing suggests the complete ecosystem it used to be, must still be.

So you grind. You try to stay alert and try to guess when to figure-eight so the fly doesn’t hit the rod tip. It’s neither hope nor optimism that keeps you casting — it’s more like martyrdom: pride at how much suffering without hope you can endure. Racking up the cast count. So you keep double-hauling and staring into the turbid void.

And then the void looks back at you and explodes. From nowhere, nowhere behind the dead surface and amid the silt and leaves and detritus, there is a musky. Its violence is shocking by design, its fight short but brutal, half airborne. And then, in the net, its resentment seethes. When the hooks are free and you relax your hand from its tail, it doesn’t bolt in terror, but fins slowly back into the opaque, into nowhere. Reminding you that you’ve no power there.

Nowhere. This place the musky comes from is why musky fishing is more like hunting than it is like other kinds of fishing. A section of woods can be empty for days: no tracks, nothing, and then out of nowhere a deer is standing before you in the wide-open. Not sneaking out from the edge of the field or crunching through the dead underbrush, but just there, obvious, shocking. Out of nowhere.

Or maybe, more appropriately, the wolf. It can take years or decades, even if you live in wolf country. You know they are out there, but have never seen one on the paw, and then one night you stomp the brakes because out of nowhere there’s a lobo standing on the centerline of the dark highway. Not a fluffy nature-show half-dog, but a wild beast, scruffy, all ribs and hips, moonshine eyes and long gangly legs and huge head held low, unmistakable for any other canid, breath boiling white in the cold headlight beams.

And it doesn’t bolt in terror. It lopes off the road with chilling confidence, into nowhere.