Hardly Any Musky

“You working or fishing?” asked Peter at the check-in on Thursday night. It’s an increasingly blurry line, but a reasonable question because the last time I came to McMinnville, Tennessee, I was covering the 2015 Hardly, Strictly Musky tournament for Fly Rod & Reel magazine. Working, I guess. But not this time.

I’d even left my camera at the cabin. Surprising how doing so moderates the buzz of anxiety I usually carry to social events like this. Also shocking that a talented pro like Peter considers my photo- and note-taking “work.” It’s a feeling, sort of a jolt of panic, that I’m getting a lot during these early days of career-transition, when other folks take me more seriously than I take myself. Have to work on that.

“Fishing,” I answered.

“Good man,” Peter said with a grin, and headed off to the Foglight Foodhouse’s open bar.

Then I bumped into Mike. We exchanged “nice to finally meet you”s and talked about muskies for a while. We’d long been internet acquaintances. So goes the angling world these days.

The major benefit of the angling blogosphere is that writer/photog/anglers with similar outlooks and temperaments tend to find each other organically, so there’s little risk of winding up in a boat for three days with a dude you can’t get along with. Or likewise in a truck for ten hours of dodging semis between Indiana and Tennessee.

“He’s a heck of a fisherman,” Dave had said on that drive about Mike, the third angler on our team. “He’s also the kind of guy who’s infectiously happy just being in the boat, casting.”

“Sounds like a good guy to have in a musky boat,” I said, and Dave nodded.

“Exactly,” he said.

For Dave and I have done this together before. We know that a musky tournament angler must not only be indefatigable in the face of near-certain failure but also a little bit apathetic. A guy who wants to catch a musky too much is no fun to be around.

Dave and I know this. We’ve both been that guy.

But Mike? I doubt he’s ever been that guy.

Even after a big fish ate his fly in heavy current on day one, stayed stuck long enough for me to get the net unfolded, and then spit the fly back out. The rod unbowed and swear words crackled. Even after this, and a short meditation on the uncertainty and unfairness of life, Mike was again fishing with a smile.

Like I said: it’s organic. When friends are good enough there’s no worry about how friends-of-friends will fit in. It doesn’t take much math to calculate that so goes the entire tournament of 100 anglers. In compliance with the official tournament rules, there was not an asshole to be seen. Especially during the flotilla that developed on the upper Caney Fork, mid-day on a high-sun Saturday. It was a special group: a few of those faces have been seen in person by hundreds of muskies. Our boat excluded, probably the most concentrated river-acre of musky mojo ever in history. Luckily, muskies don’t use hand grenades, because we gave them a heck of a target for about a half hour. 

The only moment of concern all weekend came when when a couple of friendly tourney anglers in a canoe told us that a “grey tin boat with two dudes from Texas had an accident upriver.” That was a little worrisome since our cabinmates, Andrew and Winston, were in from Texas driving just such a boat, and had promised us BBQ chicken wings for a post-dinner snack. But when we learned that they’d turned down offers of aid, brushed off the treebark, and headed on upstream, we stopped worrying. 

It wasn’t until the drive back north, rolling in and out of early-morning mountainshade in rural Kentucky, that Dave and I realized that after a half-dozen musky trips together, this one had been the most on-paper successful: we saw six muskies, and even briefly had hooks in one. 

One of these days we’ll get one in the boat. Maybe.

The new hashtag that’s developed around this tournament seems to fit: #hardlyanymusky. It’s not a condemnation of the tournament. It’s just a damn fact of life. 

Many thanks to Dave, Mike, Andrew, and Winston for being good boat and cabin crew.

Also serious thanks to:

Hardly, Strictly Musky: The Southern Classic

Towee Boats



and the other fine other sponsors


How to Buy a Fly Rod

Here we have a pair of Minnesota fly anglers on a week-long June dry-fly trip across northern Michigan. Weather-beaten and unbathed, in damp waders and muddy boots, they’ve stopped at Gates Au Sable Lodge mid-afternoon for a cheeseburger and some flies. As we join them they are on the grass in front of the shop. One of them is casting a well-worn but beautiful rod, while the other holds the sock and tube.

TOM:  Geez, I like it. What do you think?

ADAM:  It’d be the nicest rod I own.

TOM:  Me too. But you’re the one shopping. Wow, that does feel nice.

ADAM:  No I’m not. I don’t need a new four weight.

TOM:  Here, give it another cast or two. How often do you get to test-drive a used Thomas & Thomas? Check out the hand-painted logo.

ADAM:  I guess it would make a good souvenir. To go along with my signed book.

TOM:  Now you’re talking. And it would be perfect for those Southeast Minnesota streams.

ADAM:  Also true. Are you seeing these loops?

TOM:  It makes us look like good casters.  You know, we’re only a few minutes from the Holy Waters. You could buy it and we could go christen it right now, before we have to post up for the night.

ADAM:  Can’t argue with that.

On Traveling

Rosy of cheek and toothy of grin, the three Yankees burst through the automatic doors of the Super Wal-Mart in McMinnville, Tennessee. River water that had parking-lot flash-frozen on their waders melted again in the relative warmth of the store and their Vibram soles squeaked offensively on the tile.

more “On Traveling”