Skip to main content

The Good Old Muskie Days

The Good Old Muskie Days

For many anglers, the "good old days" are now. Across the continent, bass and walleye haven't been more abundant or bigger in ages. That's not necessarily the case, however, with muskies.

Don't get me wrong, muskie fishing is still superb, and many waters now house muskies of considerable size, thanks to stocking. But the golden days occurred, I feel, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I lived through that halcyon era. Ironically, it began with the legendary feuding between the Hartmans and the Lawtons. I remember as a kid watching the Hatfield-and-McCoy grudge match unfolding on the St. Lawrence River, with the husband and wife teams winning just about every muskie contest imaginable, especially the one sponsored at the time by Field and Stream.

Len Hartman was my hero, and it almost didn't matter when many years later, impoverished and living in a room at a YMCA hostel, he confessed to stuffing nearly every one of those record fish with sand. It was sadder still when he acknowledged purchasing many of them from commercial fishermen and other anglers.


But heroes don't die easily and in a strange way, the Hartmans and Lawtons did for muskie fishing what Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb did for baseball. They spawned a revolution and paved the way for the real stars of the sport — anglers like Doug Johnson, Dick Pearson, Joe Bucher, Larry Ramsell, and Doug Stange — to grow the muskie mystique. It didn't hurt that when they opened the door, virgin and near virgin muskie fisheries still existed, especially in the North Country. Nor that few anglers fished for muskies, and fewer still fished with informed purpose.


I remember arriving on the Lake of the Woods scene in 1976 to work for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, after hauling up from southern Ontario what I thought was the fanciest muskie rig imaginable. In truth, it was a crumpled Crestliner with a smoky old Mercury outboard. But the muskies didn't care. Nor were they put off by the pool cue rods, grinding baitcasting reels, or thick nylon line. Most days they bit with a vengeance.

Four- and five-fish days were routine and given the structure of the muskie population, it was rare to catch more than a couple small fish. I remember hosting Bob Izumi in the infancy of his Real Fishing television show, parking the boat alongside a weedline and predicting on camera I'd catch a fish within five casts or jump into the lake fully clothed. I stayed dry.

Another time, a monstrous muskie almost snipped off my buddy's fingers as he lipped a smallmouth alongside the boat. We returned with our muskie gear and I landed a 40-pound fish within a half dozen casts. Moments later, after we released the behemoth, we were simultaneously figure-eighting 50-inch giants. We didn't fish that spot a single time that season without catching a big toothy critter.

These fish were "virgins" as we liked to call them — stunning beauties without gnarled lips, bloody fins, and other scars indicative of having been caught previously. That's not the case today.


In this heyday, we landed 60, 70, maybe even 80 percent of the fish during the cast. The rest we hooked boatside after employing a figure-8. You can reverse those numbers today, as "tourist fish" follow baits far more cautiously.

I suspect there are as many fish in most good muskie waters today as there ever have been. Moreover, excellent fisheries have been developed where no muskies existed. They seem to be prospering in the steadily warming water, under modern management. But the ranks of the muskie fishing fraternity have swelled enormously and our equipment is so much better. Ditto for our knowledge of muskie behavior and the best ways to catch them. So the same number of big fish, or perhaps more, are being caught today, but they're shared by a growing legion of anglers.

We come by this way but once, and I'm glad I came during the golden days of muskie fishing.


*Gord Pyzer, Kenora, Ontario, in an In-Fisherman Field Editor and frequent contributor, as well as TV guest. He worked for Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in northwestern Ontario for many years.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Channel Cats on Ice

Channel Cats on Ice

The In-Fisherman staff reveals some of the hottest action of the winter season, as they show how to ice 20-pound channel catfish.

The True Story of the Bass Boat Hero Who Broke the Internet

The True Story of the Bass Boat Hero Who Broke the Internet

“If that engine starts without my kill switch on, I ain't the one driving it,” Blake Broussard says after ejection video goes viral.

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

The In-Fisherman crew head to Lake Erie to catch smallmouth bass.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Serve these walleye fish cakes with homemade blue cheese aioli or blue cheese salad dressing.Walleye Fish Cakes with Blue Cheese Aioli Recipe Fish Recipes

Walleye Fish Cakes with Blue Cheese Aioli Recipe

Chefs Jerry Swanson and Tommy Nuesse

Serve these walleye fish cakes with homemade blue cheese aioli or blue cheese salad dressing.

The big discussion is over the legality for the public to wade in or walk alongside rivers.Understanding Riverine Rights Today Catfish

Understanding Riverine Rights Today

Dan Anderson - October 28, 2020

The big discussion is over the legality for the public to wade in or walk alongside rivers.

Familiar to veteran In-­Fisherman readers and anglers versed in fish sensory abilities.The Book on Bass Accessories

The Book on Bass

Steve Quinn - October 14, 2020

Familiar to veteran In-­Fisherman readers and anglers versed in fish sensory abilities.

Ned Kehde breaks down the finer points of the Rabid Baits GobyRabid Baits Goby Midwest Finesse

Rabid Baits Goby

Ned Kehde - October 09, 2020

Ned Kehde breaks down the finer points of the Rabid Baits Goby

See More Trending Articles

More Pike & Muskie

Fish hooked on single-hook lures are easier to handle.Magic with Weighted Swimbait Hooks Pike & Muskie

Magic with Weighted Swimbait Hooks

Doug Stange - June 11, 2020

Fish hooked on single-hook lures are easier to handle.

If your passion runs deep for giant pike, these top destinations offer the opportunity to make those dreams a reality.Top Pike Destinations Pike & Muskie

Top Pike Destinations

Steve Ryan - October 28, 2019

If your passion runs deep for giant pike, these top destinations offer the opportunity to make...

The effectiveness of swimbaits and other soft plastics for muskies isn't new.Swimbaits for Muskies Pike & Muskie

Swimbaits for Muskies

Steve Ryan - October 14, 2020

The effectiveness of swimbaits and other soft plastics for muskies isn't new.

Dramatic changes have reshaped Lake of the Woods.Lake of the Woods Muskie Trends, Tactics & Threats Pike & Muskie

Lake of the Woods Muskie Trends, Tactics & Threats

Cory Schmidt - September 26, 2019

Dramatic changes have reshaped Lake of the Woods.

See More Pike & Muskie

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the In-Fisherman App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now