Musky Madness: Always a Bridesmaid

Josh Tidwell with a musky, otherwise known as Chris Funk's hearts desire. The fish, not Tidwell.

Josh Tidwell with a musky, otherwise known as Chris Funk’s hearts desire. The fish, not Tidwell.

Words and photos by Chris Funk

As we slid our ‘yaks into the cool Tennessee river I had high hopes that this would be the time. I was surrounded with fall colors, and good company but all I wanted was a dang musky! These toothy critters have eluded me for two years and I figured I was due for some action.

My partners for the day, Josh Tidwell and Ben Roussel had fished this stretch of river before and Josh had caught several on past trips. Ben had some close calls but was still musky-less as well. We were settled into a steady fishing pace when Josh dropped some info on us. “Nothing ever happens in this first mile of river, it will be a bit before we get into them.” Within minutes of Josh saying that a musky crushed his topwater bait in pure defiant protest as if to say “What do you think of the first mile now!”

I sat in stunned amazement, watching the entire show. Josh worked the beautiful fish around the front of his kayak and brought it in. “They are real,” I thought to myself as I was taking the grip and grins. I had seen pictures of them and heard tales but this fish was just a waterborne enigma to me. He slid it back into the water and I picked up my rod to go to work.

My big inline spinner was pulling my kayak like a small trolling motor from one side of the river to the other and back. Josh was calling out high percentage areas. Like an artilleryman I would thoroughly bomb the area. We hit a beautiful stretch and I tried to cover every inch. I turned and pitched the big bait into the shadows behind me. As soon as it came into the light a dark form emerged from the side. MUSKY! It looked at my lure but did not follow or turn on it, but just watched it pass and fade away. I frothed the water in that area and never saw the fish again but I was so pumped to have raised one.

I quickly changed to a topwater bait in hopes attracting it again. On the second or third cast a fish exploded on it. I saw a brown flash and felt the rod load up and was sure I had my quarry. Soon after the fish jumped and I could clearly see that my musky was a decent smallmouth bass. I unhooked the smallie and gingerly released it back in the cool water. We continued our float. Ben was the next one to have an opportunity. I saw him doing the signature figure eight with his rod and figured he had a follower. A large tail broke the surface as a fish dove on his bait but it missed the hooks. Both Ben and I shook our heads in disbelief. You should feel privileged to have a follow or a strike but the close calls felt like disappointment.

Wrong kind. Ben Roussel reels in a bass. Why isn't he smiling?

Wrong kind. Ben Roussel reels in a bass. Why isn’t he smiling?

We fished through the next eddy. A tiny musky grabbed at my big topwater plug three times. It didn’t know if it wanted to kill it or nurse from it. If it had stuck on a hook I would have grinned like a mule eating briers but it sadly missed on all the attacks. The very same thing happened in the next calm spot. Apparently I had found the nursery because the next fish knocked the plug out of the water and attacked it twice so hard it tail-wrapped itself before it scooted away. I just could not win.

The sky grew dark and a cold rain started to pour. Several miles passed before the next encounter the sharp teeth of a musky robbed Ben of a lure. The winds were knocking hickory nuts into the water all around us. What a painful experience it would be to get brained by one of them falling from 100 feet above. One smacked the water next to me. I turned to look when the water erupted around my bait. I can still clearly feel the hooks popping across the pointed teeth of the musky as the bait flew out of its mouth.

I was heartbroken and soaking wet. My shoulders ached from heaving the heavy baits all day. I had given up when a pile of logs under a sycamore tree drew my eye. I lobbed the big bait into the mess and a brown flash exploded on the plug. I set the hook and the fish dove back into the sticks. The critter pulled me under the branches of the tree. My kayak spun backwards as I was fighting it out of the tangle.

I finally cleared the mess and knew that I would be looking at my first musky. There, where my musky should have been was the biggest smallmouth bass I have ever caught. I should have been elated but my hopes for the other species were just too darn high.

We ended the day with Josh’s musky and a few close calls for Ben and me. Once again, we were the bridesmaids and not the bride. On the positive side the weather was just annoying when it could have been dangerous. The area was beautiful and I had great company. I caught two of my personal best smallmouth bass and tons of rock bass. The musky, the fish that haunts me, has a weakness. It’s no longer a myth. I know where you live and what you eat Mr. and Mrs. Musky. I’ll be back to take your picture while holding you in my own hands.

Jackson Kayak pro staffer Chris Funk is a proud self-proclaimed redneck outdoorsman who can’t wait to write about some dang musky success. Funk is a Kayak Fish Magazine contributing editor.

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