One. I solid a jerkbait. 9 inches lengthy, 3 ounces, and with two 3/0 treble hooks, the lure sails 40 yards earlier than it belly-flops on the lake floor. I level the rod on the water, reel within the slack, and let the bait sink. The lure throbs, rocks, and streaks as I work it again to the boat, pumping the rod each couple of reel cranks. When no strike comes, I hearth my second solid. Two.

It’s a late afternoon in June, and I’m casting blind to muskellunge, the fish of 10000 casts, simply exterior Hayward, Wis.—the Muskie Capital of the World and residential to the all-tackle world report. Three. I don’t know the title of the lake, and my information, Scott Kieper, has instructed me to not ask. It’s a small lake—sufficiently small for Kieper to confer with it solely because the Pond. Except one child who’s trolling on his personal, we’re the one ones fishing. Kieper hopes to maintain it that manner. 4.

About an hour earlier, Kieper and his buddy Man Mittlestadt, who helps Kieper movie and produce muskie fishing DVDs, picked me up at my motel. Earlier than I arrived in Hayward I had seen images of Kieper on his web site, however in individual he appears totally different. He’s thinner than I’d anticipated, and a bit pale. He appears as if he may use a hearty meal and a protracted evening’s sleep. He appears unhealthy—nearly like a junkie. Which he’s. It’s simply that Kieper’s drug is muskellunge.

Dan Goldman

“Muskies trigger extra damaged properties, divorces, and misplaced jobs,” says Kieper, 37. “However I bought canine. What extra does a person want? And so they’re German shorthairs, in order that they’re as good as most individuals anyhow!”

Kieper feeds his muskie repair by logging lengthy hours on the water. His season begins Memorial Day weekend and ends when the lakes freeze. For 5 months he hunts muskies each single day. A typical journey lasts 10 hours—longer if the chew is sizzling—and he and his shoppers usually fish deep into the evening, generally till first mild. “If the fish go nocturnal, we go nocturnal,” he says. Working the graveyard shift evening after evening, it’s no surprise that Kieper has bother sustaining a suntan—or a nutritious eating regimen. “I principally dwell on nicotine, power drinks, and Bitter Patch Children. I’m a bag of pores and skin on a skeleton.”

Whenever you fish as onerous and infrequently as Kieper, you’re certain to run into large muskies—a lot of them. In 2008, Kieper and his anglers launched 243 muskies. Forty-six had been larger than 45 inches, and eight broke the 50-inch benchmark. And now, within the first month of the 2009 season, he’s off to among the best begins of his profession: 67 fish. He’s netted 11 muskies over 45 inches and three over 50, together with a 53-inch, 40-plus-pound big that he caught at this time earlier than daybreak, actually hours earlier than he pulled into the motel lot to choose me up. No surprise he’s bought a fame as the skilled in relation to discovering the fish of 10000 casts.

Only a few minutes into our drive to the Pond, I begin to perceive how Kieper is ready to work such a grueling schedule: The man has no off swap. He’s loud. He’s hyper. He’s very, very pleased. One query is sufficient to spark a stream-of-­consciousness soliloquy that may leap from the predatory nature of the muskellunge to the economic system to Ben Franklin. As I battle to take notes on the price of Kieper’s rants, part of me begins to doubt if I can sustain with this character for 2 days of what I’ve been warned shall be nearly nonstop fishing.

“With muskies, it’s in regards to the hunt,” Kieper says. “It’s in regards to the chase—the truth that you’re up in opposition to the king of freshwater. And it’s in regards to the dedication of your self to the fish with the intention to succeed. It’s important to be prepared to decide to it to achieve that success.”

Later, as I stand on the bow of Kieper’s 18 1⁄2-foot Lund anchored within the Pond, I commit myself to the lengthy hunt forward. And I solid.

The Fish of 10000 Casts Problem Begins

I’ve by no means fished for muskies, not to mention caught one. Earlier than the journey I made a decision that I’d conduct an experiment: What number of casts does it truly take to catch the fish of 10000 casts? To assist me preserve rely, I’ve a clicker inside my jacket pocket, the identical type baseball managers use to trace pitch counts. The clicker goes to 9,999—not that I’ll have time for that many casts in simply two days. However for so long as I’m right here, I’ll make one click on for each solid.

5. Kieper is on the stern casting, holding one eye on the fishfinder and one on a rod rigged with a dwell 20-inch white sucker that he set 14 toes deep. Mittlestadt has the digicam prepared in case a monster strikes. Six. I’m utilizing a 9-foot Musky Improvements rod and an Abu Garcia 7000i C3 musky reel spooled with 80-pound Cortland Spectron line. Seven.

On the finish of every retrieve—when the ball-bearing swivel that connects the road to the wire chief is a number of inches from the rod tip—I regulate my grasp on the rod and maintain it like a brush, then I plunge it within the water and sweep the rod and trailing lure in a figure-eight sample. It’s onerous for me to consider {that a} fish so notoriously finicky as a muskie could possibly be duped like this so near the boat. But it surely occurs quite a bit—to large fish, too. Getting a muskie to shadow the lure to the boat is one factor. Getting it to eat is one other. However Kieper has a few tips to make the determine eight extra appetizing.

muskie guide shows off two muskies—the fish of 10000 casts
Get the Tape: Right here’s how a few of Kieper’s finest fish measured up. From left: 53 inches, and a 49-inch hybrid. Courtesy Scott Kieper

First, get the bait deep: “A lot of the fish that you simply’re going to get at boatside are going to come back out of nowhere,” he says. “Should you don’t have that rod down 18 inches to 2 toes, you’re not going to have that bait deep sufficient to entice the fish. The muskie isn’t a floor dweller by nature, and it doesn’t wish to have to come back as much as the gunnel.”

Second, be sure the turns within the eight are w‑i‑d‑e: “A muskie can’t activate a dime,” Kieper continues. “The No. 1 legislation of predation is that you simply expend much less power than you devour. In any other case you starve. So should you power a muskie to maneuver its physique more durable than it desires to by making a lazy, tight flip on the finish of the determine eight, the fish goes to surrender on you.”

Kieper’s determine eight is aggressive and exact. It’s work. After a few hours, the temptation to get lazy on the occasional determine eight settles in. When that occurs I remind myself that a few of Kieper’s greatest muskies had been caught at this level within the retrieve, together with this morning’s 53-inch trophy. And even that fish wanted loads of convincing: Kieper needed to make 25 consecutive determine eights earlier than he tricked the fish.

“It’s all in regards to the further work you place into each single little factor on each single day with the whole lot you do on the water,” Kieper says. “In any other case, when that one probability on that in the future comes, it’s going to be the one second while you’re not ready. That nanosecond might be when a 50-pound fish of 10000 casts comes out of nowhere and blasts you.”

Seventeen3248…I’m in a routine now. Forged. Retrieve. Determine eight. Forged

I fan my casts throughout the bow at totally different distances to cowl as a lot water as doable. Fifty-nine. I work the lure again. And there’s a tug. I set the hook and the road comes tight. Kieper places his rod down, and Mittlestadt readies the video digicam. I dig the rod butt into my waist to organize for the struggle—however there isn’t any. The fish just about skips throughout the floor as I reel. And the fish isn’t a muskie. It’s a small pike. After Kieper releases it, I examine the lure and solid…60.

We ease our manner across the Pond, and I preserve casting…88. Often Kieper notices a promising spot on the fishfinder, and we cease to research…103. However because the afternoon fades he opts for a change of venue, a close-by spot he calls Lake Reverse…111. There he says we’ll solid a bit longer, after which troll all by way of the evening…137. Trolling isn’t how I’d hoped to catch my first muskie. However, I’m studying, with this fish, you may’t be choosy.

Kieper jumps the boat on airplane, and as we race again to the entry space the chilly wind slaps my face. With the solar beginning to set, the temperature is dropping quick. I’ve sadly timed my journey with the arrival of a extreme chilly entrance—nature’s manner of forcing fish to go on a starvation strike. I zip my jacket to my chin and brace myself for tonight’s lengthy, darkish hunt.

Fishing for Muskies at Evening

At 9:30 p.m. I launch my final solid of the day, 181. If I’m going to catch the fish of 10000 casts tonight, it gained’t be from casting; it’ll be on the troll. The solar has fallen behind the pine and birch bushes that encircle the lake, however sufficient mild stays for Kieper to organize the trolling unfold. As he rummages by way of his lures and clips the planer boards to the rigs, he’s downright giddy in regards to the evening’s prospects. “I adore it! I adore it! I adore it!” he says of Lake Reverse, which now we have utterly to ourselves. “Everybody’s afraid of my water.”

Each lake has its personal ecology, Kieper says. And in some lakes—whether or not due to readability or depth or forage—the large fish feed finest within the worst situations, resembling a chilly entrance. Over time, Kieper has realized that Lake Reverse is one among these lakes. “It’s a lake that proves underneath probably the most antagonistic fishing situations, it would nonetheless have fish that put themselves within the web,” he says. “However no person is aware of that. It’s a lake that you simply’re not imagined to fish except it’s brutally nasty out. When most guys are fleeing in the other way, Lake Reverse might be on hearth.”

Chow on the boat is no matter you introduced with you. Mittlestadt polishes off a bag of pork rinds. I inhale a Snickers and two granola bars and wash them down with my third Pink Bull. Kieper skips dinner however smokes. He does supply to share dessert: his 2-pound bag of Bitter Patch Children that he stashes in one of many boat compartments. Mittlestadt eats a number of handfuls earlier than he settles down on the bow deck and nods off.

Bulldawg jerkbait
Kieper readies a rod with a Bulldawg jerkbait. Colin Kearns

With six crankbaits within the water, Kieper methodically rakes the lake in laps as he steers the boat at 2.9 to 4 mph. “There’s a ton of water for these fish to cover in,” he says. “One fish per 5 acres is nearly excessive density. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. I simply research the water and the fish and hope to reduce the scale of that haystack.”

In these waters, muskies are on the high of the meals chain, however Kieper targets them from the underside finish. His method to looking muskies is scientific. “Every thing within the meals chain and the organic environment of a muskie dictates what the fish goes to do on any given day,” he says. “So understanding the organic equation is the important thing to discovering the fish.”

In his quest for the answer, Kieper has realized to look in spots that his competitors doesn’t—like Lake Reverse in harsh climate. Whereas most muskie anglers deal with structural components, like rocks, sunken timber, or vegetation, Kieper searches in deep, open water. He says the standard pondering of the place muskies dwell has underestimated the larger ranges of the fish, and the way a lot it varies over the course of a season.

“My main concern isn’t construction,” he says. “My main concern is forage. Wherever there may be meals, there may be your top-end predator. Wherever that meals chain is most energetic and that preferential forage is in place, that’s the place that predator shall be.”

As we loop round Lake Reverse, Kieper has his eyes glued on the fishfinder for any signal of forage. He’s paying notably shut consideration to the swarms of benthic (backside) larvae. At evening, because the zooplankton descends to the lake backside, the benthic larvae rises and turns into the principle meals supply for panfish and different juvenile fish, which develop into the principle meals supply for muskellunge.

The fishfinder is nearly like an electrocardiogram for me. When the display exhibits a wavy line of forage, I’m excited and awake. When there’s nothing, it reads like a flatline and my eyelids develop heavy. It’s a quiet evening. When Kieper and I aren’t speaking, I hear solely the hum of the outboard, the occasional loon wail, and Mittlestadt’s loud night breathing.

I preserve hoping a violent strike will break the silence. I preserve picturing that second.

“When issues are gradual, you inform your self you’re going after that one fish,” Kieper says. “You’re looking for that one large fish.”
I preserve telling myself that my first muskie is on the market.

At 1:05 a.m. Kieper modifications the trolling unfold with shallower-swimming lures. He places out three large ones and three small—however a “small” lure for Kieper continues to be fairly large. The lures in his arsenal run 7 to 16 inches lengthy, and he’s at the moment working with a producer to develop some customized 20-inch crankbaits. His desire for giant baits goes again to his perception {that a} top-line predator will expend as little power as essential for the best reward. If a muskie has the selection between one large, straightforward meal or working to search out a number of smaller bites, Kieper thinks it’ll at all times go for the straightforward feast.

“We catch 15-inch walleyes on 15-inch lures on a regular basis,” he says. “A lure that dimension is nothing for a 36- to 45-inch muskie to seize. What we discover is, the larger the baits that we placed on, we’re not catching much less muskies. However we’re catching extra large ones.”

Large baits are additionally a manner for Kieper to be totally different. “I’m utilizing larger baits than 95 % of the remainder of the muskie group,” he says. “Fish aren’t used to seeing stuff as large as what I’m throwing or trolling. They don’t affiliate my lures as lures due to the truth that they’re so grotesquely massive.”

Tonight, nonetheless, no lure appears tempting sufficient to make any muskies chew. The change in stress from the chilly entrance is an excessive amount of. We troll till 4 a.m. earlier than Kieper brings within the unfold for good. It’s round 5 a.m. when Kieper and Mittlestadt drop me off on the motel. I stagger out of the truck and wave goodbye. “See you tomorrow,” I say.

They each chortle. “No, man,” Kieper says. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”

I smile and nod, however in the mean time I’m too beat to grasp. “Proper. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Kieper laughs once more. “Get some sleep.”

The Muskie Hangover

I really feel as if I’ve slept for 5 minutes when my alarm buzzes at 11 a.m. Shortly thereafter my cellphone rings. “Howdy?”

It’s Kieper: “Welcome to the lifetime of a muskie fisherman.” He tells me to fulfill him at a gasoline station a number of miles down the street. Right now, we hit the river.

One eighty-two. It feels good to solid once more. Kieper has us positioned slightly below a dam, and he desires me to solid as near the construction as doable. I work the lure simply as I did on the lakes yesterday, solely sooner, and end with a deep, broad determine eight. One eighty-three. Kieper says he made the choice to come back right here final evening. After we did not catch any of the final remaining fish that may nonetheless have been energetic regardless of the change in stress, he resolved to fish the river system as a result of it’s been his expertise over time that the fish in transferring water normally aren’t as hesitant to feed on the times following a chilly entrance.

I swap lures, buying and selling one jerkbait for an additional in a special coloration…213. Kieper swears by these lures from Musky Improvements (—partly as a result of he’s a member of their professional employees but additionally as a result of they’ve been good for enterprise. The one lure I’ve solid is a Bulldawg, a soft-plastic jerkbait that rocks forwards and backwards on the retrieve whereas its curly tail waves frantically. It’s broadly thought of to be among the best musky lures. Kieper loves this lure a lot that he bought a tattoo of 1 that stretches throughout his higher arm and onto his shoulder.

Not surprisingly, Kieper likes the Bulldawg as a result of it’s large and totally different. “It doesn’t have the plop-plop, the buzz-buzz, the spin-spin, or the wobble-­wobble of lots of muskie lures,” he says. “It doesn’t current itself as a lure.”

What the Bulldawg does do is exploit the one factor the fish of 10000 casts depends on most as a predator: its lateral line. Because the bait strikes it displaces extra water than smaller lures, creating vibrations {that a} muskie associates with a simple meal. And the Bulldawg’s tender, chewy physique offers it one other benefit. “Most muskie baits are onerous plastic or wooden or have metallic,” Kieper says. “With a Bulldawg, the fish have a larger tendency to hit and grasp on due to the truth that it’s rubber and their enamel sink into it. It appears like flesh.”

Two forty-one. I proceed to pepper the dam with casts for about two hours. When no fish strikes, Kieper tells me to reel in so we will trailer the boat and put in at one other part of the river.

It’s after 3 p.m. after I make my first solid on this a part of the river…256. There’s one other dam right here and I drill it with casts…263275287… Kieper additionally has me hitting the aprons adjoining to the principle river channel and the rocky construction alongside the sides. Two ninety-nine313321

fisherman with a muskie, the fish of 10000 casts
The creator together with his muskie—9,662 casts underneath par. Colin Kearns

Three twenty-nine. The casts are shorter and precision issues extra right here…330. With the present and the tight targets, the fishing is more difficult…331. It’s extra thrilling…332. I don’t really feel as if I’m casting blind like on the Pond…333. I can’t see any muskies, however the format of the river is such that I really feel like I’m casting at fish…334. I do know they’re right here…335. Kieper motors us about 200 yards downriver from the dam…336. He has his again to me and begins lobbing casts off the opposite facet of the boat…337. I toss a brief solid on the financial institution…338. When my lure hits the water, it’s met with a wild splash. The road comes tight by itself. Kieper doesn’t even have to show round. He is aware of.

“Congratulations,” he says calmly. “You simply caught your first muskie.”

The fish is not more than 15 toes from the boat, and it doesn’t take me lengthy to reel it into the web. Kieper removes the hook, then exhibits me methods to deal with the fish correctly for a photograph. This fish of 10000 casts is hardly big—lower than 30 inches—however that hardly issues. I’ve been at this for about 16 of the final 24 hours, and in these situations—hell, in any situations—anybody who’s lucky sufficient to catch one among these predators solely to be upset by its dimension isn’t deserving of the second. As I cradle the fish, admiring its enamel, eyes, and coloration, I overlook in regards to the casts, the lengthy, chilly hours of looking, and the exhaustion. I’d spend per week on the water for this fish. For the fish of 10000 casts, I’d solid 20,000 occasions.

After I launch the fish and simply earlier than I solid once more, I see that it left me with an added, albeit momentary, reminiscence: The knuckles on my left hand are bleeding. I dip my hand within the river to clean off the blood, then I solid. I cease counting.

Last Likelihood a the Fish of 10000 Casts

“Son of a!” Kieper shouts inside his pickup.

We’re approaching the entry space at Lake Reverse, however the parking zone is clogged with vehicles. The anglers have simply gotten off the water after chasing the fish of 10000 casts and are loading their trailers. Kieper pulls to the roadside and turns off his truck. He’s frightened about being acknowledged and tipping the fishermen off to one among his finest nighttime lakes. His anger, which borders on rage, is nearly theatrical and part of me wonders: Is that this match actually essential? When the vehicles begin to file down the street, Kieper covers his face together with his hat and geese beneath the windshield.

So do I. I don’t imply to, however I simply do. Regardless of my cynicism, I’ve been with Kieper lengthy sufficient now that I let myself enter his world and the journey he’s created. That is all a part of the hunt, and it’s thrilling.

As soon as we’re on the lake, we troll. And troll. I stare on the fishfinder, but it surely reveals even lower than final evening. It reads as a flatline, and after a few hours I don’t have a lot life left in me. However Kieper does. He continues to tweak the unfold and maneuvers the boat across the lake. He’s nonetheless targeted, nonetheless assured. “We’re going to catch one thing large tonight,” he says. “I can really feel it.”

So can I. I can’t say why, however I simply can. I’m exhausted and chilly, however I wish to preserve fishing. That’s when it dawns on me: What makes Scott Kieper such a fantastic information isn’t simply his progressive ways or his capability to assume like a predator. It’s additionally the power of his enthusiasm and his confidence and the way that power rubs off on the anglers with him. Kieper will get me to consider that I’m going to catch one other muskie and that it’s going to be a trophy. For the remainder of the evening I’ll preserve telling myself: You’re gonna catch one thing large. So be prepared.

And despite the fact that I gained’t catch the fish of 10000 casts, I don’t know that now. I gained’t know that till Kieper stashes away the Bitter Patch Children and hauls within the unfold at 2 a.m. Till then, I’ll preserve watching the fishfinder and listening to the lake. I’ll preserve ready for that strike.

It’s a second I’ve envisioned quite a bit the previous couple of days. Extra occasions than I can rely.

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