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Fall Tiger Hunting in Colorado

Humility may be more important than patience in this sport.
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So here I sit, at the computer this late fall, wondering what to do. Is there anything, possibly anything that can tide me over until the waters warm again? I cannot believe I want to go out again. I have not seen a muskie since fishing Big Creek Lake at the base of the mountains west of Walden, CO. Eleven days on the water in September and October and all we got was 6 follows, and only on two of those days. That’s nine days with not seeing even one fish.

Now let me tell you that when I say we didn’t see any fish, I don’t mean that we didn’t see any at all. We did catch some trout, lake trout, walleye and wiper, but we weren’t trying. When we hunt muskie, we cannot bring ourselves to aim for anything else. Do not misinterpret me as an elitist. You may however interpret me as a solid fool.

If pounding the water for eleven days with relentless casting only taking breaks to wolf down a PBJ and only to watch your lure come to the boat with nothing behind it nor on it sounds like fun to you, then you are a prime candidate for Colorado muskie hunting. Maybe 100 casts per hour for 12 hours per day times 11 days times 2 fishermen equals about 26,400 casts. 26,394 of those casts found no muskie. 26,388 of those casts found no fish at all, if you count the non-muskie species as success.

So we went on a late-season fishing spree to explore new lakes and hunt for a big fish. Well we accomplished half our goals. We explored new lakes. We fished Lon Hagler, Union, Pinewood, Chatfield, Cherry Creek, and Horseshoe. And we even found some good spots to fish on those lakes. So now when the water warms again hopefully we’ll be one step ahead of the game. But how much exploration does it take to make you stop and wonder, “what the hell am I doing?”

At the end of each day my head hurt. Not sure if this was a sinus headache or a side-effect of the hunt. But it did hurt, really. When I tell people I’m going muskie fishing, they must envision a serene setting with nice water, warm sunny days, casting and catching fish at will. Nothing I could say would really change their view. I don’t see any reason really to try to explain it, either. Would I want everyone to feel sorry for me? What would that prove? That I’m beating my head against the wall day after day, and I freely choose to do so?

What really am I doing? After each trip I figure I’m going to break out my fly rods again and go after smallies, wiper, and maybe trout. After all, I am a multi-species fisherman. I’ve seen lakes so spoiled with “busting” wipers which at the beginning of this season I would have died for. I’ve hooked fish that if I had been actually fishing for them, it would have been one of the best days of my fishing life. But no, I am not here for them, I am here for the ‘lunge. So the day was a waste, nothing to show.
  What fish?

I get home and there’s a new magazine on my counter. I put up my muskie rods, say goodbye to the lures, kiss my cradle goodnight, and wish them all luck until next season. I sit down, flip to an article on fall muskie fishing, and then realize I was doing it all wrong. Of course! The muskies must have been keying in on the lakers that were moving shallow into muskie range for the first time all season. Or they had to be keying in on the wipers and other fish who were keying in on the massive schools of minnows hopping all over the surface. I should have been trolling with planer boards and shallow running cranks to hit those fish who barely scattered from the boat as we passed.

I get on the phone, call my buddy, and the next day we’re off to a new lake, only to go through the same events once again. No fish, no sightings, no nothing. Get home, magazine, you know the routine.

Eleven days. Unbelievable. Maybe the fish are dormant. But pike are active still, and so are true muskie up north where the water’s even colder. Wait, the lakes must have been in turnover and maybe the relatively few muskies in them were just too spread out to make it a fighting chance. Possibly then, what if we go out after turnover? Will the fish be concentrated again to make it a game? At least until the ice hits? They have to eat, right?

Not this time. I think the boat’s going to have to sit for a while. In fact, it needs some work on the motor. If I take it in now, it’ll probably be in the shop for a month, which will keep me off the water. Cold turkey…this’ll work.

But there’s one more lake, which doesn’t allow motorized boats, and some others have been talking about fishing it. I’ll have to give it a try.

You see, there is no rhyme or reason behind this sport. Either you get hooked or you don’t. And the only reason you don’t get hooked, is that you’ve not been casting 26,394 times and then on your next cast something big emerges from the depths as slow as a submarine and looks at you, stops, hovers, then leisurely turns away. Time for another 26,394 casts.


© 2024 Matt Snider
About the author, Matt Snider:
Matt Snider is a life-long fly fisherman who has turned his attention to the "other species" of Colorado, namely any non-trout species. Having caught multiple warmwater species in Colorado on the fly in Colorado alone, Matt built FishExplorer as a means for anglers to maintain updated lake conditions, an element he finds critical in catching fish and enjoying our resources. An advocate of alternative fly fishing and fisheries preservation, Matt is an avid wiper and muskie fisherman traveling with boat in tow in pursuit of these hard-to-find fish. If a fish is willing to eat something, his bet is that it will eat a fly...
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