Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Voices from the Past: Jim Chapralis (Part II)

This is the second part of the Chapralis article. May he rest in peace.

Steve rowed to open waters, giving me a good opportunity to play the fish. I could hear words of encouragement, but I couldn't distinguish them. I guess when you are playing a fish that you really want you are in a world of your own. I just concentrated on keeping a tight line.

If the fish started swirling on the surface I reeled in very rapidly to prevent his rolling on the frail line. But whenever the line rose sharply I knew a jump was to I come, and I'd ease up on the pressure. The slip-clutch played its part well by giving line only when absolutely necessary, and soon the fish was brought closer and closer. Success was only an oar's length away.

I've landed many muskies with a bait casting outfit, but no matter how many I conquer I'm always nervous. And this nervousness, or muskie fever, was certainly evident, for I could feel my knees wobbling, and I'd swear Steve could hear my heart pounding at the other side of the boat.

The fish was on his back now. He was almost through, but I didn't let up. Muskies usually store enough energy to make one last swirl just as you are about to reach for him in an awkward position.

This fish was no exception. He swirled away from my hand several times, but I finally grabbed him around the gills. After making sure of my grasp, I quickly hoisted him up and tossed him in the boat. Steve applied the coup-de-grace with his rod butt, and thirteen pounds of glistening beauty lay on the green bottom of our boat.

I held him up for a picture, and I couldn't help admiring him—he was the first legal muskie I had landed with spinning tackle. Steve was also admiring the catch, but for different reasons. Steve is famous for his immense appetite, and this was the first opportunity of the trip to have fish for dinner. He offered to fillet and cook the muskie for supper, for he takes great pride in his cookery, and, believe me, he certainly should, as I found out.

By the time we finished our chores around the cabin, the sun had already disappeared behind the contour of white birches. The water had settled down to a glass-smooth finish, and only an occasional puff of wind upset its tranquility by skimmering the surface. It was a night for fishing, alright. I could almost smell the muskies as I rowed back to the island alone, for Steve decided to do some fly fishing from the dock.

By the time I fished halfway around the island there was almost a complete absence of light. It gets dark early during fall in the northlands. I decided to fish just a little more. Then I heard a swirl not far from my craft. Straining my eyes in the dim light I managed to locate its whereabouts, and I immediately maneuvered the boat to that spot.

I made my cast at the approximate area and retrieved the lure as energetically as I could. I made another cast, and then a half-dozen more followed. Could I have imagined the swirl? I cast again.

I could hear my lure chug and gurgle in the stillness of the night, when the unexpected happened. There was a spontaneous explosion just as I was about to lift the lure up for another cast. Did you ever hook a muskie a rod's length from your boat? Believe me, they can do a lot of thrashing!

"Steve! I've hooked another one!" I shouted excitedly into the stillness of the dark. I didn't expect him to hear me--I guess it was just an emotional outburst.

The fish went as he pleased; how could I stop him with a light four-pound line? All I could do is turn the handle of the reel so that the tension on the fish would always remain constant.

It was completely dark by now, and as yet I was unable to determine the size of the fish. As far as I knew I might have been playing a record gamester! Take it easy, Jim. He is a good one. I found I was giving myself a much needed pep talk.

"Do you still have him on?" I recognized the voice. It was Tom, a native boy that lived not far from the island. He had heard me shouting to Steve.

"Yeah, he's still on," I answered.

It might have been only fifteen minutes later, but it certainly seemed like an hour, before I dipped my hand into the water and barely got it around the fish's gills. Tom, who had rowed to my boat, struck a match to aid in this operation, but since the light was very dim we still failed to get a good look at him.

With a powerful lunge I hoisted the fish and threw him into the boat. By this time Steve, who had heard my call, pulled up in another boat.

"Don't tell me you got another one on that spinning line?" He focused the beams of his flashlight on the fish that was vigorously thrashing on the boat's bottom. He was a big one, alright.

"How big do you think he is?" I asked Tom—a good judge of weight.

"Oh, about eighteen. Nineteen at the most. Too bad you already got your limit."

"Limit?" I asked. And then I remembered that Wisconsin's fish laws permit the keeping of only one muskie a day.

I placed the fish in the water; it turned belly up—he was still exhausted. I held the fish right side up for a few minutes until we could see his gills work faster and faster. His fins also began moving and soon he could stabilize his own position. The regal muskie turned around before he swished the mighty tail that sent him streaking out of sight and into the darkness of the still waters.

-- Dr. Todd

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