Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Voices from the Past: Jim Chapralis

As noted earlier, Jim Chapralis recently passed away. While many know him for his works on tournament casting or his great autobiography A Passion for Fishing, in his early days Chapralis was a fine outdoor writer. The following is a seminal article on spin fishing for musky that he wrote and that was published in the December 1952 Hunting & Fishing magazine. I think it is a fitting tribute to honor the passing of a very important man in the history of American fishing. Due to this size of the article, Part I will be up today and I will put up the second part tomorrow.

THERE was nothing sensational about the strike. No mighty swirls, no big splashes, no tail whipping the water into foam and bubbles. The lure was merely sucked under with a slurp that was barely audible-it was as though a brown trout had taken a dry fly.

Then the line came toward us slowly; it stopped just below us. There was something peculiar about the whole strike. We had landed about a dozen bass earlier, but each one of them had taken the tiny surface lure with a splash, and the line would streak away first in one direction and then in the other.

Bob remained tensed and ready for action; his arching rod had taken a semi-circular bend at the instant of the strike, and it remained that way. I fumbled with my camera. It was obvious now. Pierre Tuesday, our Indian guide, suddenly became alert and nervously looked about for an open spot to -paddle. With the light tackle he was using, Bob would need all the open water he could get to fight the fish and he too began to glance around.

"Moaskie!" Pierre cried, "Big moaskie."

The line began to move once more; it started off in small circles, and then it began to rise. Bob cranked the handle of his spinning reel so that the line would remain taut. The fish was somewhere near the surface now, but the glaring rays of the sun bouncing off the water blinded us, and at first we could -not locate the fish.

"There he is, and he's a good one, alright!"

Bob's eyes squinted as he searched the water for the fish. Pierre, who had spotted the muskie, was paddling into open water faster than ever. Bob set the hook two or three times to make sure. And this seemed to be the spark for an explosion!

There was a quick motion of tail and fins. There was a spray of water. There was a cavity in the surface. Then there was a fish of enormous proportions "hanging" momentarily in mid-air, threshing and bobbing its head from side to-side in an effort to rid its jaws of those terrible hooks. The fish fell back on the line. The rod lost its semi-circular are and the line no longer remained taut. His gills, tail, weight, or his teeth had cut the line just above the short wire trace. The water calmed down to its original mirror-like finish and the fish disappeared as fast as it had mysteriously appeared.

No one said anything for awhile; I guess there's nothing to say when a big fish has just been lost. Bob merely reeled in the remainder of his line, Pierre paddled onward, and I continued casting.

"How big do you think he ran?" I asked Pierre. "Twenty? Twenty-five?"

"He was a big un, alright." You can never pin Pierre for a definite answer.

That encounter with the muskie remained vividly in my mind for months. I always wondered how it would be to have a muskie upwards of twenty pounds at the end of a delicate four-pound line. In fact, it soon became an obsession with me, and I knew I wouldn't be able to rest until I got a big muskie with my spinning tackle.

It was last fall that I got another chance to fish for muskies. Steve, my fishing partner, and I decided to fish the waters of the famous Hayward region of Wisconsin. We spent the first three days making a twelve mile float trip down the Chippewa since we had been told that the current would carry us downstream, and both of us would be able to fish simultaneously.

I was using a light six-foot spinning rod, a conventional spinning reel, a four pound monofilament line, and a tiny surface lure with propeller at one end. We were promised action—and we got it. I landed more than a half-dozen muskies in the stream—but there wasn't a legal fish in the bunch.

I had plenty of opportunity to hook bigger muskies, but the number of fish I landed in proportion to the number of strikes was small. On one float trip alone I had at least fifteen strikes, and I didn't even land a twenty-incher. Of course, it must be said that in many cases the fish had no intention of taking the plug; they merely surged forward, swirled, but never touched the lure-a typical muskie trick.

On some of the strikes I'm sure the lure had been mouthed, and some of the jaws that had temporarily engulfed the plug belonged to big fish! Did you ever have a muskie swim to you, open his mouth, and spit the lure practically in your face as though yawning with boredom? When that happens a half-dozen times in one day, well you begin to wonder what the matter is.

"Look, Jim, I realize that spinning has advantages, but it also has limitations. How do you expect to set a hook with that light rod you're using? Here let me show you," Steve advised.

Steve wrapped the spinning line around his hand above the lure, and urged me to strike as hard as I could. I did—Steve's arm hardly budged.

"You see, I can hardly feel any pull. You need a he-man rod to set a hook in those bony palates. You need a bait casting rod."

There was no denying it. Steve was right-at least partially. The rod was too soft. After all, it was made for light bass fishing, and for that purpose it was excellent. But I still maintained that big muskies could be landed successfully with spinning gear. Luckily, I had with me a stiffer spinning rod that was about twice as powerful. Yet it handled the light plugs satisfactorily. I switched rods for my last day of the trip.

We decided to spend the final day fishing on our home lake. There is a large island that dots the center of it, which is reputed to shelter several muskies. But during the summer months it isn't worth two cents. It seems that every fisherman on the lake visits this island, and I'm sure the muskies are well acquainted with all the color patterns of jointed-pikies, spoons, wobblers, and bucktails.

But come fall and all this is changed. The majority of the fishermen have gone home, and cooler weather no doubt increases the appetite of muskies. Besides, I was using a small surface lure, and since it was different from the general array of lures perhaps I would do business. I was confident of success as we rowed to the island.

I didn't have to wait very long to prove that my intuition was right, for I had, scarcely made a half-dozen casts when the water erupted and the lure disappeared from sight.

"Hit 'em hard," Steve cried. "This may be the one you want!"

But Steve was late; I already had struck three times before he finished his sentence. I had learned the importance of striking quickly before a muskie has a chance to lock his jaws around the lure from my trips down the Chippewa.

The fish swam slowly towards our boat for an investigation; no doubt he was puzzled at the almost invisible line that was practically towing him. But as soon as he realized his danger he shot under the boat and appeared on the other side. I passed the rod around the stem just in time to watch him shower us as he surfaced not far from the boat.

Not satisfied with this side either, the fish pulled his way back under the boat, and I again found it necessary to pass the rod around the stern. He jumped once more, and this time I got a chance to -estimate his size. He was not big as muskies go, but well over the ten-pound mark.

-- Dr. Todd

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