Wausau Is Guide's Favorite Getaway

By Ted Peck - September 1, 2009
When I close my eyes for a 15 minute catnap and see my beloved Mississippi it's time to get away for a few days. Old Man River meets almost every fishing need. There are just two exceptions-salmon and muskies. The salmon itch has been well scratched this summer with a half-dozen forays to Algoma, Sheboygan and Racine. But the need to see a substantial Esox masquinongy charging wildly at a Top Raider just isn't going to happen on pool 9.

One question I hope to ask the Creator someday is why aren't there any muskies in the Mississippi River? There are plenty of these toothers in the Rock, St. Croix and Wisconsin Rivers-all Mississippi River tribs, but few-if any-in the Father of Waters. A half dozen fisheries biologists have told me they don't know why this is so. But it is.

So where does a River Rat go when he needs to catch a muskie? To a river system, of course. Here's a forum topic for you: Is the Wisconsin River system the best muskie water in the upper Midwest? I believe it is. I've caught this Esox in the Wisconsin from waters below Grandfather Dam up around Tomahawk clear down to Lake Wisconsin over the years. Some fish were intentionally being sought. Others were wildly delightful surprises when chasing other species.

There are several stretches of the Wisconsin where the heavy gear and big baits come out with no doubt of what the quarry is. These include the "muskie mile" between Tomahawk and the King Dam below Lake Alice, the stretch of river between Merrill and Brokaw, Lake DuBay and both the Biron and Mosinee flowages.

North Country lakes have their charm-especially a couple of favorites around Eagle River and Presque Isle. But for me this is only true after Labor Day when only the faithful are out on the water.

The Wisconsin River flowages and wild river are stumpy, rocky minefields which tend to keep boat traffic to a minimum even during busy summer months. When you see a couple of lonely rocks in the middle of the river north of Wausau a cast in their general direction has very good odds for success.Ditto edges of the old channel near weeds and wood in these flowages where the fish are beautifully fatter than their riverine cousins.

Even though I have considerable confidence in my ability to read a river there is a learning curve based on props, skegs and lower units which makes freelance muskie fishing on these waters somewhat unwise. There is great pleasure in having somebody guide me for a change. A cadre of guides who call themselves "Hooksetters" have all the bases covered on this water. Guides Kurt Schultz and Bill Melanson run the wild river from jet drive tunnel boats.

Phil "The Sultan of DuBay" Schweik and John "The Muskinator" Sparbel target primarily flowages. These two guides have differing styles. Schweik likes to 'run and gun' looking for active fish. Sparbel is more meticulous, hounding individual muskies until they decide to come out and fight. The unofficial headquarters of Hooksetters is the lower level of the Rib Mountain Inn, located in a quiet Wausau neighborhood. Why this cozy but elegant resort hotel? Its all about the predator/prey relationship. Ken Engelfried makes the best breakfast in at least 100 miles. The muskie guides come here to feed. This is my base of operations anytime a trip for Wisconsin's easiest muskie fishing is on tap. The last foray was in late August when Sparbel and I went looking for a whopper at a place the guides call "The Bay of Pigs".

Sparbel spanked a 44 incher on the second cast the day before I got there. One of Schweik's clients rolled a 48 incher a couple days before that. We ran into Schweik and his angler Derek Burzinski here twice that day. Burzinski manages the Wild Eagle Lodge at Eagle River and had snuck away from work for a couple of days too. Small world. His place is my favorite base of operations when the leaves begin to turn.

Sparbel and I moved eight muskies that day, bringing two to the boat. Schweik had one of the biggest sows in the Bay of Pigs take a swing at his bucktail when his attention was focused elsewhere.

This is shallow water. A Top Raider is always a good bet. My 40 incher gernipped my orange blade/black body bait just as I started to figure eight with the sun just starting to set in the background.

Sparbel likes throwing a brown/orange Slippery Sam bucktail which looks like a little smallmouth bass to a muskie.

Most of the articles you read here on Lake-Link are written from an expert's perspective. I am not a muskie expert, boating fewer than 100 legal fish in my entire lifeĀ… but I did stay at the Rib Mountain Inn last night.

If you chase this fish with great passion or are merely curious, talk to the folks at www.Hooksetters.biz . September is a great month to get your string stretched by the log which swims.

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.