Fishing Wisconsin's Best Muskie Water

By Ted Peck - August 1, 2010
"Kurt Schultz was one of those rare kids who learned how to cast before he could walk," veteran guide Bill Melanson said of his 30 year old protégé. "He was born to be a fishing guide and the Creator planted this young buck right in the middle of Wisconsin's best muskie water."

Melanson believes the 13 mile run of Wisconsin River from Merrill down to Brokaw is the most productive muskie water in this muskie-crazy state. Melanson said his clients have boated "somewhere between 2,500 -3,000 muskies on the Merrill to Brokaw run since he started guiding these waters in 1979.

Schultz started working with Melanson 11 years ago. "I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be in the boat with Bill," Schultz grinned "we're on the river together almost every day, but we're leapfrogging through the pools with clients out of two different boats."

A second heart attack last March forced Melanson to cancel guiding activities for the year. He was just a week out of surgery to implant a pacemaker and fix a broken neck which was injured years ago when we crawled into Schultz's river boat Wednesday morning.

"If my doctor asks, I'm just going for a boat ride," the tough old bird winked"I'm not supposed to lift over 15 pounds. "Guess that means I'll have to throw bucktails instead of heavier baits. One of you guys will have to reel in my fish and net them. "

Baseball legend Yogi Berra once said "if you can do it, you ain't bragging." Melanson may be an old dog. But he can still hunt. Chasing muskies on the Merrill to Brokaw run is like pheasant hunting at Ray Gehrig's Hunt Club-- You had better be ready to set the hook.

Schultz said he averages two hook-ups with muskies on a typical eight hour float trip of the Upper Wisconsin River, with most of these lean fish averaging 34-40 inches. "I see a number of 45-50 inch fish every year," he notes "it's amazing how critters that big can thrive in such skinny water."

According to this self-professed 'river rat' the deepest water on the Merrill to Brokaw run is only 13 feet when the Wisconsin is running at normal pool levels. Schultz and Melanson throw primarily bucktails and topwater lures because the water is so shallow.

They also forego two standards of the Esox chasing set: a steel leader and figure-8 maneuver at the end of every cast.

"I'll do a figure 'J' to see if a fish is following before going from a 'J' into the figure 8" Schultz said " there isn't the time or need to get fancy with these fish. In a river muskies learn you either bite down right away or dinner will get away."

Midstream boulders, trailing edges of sandbars and little inlets just off the main current are favorite muskie ambush points. It isn't uncommon for a half-dozen muskies to congregate on a very small niche on this river.

Schultz saw two fish move when he cast a bucktail along the trailing edge of a sandbar. One fish followed his bait to boatside. I looked over when Schultz tried to entice this fish with a figure eight maneuver. An almost 40 inch muskie thought this would be the opportune time to crush my Eagletail bucktail.

Both of these fish ghosted away before we needed to grab the landing net.

We were still jazzed from this encounter a hundred yards farther down the river when a small muskie boiled just as I was lifting the Eagletail out of the water.

"Did you see that?" I squeaked. "Gonna need a hand here," Melanson growled. The 38 inch muskie which garwoofled his Suick Nightwalker was heavier than doctor's orders would allow. The old guide handed his wildly thrashing rod to Schultz and I dove for the landing net. "Net her head first!" Schultz barked. After a few quick photos the muskie was released to fight again. The Upper Wisconsin is tough to navigate. Boulders and rocky riffles wreak havoc on outboard motors and vee bottom boats.

Kurt Schultz's jet powered jon boat is the perfect fishing platform. To experience almost sure thing muskie action you can reach him at (715) 571-7132 or www.Hooksetters.biz. For a great place to stay in the area try Rib Mountain Inn. They have a fisher friendly place and offer free shuttle service. Call 877-960-8900 or visit www.ribmtninn.com. .

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.