Hot Fishing, Frozen Kid

By Steve Huber - November 1, 2001
A short while ago, my phone rang. Since I have two teenage daughters still living at home, that wasn't unusual. Hearing my wife answer the phone and say, "I'm sorry, Steve is still married," meant only one thing. Darin Novak was on the other end of the line and he opened the conversation with his standard line, "Is Steve available?"

Chuckling, Janet handed the phone to me and said "Guess who?" A flustered Darin asked me if I'd be willing to help him out. He began telling me about this e-mail that he'd gotten, asking for fishing photos to be e-mailed to this young man, Justin Young, in Louisiana. Justin was, and still is struggling with leukemia, a particularly nasty form of cancer. Darin told me that Justin loved to fish and his mom was contacting fishing web sites all over the Internet in attempts to get e-mails and photos to help keep Justin's spirits up.

Darin started to tell me about an idea, one that had Lake-Link and fellow Lake-Linkers banding together to get Justin and his mom, Alison up to Wisconsin for some fishing. He asked me if I'd be willing to guide Justin and Alison for some fine northern Wisconsin muskie fishing, or anything else that I thought would be biting. I didn't even have to think about it for a second, answering him "Well heck yeah, tell me when!"

Planning on guiding the two Louisiana Lunker Hunters for two days, I was disappointed to hear the dates that Justin and Alison would be in Rhinelander. I was scheduled to work at the firehouse on the first day of their stay and in late October, the weather in my neck of the woods can get pretty severe for a couple of people that get cold when the thermometer dips below 60 degrees.

But, I'm a firm believer that when life hands you a lemon, you make lemonade. So a quick phone call to my partner Gil Daugherty took care of one problem. Gil said that he'd be honored to guide the two on Monday, covering for me. So the only other thing that I had to take care of was finding lodging for them.

I stopped at the AmericInn of Rhinelander and explained the situation to Marcy, the manager of the hotel. It wasn't long before I had the answer that I was hoping for. The "shoestring budget" that this trip was operating on was going to get stretched a little bit longer. AmericInn decided to donate one of their rooms for the duration of the Young's stay in town!

So, while I was on duty on Monday at the Rhinelander Fire Department, I worried. I'd heard about the rough weather and tough fishing conditions Justin and Alison had experienced on Lake Winnebago the previous days and I wondered, "Are they getting fish?" "Were they having a good time?" I knew that they were in good hands with Gil but I also knew that we were experiencing a cold front passing through and that the weather conditions weren't the greatest up here either.

Shortly after dark on Monday evening, the trio arrived at the firehouse. Everyone was smiling so I relaxed a little bit. Introductions were made and I had to ask. All three tried to tell me at once about the day.

Courtesy won out and Alison got to tell her story first. I found out that she got her first chance to actually catch a walleye (sorry Ray). They went out on the Wisconsin River and even though Gil found fish right away, the cold front had pretty much shut the bite down. However, one keeper walleye decided that it would bite. Alison also had her first muskie encounter when she was reeling in her jig/minnow and a muskie took a shot at it as she lifted the bait from the water. Little did she know....

Justin excitedly told me about his muskie encounter as he too was bringing in his jig and a BIG muskie actually grabbed the bait. Justin got to feel the power and fury of these northwoods toothy critters for a couple heavy shakes of its head before it straightened out the hook. He then told me about the beautiful 18 inch plus smallmouth bass that took his jig and minnow as well.

While Justin had caught bass before, they were Spotted Bass and Largemouth. Any bass will give a good fight, but when I asked Justin what he thought of our smallies, his eyes sparkled as he told me "They pull hard!!"

Darin joined the group as I gave a tour of the fire station. I don't know of any youngster that isn't fascinated by fire trucks and Justin was no exception. We looked at the trucks and I snapped a picture of Justin in the cab of my truck. We made our plans for the next day and Gil took them back to the AmericInn for a good night's sleep.

The new day dawned gray, dreary and worst of all, COLD! Darin and I picked up Justin and Alison at the hotel and made the trek to the lake. As we headed north, I marveled at the fact that Justin had never seen snow and had never even heard of a snowblower!

There was still some snow left in the shaded areas when we arrived at the landing. So, of course while I was getting the boat ready for launching, the "Kids" had a snowball fight, Justin's first ever!

We motored across the frigid lake, leaving Alison somewhat breathless from the cold and Justin wanting to know if the boat could go faster...Silly Boy!

The two of them were still fascinated by the size of the bait that I used for muskies, even though Gil had a sucker out the day before, hoping to entice a muskie. I put out two suckers on quick-strike rigs and gave instructions on what to do when a muskie hit and/or followed the lures.

Taking up "Battle Stations", we began to throw crankbaits and jerkbaits, looking to put that first elusive muskie in the boat. Darin got the first action as a muskie took a shot at his Squirrely Burt. I don't know who missed, Darin or the muskie, but it didn't matter, we all blamed Darin anyway. With a lot of joking and laughing, we continued on, giving Darin even more grief as two more muskies decided that he was working the lure pretty well, just not well enough to bite and hold on. So, with the score muskies 3, Lake-Link Team Muskie 0, we pressed on.

Within the first hour on the water, we'd already had those three missed strikes and several follows, so I was feeling pretty good about our chances. It wasn't long before a Bomber Long A crankbait was smashed and Justin was going toe to toe with his first Wisconsin muskie. Some short dogged runs, some surface rolls and the net was soon slid underneath a small muskie.

After seeing the teeth and feeling how cold the fish was (and how cold his hands were already), Justin didn't want any part of holding the muskie for a picture. So I did the honors while Darin and Alison snapped some shots.

We continued the drift, marking several more follows when it happened. I was the first to notice the mid 40 inch muskie stalking the sucker that I had running right along the side of the boat. We waited, almost holding our breath as we watched the muskie surge ahead and grab the helpless sucker.

Lifting the rod from the holder, I got Justin up on the front deck with me. As soon as he was in place, I put the reel in gear and waited for the muskie to tighten up the line. The adrenaline must have been flowing fairly well when I set the hook. My heart sank when I realized that when I set the hook, I snapped fresh 50 lb. test PowerPro like it was thread! A decent fish and I got overexcited, blowing the chance for Justin.

A slightly deflated Team Muskie went back to the task at hand, casting cranks and jerks as I tied on a fresh quick-strike rig and rigged up another sucker. Muskies 4, Lake-Link Team Muskie 1

Justin was curious if my boat could go any faster than the last run upwind. Well, anyone that knows me knows that I don't need a lot of encouragement to give my boat's throttle some exercise. A quick blast across the lake gave us more time to fish, but it also left Justin complaining that his forehead was numb. Oddly enough, we left that statement pretty much alone. I guess that it was just too easy.

But, while on this next drift, Alison found out that there's a difference between a walleye bite and a muskie hit. She was twitching a Jake bait like a pro when a beautifully marked 32 inch muskie grabbed "Ol Jake". The hooks held and she played the fish to the side to the boat. A quick photo session and the second muskie of the day was released.

Another muskie slurped down the rear sucker but this one proved that only 60 - 70 percent of quick-strike muskies that hit are hooked. So, for those of you that think that livebait fishing for muskies is a "sure-thing" really should try it sometime.

Poor Justin, by this time, was about to perish from hunger (or so he said), so we took a lunch break. So at half-time, the score was Muskies 5, Lake-Link Team Muskie 2!

Fed, warmed and armed with a fresh supply of suckers, we hit the lake for the afternoon session of abuse. All of us were physically abused by Mother Nature and verbally abused by each other. The temperatures were starting to fall and so was the rain, mixed with sleet and snow. But while the weather was getting colder, the muskie action stayed hot.

Darin and I, being the gentlemen that we are, decided to let Justin and Alison have the muskies. So, whenever one would hit, we'd do our best to shake the muskie loose. (That's our story and we're sticking to it). Numerous muskies made their shadowy presence known as they'd follow one of our lures, only to flash away into the gloom.

Another muskie took the rear sucker, a brief run, a quick stabbing hookset and Justin was duking it out again. This time, I got Darin and Alison into the picture, 3 happy, wet, cold, bedraggled anglers and one P.O.'d muskie. Nothing big, but HEY, it's a muskie. Darin slid this one back in and we continued the drift.

Ohhh, you should have heard it going in the boat! "Who's muskie's bigger?" "Yeah, but who's got two?" Darin and I just exchanged happy glances, knowing that the day was going better than anyone who's ever fished muskies could have imagined.

Alison had a muskie crash her lure tight at boatside as she was starting her figure-8. I chuckled as I heard the explosion and a stifled shriek, telling me that "I GOT ONE, I GOT ONE, I GOT ONE!!!!" Once again, the digital cameras were flashing on another muskie and happy angler.

By this time, the temps had dropped even further it seemed and I know that Justin was frozen. So, before we ended up with a couple of Cajun Popsicles, we decided that we'd drift "just a little further." Immediately, as soon as that decision was made, I had a good hit but missed getting hooks into the fish. Darin as well had muskie action, but it seemed that even though they'd chase our baits, it was Justin and Alison's day. Just the way that we wanted it to be.

So, with frozen reluctance, I fired up the 175 and "slowly" motored off the lake. The boat was soon loaded onto the trailer, gear stashed and the truck's heater controls set to "Thermonuclear". Slowly thawing, we drove back to Rhinelander, stopping a couple of times to watch deer, laughing as we recounted the day's events.

I lost count on the score between Lake-Link Team Muskie and the Muskies. I think that even though the muskies probably had the higher score, it was Justin and Alison that were the true winners of the day.

I wish that everyone that has followed Justin's story from the beginning could have been there with us. I'm just glad that Darin and I were there to be part of it.

So, until next time, See Ya,

Author Steve Huber

Steve Huber
Steve Huber, an avid angler with over 35 years of experience (man, he's old) is one of the few multi-species guides in the Rhinelander area. He's been operating G & S Guide Service for 8 years now and loves to fish for Muskies, Northern Pike, Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass and the occasional Walleye (in no particular order). A person who loves to see others succeed, he's an educator while on the water and when he's not teaching you something, he'll regale you with tales of adventures and mis-adventures gleaned from his years on the water. If you liked this article, you can check out Steve's web site at http://www.herefishyfishy.com.