Merwin's Muskies get anglers excited

Reservoir's monsters get anglers excited

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WOODLAND -- The photos had been taken, the fish put back in the water and released, the net stowed, and still my hands shook. They trembled with the excitement of having caught and landed a 40-inch tiger muskie. In all my fishing experiences, this was the longest fish I had ever caught, a personal record.

"Wow" was all I could say to my fishing partner, Todd Reis. Over and over and over.

My tiger muskie fishing experience had been off to a slow start. I began with an 0-for-Lake Tapps and then an 0-for-Mayfield Lake. I finally got on the scoreboard, landing a rather impish 26-incher on Lake Tapps last year.

Having fished with veteran muskie anglers such as Bill Green and Reis, I had heard plenty of stories about monster muskies. I wanted to tangle with one of these toothy beasts.

So Reis and I met before sunrise a few weeks ago and headed south to Lake Merwin, a Lewis River impoundment east of Woodland on state Route 503. We launched Reis' boat at Speelyai Park, a day-use park run by PacifiCorp.

A low mist clung to the placid lake surface as we slowly motored away from the launch. Once up to speed, we headed to a spot Reis wanted to fish on the south shore, Green Mountain reflecting in the water.

In a few minutes, Reis cut the motor and dropped his bow-mounted trolling motor. He slowly guided us in among massive tree stumps and weed beds that were just starting to grow.

Muskies are often referred to as "the fish of 10,000 casts." My experience up until this trip seemed to validate that claim. So I was mentally prepared and began the routine of casting, reeling in the lure, and casting again.

It wasn't long, though, until Reis' experienced eyes spotted a muskie lurking in the depths near a stump. That's a good sign, spotting a fish so soon. But a few casts with his spinnerbait failed to get the muskie to even budge an inch. That's not a good sign.

I was trying to keep my frustration from building. "Keep casting," I said to myself. "Just keep casting."

As we changed locations, I would occasionally try another lure. But Reis kept urging me to use the swimbait. So I would grab the rod with the 1-ounce lure on the end of my line and go back at it.

"Keep casting, just keep casting."

We stopped seeing fish and weren't getting any follows. My right elbow and wrist were starting to ache from all the casting. The discussion in the boat turned from bad jokes and good-natured ribbing to serious matters -- how many Aleves would be required before going to bed?

At some point, Reis pointed to the far shoreline. We would work our away along the shore, he said, slowly making our way back to the boat launch. Now, the pressure amped up. We had a time limit on the water.

"Keep casting, just keep casting."

Reis had the boat lined up and we fired our baits toward shore. The water here was off color, dirt churned by waves and the wake of passing ski boats making the water a little milky. Reis, tapping his years of experience, suggested I fish the swimbait a little slower and allow it to sink deeper.

I tried not to look down the shore to the point that leads to the launch, the end of our trip.

"Keep casting, just keep casting."

I counted to 10 to allow the lure time to sink and then began a slow, halting retrieve.

The lure was nearly back to the boat, when my line stopped, I felt a powerful tug and saw a large flash of silver where my lure should have been.

"Got one," I exclaimed, sending Reis scrambling for the net.

For the next minute or so -- I lost track of time -- the fish led me around the boat. It raced toward the bow, headed toward the sharp blade of the trolling motor. Reis yanked it out the way with one hand, holding the net in the other, offering me encouragement the whole time. On the right side of the boat, the muskie decided to try and go under the boat. The rod bent nearly in two as the fish tried to escape.

Back and forth we went, the fish pulling out line, me reeling it closer to the net. Finally, I lifted the rod tip high and slid the fish forward as Reis scooped the net into the water.

It took us a few moments to unhook the fish and get it untangled from the net. But finally I had a muskie to be proud of.

It had a massive head. Its mouth was packed with sharp teeth. Its silvery flanks were striped with olive-colored bars and spots. Its belly sagged when I held it up for a photo.

After the fish was released, and we had exchanged a high-five and some laughs, I sat down in the back of the boat. When I reached for my water bottle, I realized my hands were shaking -- a fresh bout of muskie fever, no doubt.

"That was a nice fish," I said, my smile as bright as the sun. "Now I want a 50-incher."

Reis laughed at my boastful wish.

"Keep casting, just keep casting."