Once, near Cordova, Alaska, a guide friend attached a whole pink salmon to my line using a 12/0 J hook. To be legal, we used a commercially-caught fish, so the 6-pound salmon was already dead when we lowered it into the silt-laden water. A bright red balloon attached about 8 feet above the salmon kept it suspended near the surface.
There were no less than 9 salmon sharks in sight as we lowered the bait, none near the boat, but the sight of so many shark fins slicing the surface was a bit disconcerting. Still, I was surprised how quickly the first fish hit. The bait had drifted only 10 feet when the balloon disappeared with a splash and line began to leave the reel at a steady pace.
Before setting the hook, I clipped the rod to a stand up harness. When I hammered the hook home, the shark exploded into a powerful run that slammed me against the gunnel and nearly out of the boat!
An hour later I got a good look at my first salmon shark. It was built very similar to a great white with a thick mid section that thins out near the tail. Weight? Very close to 500 pounds! Teeth? Nothing like a great white, but large enough to mess you up.
I thought of that shark last Friday while dropping back a live 22-inch sucker minnow in to a clear, northern Minnesota lake that supports a great muskie population. The bait was so big that it I landed a walleye of similar size I would release it. Brian Blaeser was rigging a second bait for an outside rod. It measured 16 inches.
To think that a freshwater fish could consume a "minnow" weighing three pounds or so seems absurd, but within minutes there was a long, dark shadow trailing the big bait, and suddenly it T-boned the sucker and took off in a rush.
Scott Grieve quickly pulled the rod from its holder and fed the muskie line as it moved away. We had the sucker rigged with a quick-strike rig featuring twin trebles. This would allow us to set the hook before the muskie swallowed the bait. This greatly improves release rates on a fish that lives more than a decade and can be caught multiple times.
My favorite muskie rod blew up in Scott's hands when he set the hook! It was kind of like bringing a taser to a gun fight. Scott held his own for a minute or two using what was left of the rod, but as he worked the fish close to the boat the lack of give worked against him. The hooks pulled just five feet from the net!
The second fish we hooked also pulled the hooks, so when my turn came up with bite three, I fed the fish more line to give him enough time to turn the bait before setting the hook. The initial headshakes made it clear the fish was big. It also took line against a drag set tight so the hooks would pull clear of the bait at the hook set. The attached video shows the fight and the ugly things that happened at boat side.
Losing a fish of this size (48 inches plus) is never fun. I noticed just before the fish began to roll on the surface it was hooked once, lightly, in the roof of the mouth and tried to lighten up pressure, but it was too little and too late.
We did eventually land two fish, one a 46 incher that ranks as Scott's personal best to date and a 42 inches as darkness fell.
By the way, on this trip I tried a new soft planer board from a small Ohio company that did a superb job taking our baits away from the boat, a key in getting bit. We had several muskies into the spread that rejected our offerings, in part, because they were spooked by the boat. The planers are called Dualfins and I found them simple to use and deadly. You can check them out at www.dualfin.com.