The weather had changed, the muskies were feeding and I was as hyper as a kid with 10 bucks heading to the candy store. Mike Zielonka, my long-time fishing partner, and I were on our annual excursion to Lake of the Woods on the Minnesota/Ontario border.
We spend many days there each season and typically had been among the last anglers of the year at Monument Bay Resort. This trip was different, however. We were among the last paying guests ever, as the resort had just been sold to a private party.
At first, we’d seen only one or two fish each day, but then a blast of cooler air swept in, along with wind, rain and heavy cloud cover. We boated four muskies on Tuesday, five on Wednesday, and by midday on Thursday, we’d brought seven to boatside.
We were fishing our way back to camp late that afternoon when Mike’s crankbait snagged a shallow, rock-studded flat. As usual, I reversed the engine and backed up at a fast idle to retrieve the lure. That’s when the motor’s lower unit slammed into a high spot, and the boat stopped like we’d hit a brick wall. The abrupt halt caused Mike to fall right into my large storage tote, in which hung more than 50 8- to 13-inch lures, all with treble hooks that were hand-honed scalpel-sharp.
Mike lay on his side with hooks impaled all over his clothing. I instinctively tried to reach for my long- nose pliers and mini bolt cutter, but my right hand wouldn’t move from the side of my seat. During the commotion, one point of a 4/0 treble had buried to the bone in my right-hand little finger. The other hook was stuck in the upholstery.
After a little maneuvering, I was able to cut the split ring on the lure that pinned me, then went to work on Mike. There were about 10 giant lures hanging from his arm and side; fortunately, his heavy coat had kept most of the hooks from gouging into flesh. A few minutes of cutting and pulling removed all but one hook, but that one was sunk deep into his right forearm.
So there we were—hurt and miles from camp with a broken outboard—with no response to radioed distress calls. Little light was left in the late-October sky, and any firewood we might find on shore would be rain-soaked. We were in trouble.
As we contemplated the horror spending a wet, cold, painful night in the woods, Mike spotted two of the last few anglers still on the million-acre lake.
We found a flare and soon the boat was heading our way.
The fishermen towed us back to camp, where Jim and Lynn Kayfes, the resort’s now-former owners, took us in for mending. Lynn, a trained nurse, has plenty of experience dislodging hooks, and she set to work on Mike first.
She used the loop-and-pop technique, but it still took eight yanks before the hook broke free. Thankfully, mine came loose on the first try.
After a liberal dose of antiseptics, Jim towed us and our crippled rig seven miles to the launch. But despite all that had happened to us that day, Mike and I could only wonder about how many more muskies we could have caught if we’d have been able to fish the final two days. ?