Fishing

Eye of the tiger: Idaho angler’s hard work pays off with wild catch

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You can purchase a hunting or fishing license online from Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Here's how to do it.
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You can purchase a hunting or fishing license online from Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Here's how to do it.

They have been called the fish of 10,000 casts. They are among the biggest, smartest and rarest species in Idaho — and when you finally get a bite, the hard work is only beginning.

Meet the legendary tiger muskie, a fish with the body of a barracuda, the attitude of a crocodile and a set of teeth to match. Last weekend, my buddy Caleb and I decided it was time to hunt one down.

Neither of us had fished for muskie before. It’s not an easy task in our region — the only fishery within driving distance is Little Payette Lake near McCall.

On a sunny Saturday, we charted a course north. Armed with large lures and heavy tackle, we launched my boat at Little Payette and began trying to solve this mysterious beast. Our hunting grounds proved as unfamiliar as our quarry.

Little Payette is a strange lake, littered with dead trees both sticking out of the water and floating by the hundreds along the banks. We covered acre after acre of driftwood-infested water, but scarcely saw any sign of life. Still, the smell of pine and the alpine reflections against gin-clear water kept us content.

Finally, after tying on a large swimbait, Caleb got a bite. Sadly, the culprit was just a big pikeminnow.

“Well that’s disappointing,” he lamented. “But it definitely got my heart rate up!”

We fished on. After countless unanswered casts with a floating Rapala, I switched to a sinking model and BAM! Instant payoff. I peered into the depths and was delighted to see a beautiful smallmouth bass. It still wasn’t a muskie, but it was nice to get on the board.

“We’re getting warmer,” I predicted.

We continued to move around the lake, marveling at how many well-placed casts went unanswered, how many log-covered hideouts seemed devoid of predatory residents. As the sun chased the western skyline, an eerie calm settled over Little Payette. The surface was glass, and we could faintly hear the conversations of campers far off in the distance. Certain moments just feel like something big could happen.

We had no muskie experience, and we surely hadn’t put in 10,000 casts yet, but as we switched to large topwater lures, I sensed magic lurking in the dusk. I had my back turned, but there was no doubt when the pivotal moment arrived. The sound alone let me know — a muskie had exploded on Caleb’s lure less than 10 yards from the boat.

“Here we go, buddy, here we go!” I cried.

The muskie boiled near the surface and began swimming wide circles around the boat. It looked to be about three feet long — not huge by muskie standards, but a quality fish.

Caleb calmly worked the fish toward us, and I was faced with the crucial task of corralling a too-big fish in a too-small net. When the moment was right, I stabbed, scooped and hauled 36 inches of thrashing, razor-toothed muscle aboard.

THE MUSKIE WAS IN THE BOAT! Mission accomplished!

We got a firsthand look at the damage these fish are capable of when the tiger chomped a hole through my rubber net.

“Worth it!” I announced, as Caleb chuckled in agreement. It was a two-man job to subdue the fish, remove the hook and pull the muskie out of the chewed-up net. But in short order, Caleb lifted his prize for a photo, and we let out a triumphant whoop as we watched it swim away.

“I’ll never forget that one,” Caleb said. “That’s a bucket list fish for sure.”

Agreed — and we’ll definitely be back to try and tame another tiger before long. Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks with him at tightlinesboise@gmail.com or visit www.tightlines208.com.

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