Searching for muskie on the Elk River

Chris Ellis/For The Register-HeraldThe muskie, like this antique one hanging on Ellis’ wall, can be one of the more difficult fish to catch. But when you do, there’s a heck of a story to be told.

There is an antique fish mount on the wall of my office. The fish is a muskie that was caught in West Virginia on Jan. 9, 1972. I know this because there is a gold plaque with details of the angler’s prize catch attached to the board the fish is mounted on. The muskie was given to me as a gift and I cherish it so much that it hangs on the wall above my desk. It has a special place because it is special – I have had a connection to muskies for as long as I can remember. And for some time now, the month of January reminds me of that fish and of how strong my connection to the species is.

Growing up on the banks of the Elk River in the 70s, fishing was the talk of the small town where we lived. And the news of someone catching a muskie, especially a large one, spread across the town quicker than gossip and caused us to rush to see the giant fish and proud angler.

The heart of my hometown was the river and the heart of the river, back then, was the muskie. As an impressionable young kid, I could not get enough or hear enough about the fish, and more importantly, the people who fished for them. It seemed to me back then, everyone in town fished. Most of us were smallmouth fishermen, who enjoyed floating the river in a canoe or wading the river casting baits in the shoals of the summertime months. Others fished at night of the summer and could be seen in the glow of their lanterns on the banks of the river’s deep pools. They mostly searched for big catfish.

But the most interesting breed of people to me in those days were the ones who fished when the water ran cold and slow who talked of monsters that broke rods and straightened hooks. They took on the sport of fishing like hunters in search of the mystical trophy buck that was very rarely seen and was talked about like a ghost. All of the intrigue about the fish and those who dedicated their time to catching them added to the layers of desire for me to someday unlock the mysteries of the muskie.

I have had many muskie encounters on the rivers of my fishing career. I have even managed to net a few. But the big muskie, the one on file in my mind from childhood, has eluded me. I have seen him swirl at my bait, even had him on my hook for a brief moment, but I have never held him in my hands.

So as another January rolls on by and I am reminded of the fish that hangs on my wall, I catch myself daydreaming of a future day when I finally touch the muskie of my childhood dreams. I am hopeful this is the year.

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