Published August 09, 2009, 12:00 AM

Big muskies haunt the St. Louis River

Chris Edquist of Superior goes fishing just south of the Blatnik Bridge in Superior Bay, trying to find one of the big muskies that live there.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

Chris Edquist fired the Cowgirl over the languid waters of the St. Louis River toward a row of old pilings.

Ssssssssss. Eighty-pound-test line peeled off Edquist’s level-wind reel.

Splat. The showy muskie lure made an unceremonious landing in the stained water.

Edquist, a veteran river angler and guide from Superior, began cranking the showy bucktail back to his boat on this July morning. He was fishing just south of the Blatnik Bridge in Superior Bay, trying to find one of the big muskies that live there.

“I like downriver more,” said Edquist, of Superior. “There’s less fishing pressure down here.”

Sssssssss. Splat.

Long known as a premiere walleye fishery, the St. Louis also is gaining a reputation as a muskie factory as well. Numbers are good, and these voracious feeders are getting bigger, too.

“Before, the average was probably in the upper 30s [30 inches],” Edquist said. “Now it’s getting up into the 40s. … I’ve heard of a few 52s caught this year.”

Ssssssss. Splat.

He worked along the shoreline for 40 or 50 casts, then zipped on down toward Hog Island to do some more casting. Edquist, 38, grew up in South Range trolling for muskies on Lyman Lake in a 12-foot rowboat. He’s been fishing the river since the early 1990s. An accomplished walleye fisherman, too, he and partner Chad Clough of Mahtowa won a couple of tournaments earlier this summer.

Throughout the morning, he would throw the big-bladed Cowgirl bucktails, smaller Showgirls and big crankbaits called Shallow Invaders.

Edquist fished shallow flats, 2 to 5 feet deep. A huge northern pike followed but wouldn’t hit. Then a muskie followed but wouldn’t eat the bait. Edquist kept moving, easing along the shore with his trolling motor.

“Out here, it’s more covering water than fishing a spot,” Edquist said. “In the flats, they could be anywhere.”

Ssssssss. Splat.

Edquist eased his Alumacraft up the mouth of the Nemadji River, working in the shadow of abandoned ore docks. He threw the Invader as he trolled up the channel edge, then switched to an orange Showgirl, a more modest version of the Cowgirl bucktail. He worked back downriver.

“There’s one,” Edquist said, leaning into his beefy muskie rod and driving the big treble hooks into a substantial muskie. The fish thrashed, but it wasn’t going far on Edquist’s heavy tackle.

He worked the fish close to the boat, and I got the net in front of its menacing snout. Edquist led it home.

Spending any time at all in the presence of a mature muskie is a powerful experience. You look at that broad bronze back, those indifferent eyes, the flat head — and the sheer size of the creature. Big walleyes are cool. Slab crappies are fun. Big lake trout are a treat. But there’s something almost reminiscent of the Pleistocene about these leviathans that sulk in the shallows, ready to slash at 8 inches of nickel and tinsel swimming past.

“Look at the girth on that fish,” Edquist said. “That’s probably a 20-pound fish.”

The fish idled in the net. Edquist worked quickly, popping the hook free. He held the fish for a quick photo, and, at my request, measured it. It went 41½ inches.

“A lot of times, I don’t measure them,” Edquist said.

He has caught enough to know a 40-incher, a 42, a 45. An inch one way or the other is no big deal to him.

Edquist let the fish gently down to the water and held its tail lightly. Five seconds. Ten. And then, with no particular urgency, the great dark form swished its tail once, twice, and was slowly reabsorbed by the river.

It would be the only fish we landed during a half day of fishing. We had six or eight hits and follows, where a muskie would tap a lure or trail it all the way to the boat.

Sssssssss. Splat.

Muskies used to be called the “Fish of 10,000 casts.” You don’t hear that so much anymore. Yes, you have to throw lures for a while to find one. But with good muskie fishing now on the St. Louis River, Island Lake, Lake Vermilion, Mille Lacs and the Chippewa Flowage, it’s easier to hook up with a muskie than it once was.

We casted for a while, then trolled bucktails and crankbaits down the middle of Superior Bay. No takers. We went back to casting some of the same spots we had hit earlier.

Some of the best muskie fishing on the river is still to come, Edquist said.

“In October, one muskie a day is a bad day,” he said. “We usually average one to three a day.”

Muskies begin to feed more that time of year, he said. Later is even better.

“The past three years, on the opening of Minnesota deer season, we’ve caught one more than 30 pounds,” he said. One was 48 [inches] with a 25-inch girth. One was 50 with a 25-inch girth. One was 49 with a 23-inch girth.”

Was it cold?

“We were trolling,” he said. “There’s no casting when you have handwarmers in your gloves.”

But there’s casting today.

Sssssssss. Splat.

Sssssssss. Splat.

Sssssssss. Splat.