Leech Lake Who Knew?

 Here’s another entertaining read from Jack Burns – reprinted from the pages of Minnesota Outdoor News.

If you’ve read my columns over the years, you may have noticed that I used to do virtually all my fishing in Canada. I have a small cabin on a Canadian muskie lake-and about a dozen other fishing buddies with camper trailers, cabins, boats kept at resorts, on several Canadian muskie waters. And I’d drive 800 to 1000-mile round trips every weekend to fish these waters.

But it didn’t start off that way. For years I fished Wisconsin and Minnesota muskies-from Cass Lake to the Big Chip. I gravitated toward Canadian waters more for the ambiance and solitude than for the muskies. Honest. Not long ago, it was easier to catch a 30-pound muskie in Lake Harriet than in many of the Canadian muskie lakes I fish. But I’d prefer to look up and see pelicans than the IDS building.

So I eventually became-exclusively-a Canadian muskie fisherman. Every few years, I may have taken a weekend off, but I averaged 23 or so weekends per year in Canada. That is until a couple years ago.

It was on a hot August weekend when I took a shot at Leech Lake with Esox Angler managers and writers. I fished with local guides (and EA writers) Rusty Liliquist and Dan Craven … and with Pete Maina, the GM at Esox Angler. Dan is a teacher who has spent time with Camp Fish and In Fisherman, and guides during the summer. Rusty runs Up-North Realty and has served as a County Commissioner.


But despite their diversity and type-A workloads, these guys do know their muskie waters.

On the first morning, we pulled up to our first spot. No rocks, no weeds, no discernable breakline. Seeing no weeds, I pulled out a modified Jake crankbait. Pete Maina, who designed the bait, said “you can’t use that-we’re casting into a foot and a half of water.” What?? I thought he was nuts. No wind, no cover, calm shallow water… So I snapped on a small bucktail-a Lilytail-and starting chucking and burning the bait back to the boat. After we moved a hundred yards or so, I blurted out: “So are there weeds behind us or what?” This just brought smug chuckles from Pete and Rusty.

About 100 yards further on I found out why. At boatside, at a 90-degree angle, at blinding speed, a big fish hammered my bait. I hit the freespool and thumbed the line to let her make the customary muskie run (10 to 20 feet). But she thought she was a salmon, apparently. On the first run she went 90 to 100 feet. I swear. I battled her back to the boat, only to watch her make another long run. These were the longest runs I’ve seen in over 30 years of muskie fishing. Must have been the super shallow water. That and the fact that she went 52.5 inches.

After it was over and she was swimming away, I looked around. Eagles, pelicans, loons, cormorants … islands, reefs, blue water to the horizon … and hardly a boat in sight. Kinda reminded me of Canada.

But it wasn’t over. As we moved down the line, everyone got a shot or two. Pete caught a low 40. I caught a small muskie that forced us to cut hooks and tenderly work it back to swimming strength. Then it was Rusty’s turn. Another low 40 got him on the board. And then he moved up a notch on his next fish-a real nice 47. We had been on the lake two hours. We had five muskies, a legit 30+ pounder and a high 20 pounder. Rusty had to go show a lake home to a buyer, so we dropped him off on shore and went back out. Pete capped off the day with a nice mid-40 incher.

It took a while to sink in. This was Leech Lake. Minnesota. I don’t see a lot of six fish days in Canada. But it seemed like I was a lot more surprised than Pete and Rusty. Nonetheless, we all celebrated that night. And we weren’t quite done.


The next morning the fish were not exactly jumping in the boat. At the first spot, we had a few follows, but no eaters. So we went to the area that had produced the big fish the day before. It was loaded with muskies. A 42-inch follow. A 48 hit and missed. A 45-inch follow. Another 45-ish hit and missed. Four muskies on a popular 200-yard spot. Strategy was a no-brainer. Circle back and rework the area before other boats move in.



Fish were still there. Different fish. Smaller fish. Three follows, all under 40. Nothing exciting about that, but it did mean that at least seven muskies were active on that spot. Make that eight. Just as we reached the edge of the spot-the spot where I had released the big fish the day before-another huge muskie clobbered my bait. This one wasn’t a runner, it was a jumper. And it was huge. Three valiant jump/wallows … too fat to completely clear the water … and all within ten feet of the boat. A spectacular fighter. Fifty-two inches, but a much better fish than the other big one. Maybe 6 pounds heavier.

Back-to-back 52s. After it was over I looked around. Lac Seul? Eagle? Wabagoon? Nope. Leech Lake. Minnesota.

You might want to give it a try.

Catch a nice one and let it go. Let them ALL go.


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