Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Legendary Muskie Guide

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Legendary is an honorary distinction bestowed only on a few fishing guides each year. It is an acknowledgement that a person has attained legendary status: a man who has made a visible impact on fishing over many years.

Bob Brunner of Utica, Michigan, was awarded this distinctive honor nearly four years ago by the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin, when he was inducted into the Hall as a Legendary Guide. Competition among people who lobby for their nominees can be intense, and those who are granted this status by the Hall’s voting committee are richly deserving of such an honor.

Brunner has been a muskie fishing guide on Lake St. Clair for many years. And he does his fishing in a most uncommon way on that great body of water near Detroit: he chooses to cast rather than troll for muskies, unlike 99.9 percent of the other muskie anglers on that fish-rich body of water between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

“I’ve fished Lake St. Clair since 1929 and caught my first muskie in 1931 when I was six years old,” Brunner told me. “Dad and I fished the lake every Sunday for many years, but now at the tender age of 88, I still have people asking me to teach them how to cast for muskies. I rarely troll for them because I feel I can get my clients into much bigger fish by working the weed beds where trolling is very difficult.”

Lake St. Clair is, beyond any doubt, the best muskellunge lake in North America. There are more muskies per water surface area here than anywhere in muskie country. This is why Brunner chooses to guide on this shallow lake. The chances of catching one of the big girls is better on Lake St. Clair than on any other lake that holds these game fish.

The largest muskies of all – the big girls – are always females. Male muskies do not grow as large as the females, and big girls is what he fishes for.

“I have never run an ad and I’m still booked most of the season,” Brunner said. “People come from all over to fish with me because they know I work hard to put them on big fish. If a person is willing to travel 50 or 2,000 miles to fish with me, it’s my job to put them on a big fish so they will hopefully catch the muskellunge of a lifetime.”

He loves to fish for most game fish species but muskies are the love of his life. That is one reason he has written numerous books about how and where to catch Great Lakes muskellunge. Brunner has developed a strong cult following among muskie anglers, and his methods differ greatly from those guides who troll.

“I want people to be able to catch these great fish and enjoy life as much as I have,” he said. “My books are not all about muskie fishing but some of them are focused just on these great fish while some cover other species as well.  I believe my book “Casting: The Feast Or Famine Of Fishing” is my best work. It explains where to fish, which lures and methods to use and where to use them.”

Sadly, most of his books are long out of print and are collectible. Some are offered on this website at Scoop’s Books. Check them out.

He considers his best times on the water are those spent teaching kids how to fish. He enjoys kids on his boat, but as long as he can put someone into fish, he’s in his glory.

His first business card said “On-water lessons available at reasonable rates.” His first two clients were a father and son for the boy’s 14th birthday. After they spent a few hours casting around several Anchor Bay areas, the kid hooked and landed his first muskie. It was a fat 40-incher caught on a spoon and he was hooked for life.

“I knew then that I had to get more children and their parents out to try for this great game fish,” he said. “So here I am, many years later, and still trying to get kids and people involved in this sport. I have been releasing muskies since the early 1970s.

“When I teach someone how to catch fish I feel I’m doing what the Big Guy wanted me to do. The look on a kid’s face while he tries to reel a 48-inch muskie to the boat is something that words can’t describe. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see a child so happy because he caught a fish where I said one would be. I feel blessed to have helped so many kids land their first muskellunge.”

Brunner feels that muskie fishing has exploded over the past 15 years and it is hard to keep up with the many changes.  He feels saddest that now his life’s journey is nearing its end he won’t be able to fish the many other great muskie hotspots that he has fished over the years.

“I have met some really great people in my life and some have taught me some very valuable lessons,” he said. “Two are the Richey brothers—Dave and George. We lost George nearly six years ago to cancer, and he was a great person and a skilled fisherman.

George fished with me once a year for over 10 years. He taught me that we are all the same, and he was great company on the boat. He was one of the very few anglers that could beat me casting for the big girls.”

There is no doubt about it: Bob Brunner was well qualified for induction into the Hall of Fame as a legendary guide. He rightfully deserves this recognition, and I look forward to fishing with him this fall for one of his “Big Girls.”

I hope we can make our schedules fit. He is a special person in my life of muskie fishing. The fish in the photo above is of Brunner’s biggest muskie, one that weighed about 50 pounds.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/24 at 07:55 PM
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