Friday, May 08, 2009

Muskie Lessons From The Past

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Arguably, the late Homer LeBlanc of St. Clair Shores may have been the best muskie fisherman on Lake St. Clair and perhaps in North America. He caught whopper muskies, and he could tell stories almost as large as the fish he and his clients were trying to catch.

For me, as the longtime staff outdoor writer for The Detroit News, Homer always was one of my go-to guys when other fishing trips fell flat, the weather turned bad, my fisherman forgot his appointment, or when other such catastrophes befell me. All it took with Homer was a phone call, and the plea: “Homer, I need a story now,” and he’d suggest I come over for a chat, which was always an adventure in itself.

He had some good advice for muskie fishermen, and although the late and great Uncle Homer has been gone for nearly 20 years, some of his wealth of advice lives on.

“If you want to catch a muskie,” he’d say, “you have to think like a muskie.”

So, anyone who ever wanted to battle one of these fresh-water wolves was urged to follow that advice. He would talk to anyone about muskie fishing, and often would sprinkle a bit of Homer LeBlanc humor in with his fishing tips. And, being a natural salesman, would offer up a copy of his paperback book. If he didn’t provide just exactly what an angler needed for advice, the book was sure to provide the needed answers.

Learning how to catch muskies from a book can be done but Homer always agreed that time on the water was always a key to success and the best learning tool. Another point that he often stressed was to try to learn something new from every fishing trip.

“A muskie is very smart,” LeBlanc told me during one of my many interviews with him over many years. “A big fish may fight for just five minutes and then go belly-up in the water. Many anglers are fooled by this trick. The fish may suddenly recover and come flying out in a leap and splash down near the boat. Stay away from a hooked muskie until he is really tired out. If it’s a big fish, reel in all the other lines and stay clear of the fish until he is whipped.”

LeBlanc developed great fame for catching Lake St. Clair muskies, and he devised a method of spacing lures so that all lures on both sides of the boat would be in the prop wash. He was a devotee of power (fast) trolling, and preached that people keep all lures in or very close to the churned-up water created by the prop. He maintained that muskies occasionally hit the prop. and sometimes the prop hits the muskie. I’ve caught a couple of fish on Lake St. Clair that looked as if they lost an argument with a boat prop.

“One thing to remember about muskies is they seldom run any distance but choose to hold their ground,” he told me. “They will thresh around, dive to the bottom, play dead and then suddenly begin fighting hard again. They rarely run far, and if a fish heads for the bottom and refuses to come up, be prepared for a good fish because fish that stay down are usually big fish.

“I’ve caught muskies under all types of weather conditions. The best weather is unpredictable, but a sure sign is when they really turn on and strikes are common. It seems that when one fish hits, other fish will do the same thing. Perhaps someone is ringing an underwater dinner bell. The best time to fish for muskies is whenever you can get away.”

He said that everything about this fishery is subject to sudden change. He advised anglers to not stick with one set way of fishing. Try new areas, new lures and new lure color combination. He advised anglers to change their tactics if one method isn’t producing. Never fish memories, and although what worked at the same time of year one or two years ago may not produce this time around. Wind and water conditions can change with a storm, and put the big fish on their feed or make them stop biting.

Homer’s sense of humor was beguiling. If things were slow, and everyone was napping, he’d throw a big rock into the water while ripping line off the reel. The commotion and noise would revive the spirits of the anglers as Homer mildly chastised them for not paying attention to the lines. He could tell stories, and his anglers often fished time and again to see what zany new things he had added to his boating and fishing repertoire.

“If you want to be a fishing guide like me it’s important to look the part,” he said. “Being bald-headed with a weathered face and hands helps lend some credibility to the persona of a guide. It’s important to act the part and have an experienced look about you. Don’t take a bath for a week and rub some fish slime on your clothing and you’ll soon smell like an experienced fisherman or guide. Wear old nasty looking and smelling clothes to complete the illusion. People expect expert anglers and guides to look the part.”

With all the hype aside, Homer LeBlanc was the real thing. His trolling methods are still be practiced today, 50 years or more after he developed a technique that worked ... some of the time. Homer could pull your leg, get anglers going on some illogical piece of fishing information, and play tricks while telling whopper stories.

The most important thing to remember about this man, who was my friend, was he always preached having a good time on the water. Do everything possible to catch fish, but if the muskies didn’t bite, which often happened, his fishermen went home knowing they had had a grand time on the lake with the legendary Homer LeBlanc, a man of many talents, and one who was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall Of Fame many years ago. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/08 at 04:10 PM
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