DETROIT — We started off in the lake, just up from where the water necks down and becomes the Detroit River. Kevin Long said he caught a pair of fish in Lake St. Clair the day before, so we might as well start off where he left them.
Long, a pretty-much all-species fishing guide, had invited me to spend the day with him and a couple of guys who he was giving a make-up day to because, when they booked him earlier in the year, they had a tough outing. We started out with two guys jigging and two guys casting, working the lake channel that becomes the Detroit River.
When that failed to produce, we just kept working downstream into the river, repeating the process. It took an hour, then Long set the hook on the Bondy Bait he was jigging into a muskie. It wasn't a giant fish — maybe 36 inches — but it was a muskie. I went for the net and hoisted it aboard.
Before Long could even get the pliers out to remove the treble hook from the muskie's toothy maw, one of the sports in the aft end of the boat hollered that he had one, too. Long announced that he was just going to net it.
"That'll make a picture, won't it?" he asked. "Two muskies in the net?" It was not to be; Long's client brought the musky to the surface and as Long positioned the net, the big fish shook its head one more time and threw the bait. Oh, well.
Long immediately switched his other sport and me over to jigging baits.
"I'll usually start out having one guy cast and two guys jig or vice versa and once it becomes more obvious what the deal is that day, we'll all switch over," he said. "The last couple of days we've been catching some good ones casting, but we've got a window here."
Within an hour, Long boated a second muskellunge.
Although the spring and fall casting/jigging fisheries for Lake St. Clair/Detroit River muskies has attained almost legendary status in the last few years, Long will fish for muskellunge anytime the season is open.
"Your best action, for sure, is when it opens (the first Saturday of June) and right on through to July. July is good in both the river and the lake, and then mid September and through November it's good again," he said. "In the summer, you may have to work hard to catch one or two. There's not a lot of action in August and early September." Long works the entire waterway, from the St. Clair River down to the Detroit River, concentrating wherever the bite is good and the weather allows.
"The disadvantage of late fall fishing is the nasty winds," said Long, who has recently pulled up stakes for his winter gig guiding bass fishermen at Florida's Lake Okeechobee.
"The St. Clair River, in general, has more options. You've got the river itself and three distinct channels that go off in different directions and they all have some bends in them so, depending on the wind direction, you have places to fish, even if it's nasty. But when the Detroit River is on, it's definitely the place to be.
"I like the Detroit River in June through the first week in July and then again late in the year. In the summer, the St. Clair River is better — I think it's because it's cooler coming in from Lake Huron, where the Detroit River warms up coming out of Lake St. Clair. But with that said, we'll go wherever the bite is."
We fished the river for two more hours, caught another fish, but the bite died. So we headed back up into the lower lake, to where we started, this time with three of us jigging and Long casting. Forty-five minutes into it, one his sports got hit. The guys cranked but could barely catch up to the fish, which came out of the water like a submarine-fired missile and threw the Bondy Bait back at the angler.
"That's the disadvantage of fishing with these big lures," Long said. "When they come up head-shaking, they've got a lot of weight to work with. All you can do is try to keep all the slack out of the line and not give them anything to work with.
Long does his best to minimize the fish's chances, using 80-pound test — on pool-cure stiff rods — with a wire leader to make sure there's no stretch in the line and you can drive the hooks home when you set the hook. Still you don't catch them all.
Long switched back to a jigging bait and we finished out the day with one more bite, which managed to escape. We wound up going three for six — Long caught all three of his bites and his sport lost all three of his. (His other sport and your faithful correspondent did not get bit.) Muskie fishing was outstanding this season, Long said.
"The number of fish is good and we have a lot of big fish in the lake — the big trolling tournaments out there won't even let you weigh one in unless it's 50 inches — that tells you the population is in good shape," he said. "It's a great fishery and I enjoy muskie fishing more and more all the time. As frustrating as it can be, this is still a great way to catch one hands-on." Is there a fly in the ointment?
"There are lots of lamprey scars on the big fish — not so much on the smaller fish — and it's been like that the last couple of years and more so in the river than in the lake," he said. "What that means, I don't know."
Long returns from Florida in May. He'll fish for bass or walleye until muskellunge season opens and then he's all about muskies — unless guys want to bass fish — until he returns to Florida in late November.