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Stalking the fish of 1,000 casts took me on one of the most interesting, trying and tiring missions of my fishing career. Attending the 2012 Jackson Dealer Summit brought me to gorgeous, middle Tennessee for a day on the water. A rude alarm clock ended the restless night, prepping me for the four hour drive and the eight hour float. Jackson Kayak’s James McBeath, Indian James, and fellow Fishing Team member Mark Wheeler met me in the parking lot of Rock Island State Park and whisked me off to toast and eggs at Beano’s, then a sprawling, car chase across back country roads. At the launch, a scenario was laid out where simply sighting, much less catching, a fish is considered a success. A good musky day is “a few follows”, a great musky day is “a few follows and a blow up or two” and an INCREDIBLE musky day is “a few follows, a few blow ups and a fish on;” a sharp departure from my normal river excursions.

We launched our JK flotilla in the morning sun amidst bluff walls, clear water, and serenading song-birds. Heavy rods, steel leaders and the thunderous splashes of heavy lead and hooks marked a stark contrast to the peaceful, mountain tranquility. Throughout the eight hour float I flirted with evidence of river monsters; elongated shadows emerging from the depths, stalking lures from the periphery. This is as physically demanding as fishing can get; firing heavy lures into tight spaces and burning them back. According to James, this develops a “muskie muscle.” I began the day with a monstrous, four ounce, buck-tail spinner bait, then switched to a lighter, “double cow girl.” Soon after, I encountered my first musky. Snapping a cast under a low-hanging bush, I dropped my lure in a shady pocket and stroked my rod tip to engage the spinner blade. A black shadow materialized and smashed the lure. With my rod tip high in the air I had no shot at slamming the hooks home and watched, dejected, as the Muskie vanished. After collecting my thoughts, I rallied and began firing accurate casts into the tight confines of log jams, dead-falls, and undercut banks for the next four hours. Then, some twenty minutes above our takeout spot, I opted to hook on a soft-jerk-bait for a trailer; giving the lure an exaggerated tail kicking motion.

The stars and moons aligned and, after cast nine hundred ninety-nine, a Tennessee river ghost, the fish of 1,000 casts, came barreling out of a shaded pocket; dorsal fin, back and tail completely out of the water. Surging after my lure, it missed, I stalled, and it engulfed the big spinner. I hammered the hooks home, twice, three times for good measure, and an all-out river brawl ensued. Pulling drag, beating the water to foam, the huge musky pulled my Cuda 12 in circles. When it launched itself completely out of the water I hammered the air with a fist pump and roar of exhilaration. Needing more celebration, I switched hands and started fist pumping with the other. I had done it. Against all odds, I stalked and captured the South’s most elusive fish. At 40″ this musky was a true trophy and one of my biggest freshwater catches. There is something uniquely special about taking on a new challenge, going after a new species. Don’t be surprised if you see me chasing river musky again in the near future.