When The Wind Blows From The East, Tigers Bite Like A Beast!
By Joe Bucher
It was a misty overcast, dark and dreary day in mid August. Conditions couldn’t be more perfect. Yet, nearly six hours into what seemed like a “high potential day”, neither Spence (Petros) nor I had even worked up a single follow. The day was a complete “dud”. A vigorous “milk run” of countless spots we knew extremely well had produced absolutely nothing – not a follow, strike, nor even a small musky. The stalled low pressure system seemed to be the perfect scenario for a fantastic musky outing, yet it was turning out to be a real “yawner”.
However, our spirits still remained surprisingly high at 2:10 pm as I lowered the trolling motor while Spence flung out the first cast on yet another favorite spot. The multi-structured point in front of us was a unique blend of rocky projections and a small sandy cut. In a bigger profile, this was a classic neck-down situated between two large open sections of water. It consisted of several islands with a deeper channel running between them that connected the two large open basins.
A steady, light blowing easterly wind chopped waves into the shoreline rocks directly in front of me as I settled into yet another casting routine. Moments after my big “Elvis” pattern Mag Tinsel touched water, I quickly gunned my reel in order to get the lure shallow quickly. Simultaneously, I set my foot down hard on the trolling motor foot pedal to drive the boat bow hard right – away from the shoreline. I was admittedly surprised by how much additional drag this motion added to the retrieval not to mention it made the lure nearly pop out of the water as it bulged mere inches under the surface.
Just as I was about to take my foot off the trolling motor the water erupted in front of me and my rod instantly doubled. Six hours of no action abruptly ended with a classic bone jarring strike and a violent thrashing battle. Instinctively, I fought the fish through head shakes and deep surging runs before it succumbed to the landing net. As the fish’s size and features materialized in the net’s mesh, we both excitedly exclaimed “Nice tiger!” Once again, a trophy class tiger musky of 45 inches had shown up on a weird weather pattern.
I used the term “once again” specifically because this is not the first time I’ve encountered a big tiger during odd conditions when nothing else seemed to be moving. Over the course of many years, I’ve had a number of hook ups with lunker hybrid muskies during odd weather patterns. What I mean by odd or weird weather is arguably a fairly broad term. In a general sense, I am referring to periods when musky action is very slow and the weather is in a funk so to speak. A stalled front with an easterly wind is perhaps the most obvious condition. Hot flat summer dog days with LV (light and variable) winds is yet another one that commonly produces big hybrids. I could continue to list more, but you get the point. When the action is really slow on a good spot, and the weather seems a bit odd, don’t be surprised if a big tiger shows up.
Of course, most of you already know the hybrid musky is a cross between a musky and a northern pike. This happens quite often naturally in many bodies of water across North America when a male northern pike actually mates with a female musky. This is why many eastern musky guys call this fish a “norlunge”. Tigers or norlunges are also produced at hatcheries in several states and then stocked into nearby waters. Most biologists claim that in both cases, natural and hatchery-raised, these fish are sterile and are not capable of producing offspring. In my opinion, this makes a big tiger extra special and one of the most unique big gamefish in all of freshwater. Perhaps this uniqueness is why they also exhibit weird behavior, and show up at such odd times.
My personal tally on big tigers over a 40+ year period suggests most of them showed up when least expected. In fact, the very first big tiger I ever encountered, a 46 incher from Wisconsin’s most famous tiger water — Lac Vieux Desert, showed up on a dead flat calm uneventful July day. I distinctly remember both the weather conditions as well as the lack of other activity. It was the only fish my fishing partner and I saw that entire day. It hit a very early version of my 1st ever musky lure creation which would eventually be called “The Buchertail”. I also remember that fish came from a very thick mass of tall grass that topped out just inches under the surface.
Almost a month later that same year, I caught an even bigger tiger at 48 inches a few miles down the road on the Wisconsin Michigan border fishing the Cisco Chain of Lakes. Again, it was one of those days when nothing at all seemed to be moving. I was guiding a couple of inexperienced nimrods that hot, flat sun-baked day, and they were getting a bit restless from the lack of action after the many hours of casting with no results.
I recall purposely moving the boat up much tighter to thick shallow tobacco weeds so they could at least latch onto a few pike for supper and get a much needed “rod bend”. If my memory serves me correctly, one of the guys was casting a small in-line spinner and the other a topwater bait. I was following up behind them with a big hand-made tandem spinnerbait creation that I’d purposely tied extra gaudy so I could see it easily. It had a chartreuse & yellow skirt, plus one lime blade and one in flo-orange. Trailing this whole affair was a six inch white plastic grub. It was my very first attempt at designing a big single hook musky style spinnerbait. Ironically, a few decades later, I’d market a refined version of this lure that you all now know as The Slopmaster.
Anyway, I do recall instructing my partners to make casts much tighter to the weed cover. Up to that point, they were only hitting the edges so they wouldn’t pick up any weeds on their lures. I made a demonstrative cast purposely over top the thickest portion of the weedy patch and was going to show them how to effectively fish thru emergent cabbage weed tassels. My extra long “launch” plopped the bait into no more than a few feet of water. Immediately synchronizing the reel engagement, I frantically cranked to get the lure up near the surface. Just as the big gaudy spinnerbait gurgled over the center of the weed mass an explosion of sorts occurred and my rod doubled. When it was all done, I ended up hand landing this trophy tiger by reaching inside a jungle of weeds with a gloved hand. What a thrill.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that tigers only hit on windless days. In fact, back in 2001 I took a JB (Joe Bucher) Top Ten Norlunge in a “big blow”. Winds were steady out of the SE at well over 22 mph with gusts up over 35 and severe thunderstorm warnings when I put my boat in to fish one of my favorite weedlines on Kentuck Lake in Vilas County. I actually knew about this particular big hybrid and had it follow on numerous past trips. However, I could never get that fish to commit (to strike). My new strategy was to see if this fish would be more aggressive in big waves.
It didn’t take long to find this out. Less than a half hour into the trip I line-drove a cast directly into the wind parallel to the weedline. About five cranks into the retrieve I encountered a deep clump of cabbage. Instantly, I “ripped” hard upwards with my rod in an effort to free the weeds from the Jointed Baby DepthRaider when my line suddenly went completely slack. A split second later a hulky hybrid musky rocketed at least four feet upwards above the water surface with my lure firmly embedded in its jaw.
This quickly developed into one of the toughest battles I ever had on a big musky. Big waves made it difficult to safely stand on the raised bow deck plus the strong wind had quickly pushed the boat into dangerously shallow water. Fortunately, I was victorious and another JB Top Ten Tiger was safely in the net. Since I was wearing St. Croix clothing, photos of me with this trophy ended up in a lot of catalogs and magazines for a few years preceding the catch. Admittedly, it was one of the nicest photos ever taken of me with a big fish.
Perhaps the weirdest of all the Top Ten Tigers I ever encountered was the one that hit on a figure 8 without ever making an actual cast. Sound far-fetched? I couldn’t agree more. But, I can assure you it did actually happen — on camera (TV) no less. Another stalled low pressure system in August of 2007 with steady winds out of the east and a slight drizzle now set the stage for what can only be called “wacky weird”.
Coincidentally, this event actually happened completely by accident due to a spur-of-the-moment question by my cameraman, Brach Pulver. Right after turning off the outboard’s ignition and plopping the trolling motor in the water, Brach asked me a question about a past big fish figure 8 experience while I was in the process of grabbing a rod. I answered his question by demonstrating the technique for him when a crazy 46 inch tiger suddenly appeared literally out of nowhere and began following my TopRaider! Instinctively, I buried the rod tip further in the water and increased speed.
Ironically, my cameraman wasn’t even fully aware of what was going on and thought it was somehow just part of the story and demonstration. I finally looked over at him and yelled “I really do have a musky follow!” It finally dawned on Brach that I wasn’t kidding. He then frantically searched for the “record” button to make sure we captured this on film. The result was one of the most bizarre musky fishing experiences I’ve ever witnessed. That crazy tiger suddenly roared up and smashed my lure! It was hooked well and I ended up landing it without ever actually making a cast. Like I’ve been saying all along – Tigers are weird critters.
Are all tigers that weird? I can’t answer that, but I will stand by my premise that big tigers sure seem to show up at odd times. I have definitely caught plenty of hybrids under more ideal musky conditions, too. But honestly, most of the bigger ones I’ve taken have come under some weird weather condition or, at the very least, when nothing else seemed to be moving. With that in mind, the next time the fishing is surprisingly slow, or the weather conditions just seem a bit funky, don’t be surprised if your only action comes from a nasty old norlunge!