An Alexandria Bay “Musky”: How a Thirty-two Pound Mascalonge Was conquered on Bass Tackle
Izaak Walton is credited with the statement that “God never did make a more calm, quiet,innocent recreation than angling.” That is also my creed, or rather was my creed, up until Thursday afternoon, June 19th of this year, at about four o’clock, at Champagne Point on the St. Lawrence River near Weston Isle, Canada. At that time the place I decidedly changed my mind.
We had been fishing, the Governor and I, as has been our annual custom for some twenty-three summers past on this River. We had had a rather difficult day, leaving our Hotel, the Thousand Island House, early in the morning in my motor boat Philgar, for a bleak north wind had made anchoring difficult, and had side washed us with a cold spray where we travelled.
However, fairly good luck, wind and weather notwithstanding, had been with us, and an occasional black bass, perch or pickerel, found its way into the boat. In the afternoon the wind had shifted and was blowing down past Visgers [Now the Ivy Club in Ivy Lea] over that great expanse of River down towards Landsdowne Canada, when we found ourselves near Champagne Point, Weston Isle, the Governor, an ardent fisherman despite his sixty odd years, had held out bravely in the blow, but at about four o’clock he suggested our escaping the buffeting sea by pulling into a little shallow bay just below the small concrete dock at the Point.
Much to my disgust for the shallow water evidenced by the lily pads bespoke to my mind naught but perch, I cast out on the deeper side away from the shore – the Governor casting in between the lily pads brought in a couple of perch in short order while my bait, as small sucker, lay on the bottom of the river at a depth not over six or seven feet about ten or fifteen yards from the boat.
I began to reel in slowly when my line apparently caught in the bottom, but with some slight pressure it came along just like the movement and sensation of catching a submerged log or branch of a tree. Suddenly the line (a bass line of thirty pound test I believe) ran out – the black bristol steel rod bent over – faster whet the line – the reel sizzled as the handle spun around. “Look out for your fingers, it’s a mascalonge.” A chill ran down my back and gooseflesh started all over me. For twenty-three summers I had heard of these river monsters. Once some years ago in Chippewa Bay I had hooked one only to feel him dash off the line the moment I had tightened a bit of him. Once too I had seen one basking in the sun in shallow water back of Grenadier. Here was a light bass rod and line. One thing was in my favor, the water was very shallow, and I hoped and prayed the fish would not dash under the boat, for where we anchored there was not over five feet of water – and I had lots of line.
Meanwhile the pressure on the line had slackened a bit – with trembling hands I began to reel in ten, twenty, fifty yards of line came in when another dash down the river carried out twice what I had reeled in.
In my leisure moments had vowed I would exert no real pressure on a big wild fish if I ever caught one unprepared (that is, without copper leaders or wire lines, etc.) – it was hard to remember that now, I thought the line would snap any moment. I merely kept the spring of the rod against the fish, the rest it could take what it pleased, and I trembled and watched – another easing of pressure, another dash – sometimes sixty to eighty yards of line it seemed to me were out – after fifteen or twenty minutes the distance decreased once, oh joy, the fish – up to this time the “Musky” was only a surmise – was not over fifteen yards from the boat and up near the surface where its massive length – to my excited mind is covered an immense space in the river – could be seen.
It did not throw itself out of water but in several of these dashes it came to the surface as if for air, then down out of sight it would go.
Twenty minutes – I was trembling like a leaf, the fish was near enough to try a gold strike – almost before I knew it the Governor had it square on the back of its bib head with a metal end of our big boat hook (the water of course – materially weakened the blow). Fortunately, I saw his action, not in time to prevent it, for I would never had sanctioned so drastic a step fearful lest the fish would disengage itself from the line, but in time to give lots of slack for the dash which I knew would and did follow.
There was nothing “calm and quiet” about this recreation, it settled itself into a battle of wits – trembling hands and legs at this end – (That I should have been able to keep this monster for twenty minutes on my line seemed incredible to me ) – and a big fish fighting for its life – up the River toward Gananoque it dashed – then slowly returned as I reeled in, then down towards Landsdowne, off toward Rockport from three or four yards – the fish was off again fifty or sixty yards. Then slowly weakening, back toward the boat it came – then slowly weakening, back toward the boat it came – then another dash then a return; but the hook held on the line held – the rod held – and the fish was on the end.
After a least forty minutes a tired body, well over four feet long, came floating slowly toward the boat, I nearly fell out toward the fish. Could I believe my eyes. My adversary had surrendered weary and worn, but a difficult and treacherous bit of work remained, how to get him into the boat; a small and very unreliable gaff hook was available. The line couldn’t be trusted. I thought it would snap any second and my landing net used for bass and pike would have been a joke, so the boatman (not a guide mind you, but a young boy who keeps the boat clean and oiled, and who stood spellbound throughout these foregoing events save for an occasional “Gosh” and ”Golly”) quickly put on a pair of cotton gloves he used when cleaning the brass on the boat; the Governor took up the gaff hook and as the fish slowly came along side the boat the gaff hook was shot home, the boat man grabbed him with the cotton gloves behind the huge gills and the three of us lifted a thirty-two pound mascalonge into the boat (It tipped that later on the scales at the Thousand Island House, Alexandria Bay.)
Once in the boat as the trembling hands I tried to lift the fish’s head slightly with the fishing line the wet cord snapped right off; the hook, however, was in the bony part of the fish’s jaw outside of the mouth so that much as the big jaws and ugly teeth might close and snap they could not cut the line because they could not reach it.
Proudly with a white handkerchief tied to the top of a fishing pole (the traditional custom of flying a white flag when you have caught the King of the River), we returned to Alexandria Bay. The ambition of twenty-three years was realized but I also came to the very positive conclusion that angling is not always, at least, a “calm, quiet innocent recreation.”
By Gordon S. P. Kleeberg.
[Original punctuation and spelling maintained – note “Landsdowne” and “mascalonge”]