OLD MUSKIE THE ROGUE
BY LEVI T. PENNINGTON
"You must go; that's all. There will be some way, you'll see."
Carl Mills and Lee Henly were separating for the night. They were
close friends; and although Carl's father was the most prosperous
man in the community, and Lee was the son of a poor widow, they had
always been together, and had been leaders of the class that had
been graduated from the local high school the month before.
To-night they had been discussing for the hundredth time their
plans for the coming year. Carl (was going to college in the
autumn,—that was a settled thing),—and Lee longed to go as he had
never longed for anything before in his life. There was nothing to
prevent his going but the lack of funds. His mother was to spend
the winter with a married daughter, ten years his senior. He had a
scholarship in the college and a chance to pay his way in part by
working in the college library. But that would take all his spare
time, and he was sure that he would still lack about one hundred
dollars of having enough to carry him through the first year.
Both boys dearly loved Lake Wanna-Wasso, on the shore of which they
lived. It was, indeed, one of the most beautiful of all the sheets
of water which a half-century ago knew the dip of the Indian's
paddle and the ripple of his birch-bark canoe. There may be other
waters as clear and sweet as those of northern Michigan, but the
native and the enthusiastic summer visitor find it hard to believe.
Both Lee and Carl spent much of their time in the employ of the
people at Forest Lodge during the summer, when the Chicago
fishermen, headed by the wealthy Camerons, were there for three
Lee was in Mr. Cameron's special employ, and from him had learned
the art of bait-casting. At the close of the previous season, Mr.
Cameron had given him his longest and strongest maskinonge
casting-rod; it was too heavy now for Mr. Cameron, who found his
casting arm seriously crippled by rheumatism.
It was but a few days after Lee's last talk with Carl Mills that he
heard Mr. Cameron and Mr. Gardner discussing the fine collection of
mounted fish belonging to Mr. Cameron in Chicago. Mr. Gardner was
speaking of it in glowing terms, and was especially praising a
maskinonge in the collection.
"Yes," said Mr. Cameron, "that certainly was a fine fish when
Smithson took him out of this lake five years ago; but I had set my
heart on a bigger one. I wanted one that would weigh over fifty
pounds when he came out of the water, and that one weighed only
forty-three. I'd gladly give one hundred dollars for a specimen
caught with hook and line that would tip the scales at fifty pounds
"Do you think you'll ever find one?" asked Mr. Gardner.
"I hardly know," said Mr. Cameron. "Two years ago one was netted in
the river near Detroit which was over that weight, but I did not
learn of it until too late; and, anyway, I want one that is caught
with hook and line, and the story of whose capture I can know."
Two weeks later, one morning when Mr. Cameron had decided that he
would not go out upon the lake, Lee Henly paddled a light canoe out
across Forest Lodge Cove and practised with his casting-rod. In
this cove there seemed to be no fish at all, although elsewhere in
the lake fish were plentiful. At one point here three great
elm-trees with spreading tops had fallen into the lake years
There they still lay, water-logged, their hundreds of branches
forming a miniature jungle under water, just off the bold shore.
Merely for practise, Lee dropped his casting-bait near these
treetops, and started to reel in.
Then he almost fell from the boat, for there was a great swirl in
the water where his minnow was spinning along, a broad tail came
out and hit the water with a tremendous splash, and he struck but
did not hook the fish, which, however, he saw to be enormous.
That night he said to Carl Mills, "Carl, I believe I see a chance
"What is it?" asked his friend.
Then Lee told of the conversation he had heard, and of the great
fish that had given him a strike. "And I believe that he weighs
over fifty pounds, and that I can catch him if you will help me,"
There was but one day in the week, however, that they could try for
the big fish, for both were employed that year every week-day
except Tuesday, when Mr. Cameron went to the town fifteen miles
away; and on Tuesday they dared to fish only in the very early
morning, for fear that some of the fishermen at Forest Lodge would
learn that there was a great fish there, and catch him. They did
not want to be unsportsmanlike, but Lee was confident that none of
the rich fishermen needed the fish as he did.
The first Tuesday morning brought them not even encouragement.
Although Carl paddled the boat all about the cove, and Lee did the
best casting of which he was capable, no strike rewarded them; and
when they saw the first stir about Forest Lodge, they hastened to
another part of the lake, and left Old Muskie, as they had already
named the big fish.
When the next Tuesday morning came again they were out. The boat
was kept at as great a distance from shore as Lee could cover with
his longest casts, and just as the casting-minnow fell straight out
from the middle treetop, there was a great swirl in the water. Lee
struck, and the reel began to sing as the great fish started a
tremendous run; but in an instant the line came back slack. The
saber-like teeth of the maskinonge had cut it off like a knife.
"And what can we do about that?" said Carl, as Lee sadly reeled in
the useless line.
"I don't know yet, but I have an idea," said Lee.
The next Tuesday morning Lee was not ready to try for the big fish
again, although it was almost torture to stay away from the old
treetops. He promised to be ready the next week, and he was. What
he had done had surprised his mother, who knew that he had been
saving every cent in the hope of going to college. He had sent away
to a fishing-tackle house for their largest first-class silk line,
and received one hundred yards of line that was tested to fifty
pounds. He had sent to an electrical supply house for their
smallest unwound copper wire, and had received a spool of it,
almost hairlike in its fineness. Both purchases had been expensive
From "Old Injun Jake" Lee had learned the art of doing fine
splicing and of braiding many strands. He unbraided the silk line
for a considerable length, and weaving in one by one the copper
wire lengths that he had cut from the spool, he joined the wire to
the silk with a joint that would readily pass through a line-guide,
and continued to braid till he had a six-foot, flexible copper
leader that would sustain his own weight, united to his one hundred
yards of line with a joint as strong as the line itself. Thus did
he provide against the teeth of Old Muskie.
Tuesday morning the boys were again fishing in Forest Lodge Cove at
daybreak. Again Old Muskie struck, and unable to cut the line,
rushed into the interlacing boughs of the submerged treetops.
For a while the strain on the rod indicated that he was surging
back and forth among the treetops, but soon the dead pull showed
that the old warrior was no longer making a fight.
Rowing in, the boys found the casting-bait fast on one of the
limbs. When they got it loose and pulled it in, they found that one
of the treble hooks was gone. Old Muskie in his rush had caught one
of the hooks upon a branch and it had held, while the one that was
in his mouth had pulled from the minnow, and the big savage of the
lake was again at liberty.
Lee made a change in his minnow before the next Tuesday morning.
Instead of using the treble hooks that were fastened with screws
into the sides of the minnow, he bored a hole in the body of the
wooden bait, and using again his copper wire, passed it back and
forth through the body of the minnow and through the eye of the
treble hook on each side. He knew that no fish would break all
these strands of copper wire, although he felt that Old Muskie
might break the hooks.
The next Tuesday morning Lee again hooked Old Muskie. Again the big
fish got to the treetops, and again Lee felt the dead pull that
meant that he had no longer a fighting fish to deal with. Reeling
up as Carl paddled the boat toward shore, Lee found that Old Muskie
had entangled the line among the branches, and getting a chance to
use his great strength, had broken the heavy silk line. Lee was
delighted to see that it had been broken above the point where he
had spliced it to the copper leader.
"What can you do about that?" asked Carl.
"I'm not sure," said Lee, "but every time thus far the old fellow
has run straight away from the direction in which I was reeling my
minnow. I believe that if we come at him from near the shore he
will take a run toward the open lake, and we'll have a chance at
During the week that followed, Lee again spliced a copper leader to
his line. Again he "made over" a big casting-minnow, and when
Tuesday morning brought its opportunity, Carl put the canoe along
the shore, but as far out as the end of the submerged treetops.
Three casts were made, each farther and farther forward, without
results. The fourth, however, a perfect cast of over one hundred
feet, which fell just beyond the farthest treetop, was rewarded;
the water broke in a great eddy as Old Muskie took the bait. Lee
struck with all his might, and pulled with all the force he dared
to use, although he was pulling almost straight back toward the
As he had hoped, Old Muskie pulled the other way, and with a
tremendous rush, left the treetops, and started toward the channel
into the open lake. Half-way across he gave an astonishing leap
into the air, showing the boys for the first time just what a
monster they had succeeded in hooking.
Hope more lively than any they had felt before filled the hearts of
the young fishermen, as the monster maskinonge rushed across the
cove. But instead of hitting the narrow open channel into the main
lake, he rushed across the wide bar, through a veritable forest of
Then the fight was quickly over. The fish had been hooked only on
the treble hook in the rear of the casting-minnow; the hooks on the
side dragged through the rushes, and caught upon so many of them
that the hook was torn from the mouth of Old Muskie, and again Lee
reeled in his line without the big fish at the end of it.
Both boys sat in the canoe for several minutes as blue as boys
could be. It certainly was discouraging. But presently Lee raised
his head, and with a flash of the eyes said, "I'll catch that
And Carl Mills, with admiration and determination both on his face,
said, "Right! And I'll help you do it!"
A big maskinonge lives a life much like that of a rogue elephant in
its isolation. He selects some spot,—a cove filled with lily-pads,
a bend of a river, or a sunken treetop like the home of Old Muskie,
—and there he will stay, month after month, if not year after
year. So there was little danger of Old Muskie's leaving Forest
Lodge Cove that summer unless he was caught or killed or died the
mysterious death that comes to the great fish of the streams and
Lee Henly and Carl Mills knew this, and they had been learning more
and more of the habits of this particular maskinonge. In every new
thing that they learned, they felt that they had one more aid
toward the final capture of Old Muskie and the realization of Lee's
ambition for college that year.
Lee had learned that hooking the big fish was the easiest part of
the work of capturing him. He decided that he must provide by every
possible means against the entanglement of his casting-bait.
With this in view, he made a wooden casting-minnow himself. He took
a spinner and the glass eyes from an old one he had used, and from
a bit of red cedar he whittled out the shape for the body. He had
bought a very heavy, although not a very large, hand-forged treble
hook. He took a heavy, spring-steel wire, and had the old
blacksmith at Kessler's Corners weld an eye in it through the eye
of the treble hook. He put on the back spinner, and passed the wire
through the wooden minnow. He used no front spinner, as it might
catch in the rushes.
The front eye he made in the wire himself by bending and twisting
till he was sure beyond all question that it was safe. Then he
fastened his copper leader into this eye, put the glass eyes into
the head of the minnow, and with careful painting his bait was
The season was now growing late. College was to begin September
23d. On Tuesday, September 9th, Carl and Lee set out at daybreak on
their quest. They fished long and carefully, but got no strike.
They left the cove for half an hour, then tried again. This time
the great fish struck, but was not hooked. Soon Forest Lodge was
astir, and fishing for Old Muskie ended for that day.
Then came the last day. Carl was to leave for college the following
Monday. "We just must get him this morning!" he said, as
they pushed out from the landing with the first glow of daylight.
They knew a little later in the day would be better, but they felt
that they must lose no time.
Carl worked the canoe down the shore, the little craft slipping
through the water as quietly as a floating swan. Lee outdid himself
in length of cast, for he did not wish Old Muskie to take fright
because they were too near.
At the fifth cast the big fish hit the bait. He rushed savagely at
it, and closed his jaws down squarely upon it. Lee struck as if for
his life, and drove the hooks deep into the fish's jaw, and with
click and drag both on the reel and his thumb adding to the
pressure, he pulled all he thought his tackle would bear—pulled
straight back toward the treetops, which he was most anxious to
Stubbornly the big fish pulled in the opposite direction, and with
a rush started across the cove. So fast did the line run out that
Lee's thumb was almost blistered, but he held it hard against the
spinning reel, and the fish rushed on across the cove.
Straight through the forest of rushes he dashed, and Lee and Carl
held their breath, as the line cut through the water. Lee held the
rod high, Carl sent the canoe along the track taken by the fish;
and in a few dizzy seconds Old Muskie was through the rushes and
out into the open lake. And now Lee made no effort to check him,
but let him run as far as possible from the shore, although he
continued his mad rush till less than thirty feet of line remained
on his reel.
Forest Lodge was quickly awake and astir. Mr. Gardner was just at
the landing for a trip across the lake, when out in front of him
came the canoe as if being towed by the great fish, which leaped
high into the air.
He rushed into Forest Lodge and roused Mr. Cameron and all the rest
by beating upon his door and crying, "Get up! Get up! Your
fifty-pound maskinonge is hooked, and by a boy!" No further call
was needed, and the beach was soon lined with a score of fishermen
and their wives, hastily and some of them grotesquely dressed.
Meanwhile, Lee and Carl had begun working together to regain the
line that had been run out. The victory could never have come to
the young fisherman but for the masterly way in which Carl handled
the canoe. He made it almost a part of Lee. It moved with his
motion, always responsive, always steady.
When the fish went out toward the open lake, the boat went with
him, that he might go as far as he would. When he made a wild rush
for the shore, the paddle sent the boat off at an angle to his
course, that the steel rod might exert a pull sidewise, and thus
turn him from his course, and back toward the open lake.
And all this time, Lee was putting on his tackle all the strain
that he dared, holding the line so taut that his arm ached before
the fight had been on ten minutes—and it lasted fifty-five.
When Old Muskie would leap frantically into the air, fiercely
shaking himself, down would go the tip of the rod, clear below the
surface of the water; and when he would "sound," the tip of the rod
pulled upward relentlessly. Whatever the direction of the rushes of
the big fish, always the skilled hand and wiry arm of Lee Henly
were ready to baffle and turn aside, to hold back and to weary.
"Pretty fight!" said Herbert Gerrish to Mr. Cameron, who was
watching in silence, but with keen admiration.
"Fine!" said Mr. Cameron. "Never saw a better."
"Think he'll land the fish?" asked John Newby.
"If he does not now, he is bound to do it some day," replied Mr.
Cameron. "That fish might just as well give it up now as any time.
I know Lee Henly."
Indeed, it began to look as if victory was near. Slowly the rushes
of the maskinonge were becoming less fierce. Carl had the gaff at
hand for Lee when he was ready for it. Lee, fearful of a rush under
the boat, dared not work the fish round for Carl to gaff, but kept
him at the end of the boat where he himself might use the big hook.
But what he had feared came to pass. The big maskinonge did make a
run under the boat. He was straight in front, when with a
lightning-like dash he made a half-circle and went under the boat
from the side.
With a quick motion of arm and wrist, Lee threw the end of the rod
over the prow of the canoe. It was all there was to do, but the rod
would surely have struck the end of the boat, and something would
probably have broken and the fish escaped, had not Carl, with a
mighty stroke of the paddle, backed the canoe so quickly that Lee
was almost thrown overboard. But the fish was saved.
The fight was nearly over. Gradually they forced the maskinonge
toward the sandy beach. Mr. Cameron had got a big, long-handled
gaff-hook, and now, forgetful of his rheumatism, waded out
waist-deep into the water. There was a brief but decisive struggle
that went hopelessly against the fish, and Mr. Cameron gaffed Old
Muskie and dragged him ashore.
Lee and Carl stepped out on the beach, both of them on the verge of
There was a great fish supper at Forest Lodge that night. The skin,
head, tail and fins of Old Muskie were carefully preserved and sent
to the best taxidermist in Chicago; but there was enough left of
his fifty-three-pound body for the company gathered about the big
"Oak Hall" dining-table. On the right of Mr. Cameron sat Lee Henly,
and on the left, Carl Mills. Mr. Cameron and the Forest Lodge
people were jubilant. Carl found a fifty-dollar bill under his
plate, and Lee found a check for one hundred dollars. And as the
meal progressed, the story of the capture of Old Muskie was told
substantially as I have told it to you.
There is little more to tell. I might tell you about how Lee Henly
worked his way through college, after the catching of Old Muskie
had given him his start. I could tell you of his work as general
manager of the business house of Cameron, Page & Co. of Chicago.
But that would be the story of Lee Henly, and I started out to tell
you nothing but the story of Old Muskie, whose mounted body is now
in the private office of Mr. Cameron himself, where Lee Henly sees
it every day.