I hate musky fishing.
My dad and brother quite enjoy it, which gives them a super majority in our fishing congress. I’ve been dragged along unwillingly on many a musky mission, and always end up curled in the bottom of the boat with my eyes closed reciting lines from “The Shining.”
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
I’ve never caught one. Even worse, my brother’s never caught one, and somehow he’s still content to stand on the deck and cast, and cast and cast — and cast.
I lack that kind of patience, but what I’m really missing is the intensity that’s required. Musky fishermen are addicts in every sense of the word, and I just never developed a taste for mainlining that toothy heroin.
Theoretically I see the appeal. Musky are the king of fresh water, and we’re blessed to live in the promised land. But the return on investment just isn’t there for me. I’m happy to put in less work for the more mainstream reward of northern pike.
I always appreciate a good obsession though. I’ve got several myself, and I really admire the relentless pursuit of musky fisherman to get their fix.
Erich Kertzscher has been obsessed with muskies for over 30 years. The Scandia, Minn. native started chasing them in the late 80s, and said it’s a mistake to even refer to the pursuit as fishing.
“It’s musky hunting,” he said. “Not fishing.”
Kertzscher talks about muskies like an 8-year-old who just finished his fourth bowl of Captain Crunch. His intensity knows no bounds. He speaks fast, jumping back and forth in the timeline of stories about fish caught and fish lost. He’s an expert in his craft, and hopelessly addicted to it. He tells me there should be a 12-step program for musky fisherman, and I agree.
“You’ve got alcoholics,” he said. “And then musky fisherman.”
Kertzscher fishes conventional tackle, focusing primarily on traditional lures like bucktails and suicks. The former is possibly the most traditional musky lure of all time. They’re an oversized inline spinner, with one or two blades that work as both a visual and auditory attractant.
“They’re the crème de la crème of baits, everybody always falls back to the bucktails,” Kertzscher said. “The reason they’re so successful is the thump in the water they make. That’s the attractant, the fish feel the vibrations.”
Kertzscher’s obsession is well represented by his lure library. Boxes and boxes of bucktails, suicks, plastics and everything in-between line compartments on his boat and in his garage. They’re not cheap, and Kertzscher’s wife Wendy has to lightheartedly remind him to slow down from time to time.
The dualistic model of passion states there are two kinds of passion, harmonious and obsessive. They’re pretty self-explanatory. Harmonious passion creates stimulating and fulfilling experiences that improve your life. Obsessive passions can control your life and detract from your happiness.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Theo Tsaousides broke down the specifics of harmonious and obsessive passion in a two-part essay for Psychology Today magazine.
“Passion has a bright and a dark side,” he said. “Just like falling in love with a person can turn into an obsession, so can falling in love with what you do. Your passions can cross the line into obsessions, and instead of becoming a source of joy they turn into a source of misery.”
As we advance down the rabbit hole of any hobby, our brains create strong urges to take part in our chosen activity, not dissimilar from urges created by substance abuse.
“Because of our brain circuitry, these strong urges are hard to resist and they tend to have faster, easier, and louder access to the part of our brain that generates action,” Tsaousides said. “This means that as soon as you feel the urge to run, blog, play the guitar, or whatever else your heart desires in the moment, you will start engaging in the activity as if you were hypnotized.”
Kertzscher seems to sit squarely in the harmonious camp. There’s pure, unadulterated joy in his eyes when he talks about musky fishing, and anyone who can maintain that kind of optimistic happiness after 30 years is supremely admirable.
“I’ve been doing it for so long it’s pretty natural for me now,” he said. “Although I did do inventory of all my gear this year just for fun, and it made me step back and go, holy crap I’ve got a lot of stuff.”
The easiest way to justify how much gear you’ve collected in any hobby is to compare your stash to people who have even more, and Kertzscher plays that card affectively.
“I’ve got seven musky rods, and the buddy I fish with has more than that,” he said. “He’ll lay them out on his bed and it’s like dude, you’re sick.”
Kertzscher said he averages around 50 casts an hour when he fishes, and typically spends around five to six hours on the water per outing. Let’s lean conservative and call it five. That’s 250 casts per trip. He fishes at least once a week from musky opener in May until the ice pushes him off the water. Again we’ll round down and say he gets in five full months of fishing — June through October, or around 22 weeks. That’s 5,500 casts per season. Do that every year for 35 years and you come to a grand total of 192,500 casts.
Repeat after me — “Hello, my name is Erich, and I’m a musky fisherman.”
C.L. Sill can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @thewingbeat