Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Musky Man, part II

A few days ago, I put up a post about my grandfather and the large musky he caught years ago. If you have not yet read that one, I suggest you do, as it will put the following post in context. Here, my father, Grandpa's son, provides more details about the musky, and about the Musky Man.  Thanks, Dad.

Brayshaw, Sr. recounts...

Since T.J. had promised you that that I would soon add some details about the Great Fish and its catching, I will keep his promise for him. I loved his tribute to his Grandpa as much as most of the rest of you did, but since he wasn't living in that era when the events occurred, and I was, I'll try to truthfully embellish that event and also add some stuff that relates to other issues that T.J. mentioned.

First, about cussin' in general and specifically about cussin' in front of adults, women, girls and children. Dad (“Grandpa” to T.J.) enlisted in the Navy very shortly after that Date Which Will Live in Infamy and he was in the Navy until the end of the war. In later years when I came to know him better, I quickly learned that somewhere, sometime he had come to know and to practice “swearing like a drunken sailor”. During my entire life, I never saw him drunk, but he could swear like a sailor any time he needed to, and he frequently needed to. In further defense of his character, I will add that I have no memory of his ever having intentionally sworn in the presence of a woman or girl, and I have no memory of his ever having sworn at another human being. He wasn't even into calling people names, even if he was angry. Now I don't really know why he was so reserved about cussin' under such circumstances, but I have a theory. I think he just didn't need to, because he had such a personal and satisfying relationship with the tools of his trade and the tools of his hobbies.

When I was very young, the family bought a small farm with an old semi-modern farm house and a few unfenced acres on a narrow and very deep tract of land. The house needed better indoor plumbing and the land needed perimeter fencing to hold a little bit of livestock. Dad, being a plumber by trade and a true hardworking handy-man decided that he would tackle it all and do it himself. He had all of the tools and he had a personal relationship with all of them. Once I was grown enough to serve as an inept go-fer, I got to be around him a lot while he was working with his tool friends, and you should have heard how he talked to them. That's when I learned that an adult male didn't have to watch out for cussin' around young male offspring. If a tool that he was using didn't do its job exactly as it was created to perform the job, you could expect it to get cussed at, lividly. Wrenches, saws, chisels, hammers and nails and fence staples regularly were called by their first, middle and last names, and sometimes by their professions. I was surprised by how many tools were “filthy whores” and “ worthless son-of-a bitches” and “fucking assholes”. I kept my cussin' mouth shut for years. It would have been too hard to get a word in edgewise. But I learned.

In the late 1950s, when I was about 12 years old, my older cousin Ralph persuaded Dad and me to go fishing with him in Canada about 70 miles north of International Falls, MN, at the lower end of Lake of the Woods. We fished there for years almost each July, (the month following the closed season for taking muskies), but for some years, we clung to the smaller adjoining lakes because Lake of the Woods is one “big fucking place” (Dad's description) with thousands of islands that, to us, all looked the same, and we didn't want to get lost. Finally the lure of the bigger fish in that “big fucking place” got the better of us and we started fishing there with a professional guide. The guide pictured with Dad in one of the musky pictures, “John”, was one of the best. We fished with him or with his brother Mike for years, and they both learned that we were after BIG fish, not fish that we could catch oursselves, without his knowledge of when and how to find them, and still find our way back to camp.

One July, in a year that I had forgot, on a chilly, windy, bright morning, we boated up with John and he told us that we were in for a longer boat ride than we were used to because he was taking us to “Stoney” Bay, called Big Stone Bay by some. On the way into Stoney, John pointed out a small protected bay sheltered by a 50 yard long rocky peninsula, and in the back of the bay, along the shore, was a quaint little sandy beach about 20 yards wide. The water was about 15 feet deep ending up very shallow just off the beach. Cabbage weeds were growing submerged about 18” to 24'” below the surface. John told us that he and his brother more than once had moved a very big musky in the pool just off that beach, but the fish wouldn't take on bright days. He promised that we would stop on the way back if clouds moved in and the sun was lowering. We fished away the rest of the day, raised a few medium sized muskies, but we boated a lot of nice northerns.

Brayshaw Sr. on leftt, Guide John center, Grandpa at right

The sun was lowering and the clouds had moved in, and so we went after the Great Fish. As we always liked to do when fishing over submerged weeds, we tied on large musky-sized artificials that we could run either slightly below the surface or on top. If you've never met one of those “fucking Musky Hawks” (a fish-catching tool), let me describe one. The one Dad tied on was about 8-9 inches long, with a black bushy bucktail hiding a large treble hook and a lead weight, ahead of the bucktail was a band of red saddle hackles, and at the front was a large double spinner that moved a lot of water. To fish one of those things and to keep it on the surface, the instant it hit the water at the end of your cast, you had to sweep up the tip of the rod to keep the Hawk from sinking and you had to start reeling FAST to keep it on top. I was tossing a very large Mepps with a tan bucktail at the rear.

Musky Hawk, by the Marathon Bait Company

We started in deeper water and kept casting and raising Cain as John worked us closer to the beach. When we were about close enough to reach it, at the end of about an eighty foot cast, Dad's Hawk landed about 3 feet from the beach and he swept up his rod tip, and the spinning blade broke the surface, and started twirling and spattering water. At the same instant, there was a huge swirl in the water about 5 feet a way, the sign of a very large fish swapping ends. John yelled, “Don't take it away from him but don't slow down!” Within seconds we could see a trail in the water behind the Hawk that reminded me somewhat of the wake that a shallow running torpedo might make. The fish was closing, but by now the Hawk was only about 15 feet from the gunwale. Half that distance away from the boat, The Great Fish became visible just beneath the surface behind the Hawk, and she opened a mouth big enough to lose your hand in, swallowed the Hawk hole, and dived straight down under the boat. In an instant, she came out from under the boat and drove straight away, back in the direction of the beach. At a distance of about 20 feet, she came straight up out of the water and walked her entire length above the surface on her tail. Think for a moment of how long that short event might have lasted. Not very long. A shaking fish can't defy gravity for long. Well, no matter how long the instant might have lasted, during the instant, I was the only one to speak, and I had just enough time to say, “Jesus Fucking Christ!” So much for not cussin' in front of my Dad.

The fight lasted a little more than half an hour. It would have been longer had the Great Fish not swallowed the Musky Hawk all the way down into her gills. John said that in all of his years up there, it was the longest musky he had ever boated. Fifty-two inches, by the way. She was a recently spawned-out female that he said would have been well over 40 pounds within another week or two. That's how it happened, as if it were yesterday.
For years, the owners of the fishing resort where we stayed had a custom. Whenever one of their guests brought in a trophy musky, as a reminder to the guest of the date it happened, they gave the guest a new Canadian silver dollar, minted that year. I have that silver dollar. It all happened in July, 1966, just another yesterday 45 years ago.

[These two musky stories were merged into one, and published in a slightly different form in the Spring 2014 issue of "The Drake" magazine.  Thanks to Tom Bie and "The Drake" for putting it out there.]


  1. God damn it, I'm really liking your blog. Great story.

  2. Love the description and image of 52 inches swapping ends. These beasts are just the right side of scary.

    Many thanks for your embellishments on The Great Fish, Brayshaw Sr. Maybe we'll get out there one of these days.


  3. Now I know where T.J. got his mad writing skills. What a fantastic story! Thanks to both of you for sharing this awesome family history.

  4. See? It was memorable.

    (Or so I've heard.)

  5. Good shit. You look a lot like yo' daddy, TJ.

  6. English Jonny's comment that he especially liked the description and the image of 52 inches swapping ends triggered a memorable image for me.

    She was ten inches longer and weighed 92 lbs. That may seem like a lot of added weight for a 10" addition in length, but when she swapped ends, I hardly noticed a swirl, unless we were in the bathtub together.

  7. The whole maybe later, if the conditions are right,aspect of this trip into a cove, where someone once moved a big fish makes the story even better.

    Thanks for getting it written down and sharing it.

  8. I want to let all of you know how much I appreciate your positive comments about T.J.'s post about his Grandpa and your comments about my follow-up post as Grandpa's son.

    Steve, T.J acquired his mad writing skills from his wacky mother. Grandpa started him fishing. I started him flyfishing. I claim some credit for the icon that he has become.

    Seth, T.J. also looks a lot like his momma. I used to be dish-water blonde, and I still have blue eyes. BTW, we don't need to meet.

    Clif, you opened your comment with gratuitous profanity. In the movie-rating industry, the rating goes up or down from G, to PG Thirteen, to R often based upon whether the "raters" think that gratuitous sex (i.e. not essential to the movie's theme) has been added for box office net. I still find myself giving those movies a try. Your gratuitous profanity reminds me of a lady who used to work in local government in the city where I live. She was former military and everybody called her "Sarge". In her cubicle, she had a sign that read "Sexual harassment is not prohibited in this workplace. However, it is graded." Clif, you're under the radar.

    Quill Gordon, I love that name, I love that fly. As an occasional writer, I love readers like you. When I write, I like unqualified praise.

    Jonny, tell me more about what you so liked about 52 inches swapping ends. This was a fishing story? Did you get that? If not, you might be one sick puppy. Maybe "Anonymous" might have picked up on that before I did. If not, nevermind.

  9. An amazing story, and I don't even fish (although in the family photo archives there is a picture of me proudly presenting my stringer of catfish, and what a fine day that was!). But I knew the man and can confirm that the Brayshaw progeny come from fine stock. Keep those stories coming.

  10. This is great. So glad I stumbled upon it...