There are a few places on the River that I consider my own secret places. One can get there by kayak, but few others would go there even if they knew where to look. That is one of several advantages kayakers have over most of those larger, louder high-speed boats and pleasure craft. For this particular kayaker, however, fishing, is not one of them. Knowing I love to fish, I am often asked if I ever fish from my kayak, and my answer is a quick and unambiguous “NO!” I know others do. I see them going by our camp with a line in the water. But as for me, I feel as though I have a pretty good reason for keeping my kayaking separate from my River fishing.
It was one of those mornings, when the water was like glass, and I was out just after sunrise heading to one of my favorite secret spots. I was happily paddling toward my destination when I saw something ahead of me in the water. At first, I thought it was a log or some kind of floating debris. But as I got closer, I saw it move. The “thing” suddenly and intentionally dipped below the surface. It was alive! My next thought was that it might be a mink or a beaver. I paddled closer. What resurfaced was clearly a head. A giant fish head. I stopped paddling and reminded myself that to date there have been no known shark sightings on the River.
The fish head rolled slowly under the surface again, but only briefly before emerging again, this time even closer to the boat and with one eye that appeared to be looking in my direction. Its giant mouth was open, and its razor-sharp teeth were visible. This time it stayed above water long enough for me to clearly identify my stalker. It was a Muskie. And I would estimate he was about half the size of my kayak. I was a little nervous, but it seemed more curious than aggressive (not enough so that I would have considered sticking a hand or toe in the water). I got a few pictures and paddled away, looking over my shoulder to be sure I wasn’t being followed. The giant fish seemed content to slowly float around in the area I first saw him. It was almost as though he was sunbathing.
Needless to say, I decided to look up Muskies and their behaviors when I got home. One of the first facts that caught my attention was that the Muskie is known to be an “opportunistic ambush predator.” Now they tell me.
That aside, I read that the muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) is the largest member of the Pike family and considered one of the largest freshwater game fish in North America. It gets its name from the ancient tribal languages found in the United States and Canada. The Algonquin word for the Muskie is “maskinunga,” while the Ojibwe called it “maashkinoozhe.” Both words roughly translate to “big fish.” The official International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world record for muskies was set in 1949 for a fish that was 60.25 inches long and weighed in at over 67 pounds. Average Muskies are usually less than 40 inches long and weigh from 7 to 15 pounds. Muskies can live up to 30 years, and the average adult has up to 700 teeth!
I read that the Muskie is not just opportunistic but is also known to be a very efficient predator. It lays in wait, often in shallow water, hiding in weeds or rocks for cover. Muskies mainly dine on other fish, but as ambush feeders they have been known to eat nearly anything, including loons, ducks, and small mammals. Sometimes they go after even larger creatures.
I read that in 2020, a Muskie attack in Missouri happened when a kayaker dangled his foot over his craft. He was left with a V-shaped row of punctures after the incident. The kayaker said he saw the 30-inch Muskie go back into the deep water. A nearby fisherman who saw the incident said, “People spend hours and hours trying to catch one of these, and here he got bit by one.” In another story, a Canadian woman reported that a Muskie bit her leg and dragged her underwater in front of witnesses. She was taken to the hospital to have her cuts treated. Since reading that, I’ve not enjoyed my afternoon swims quite as much.
On an “ask the experts” page a reader asked, “Why do musky sometimes swim slowly with their head out of the water?” Apparently, there are several theories about this unusual habit. One theory is that Muskies like to be well acquainted with their surroundings and are surfacing to get a “better look around.” Another is that they seem to be “basking” with their backs out of the water, which could be associated with getting to warmer surface water, perhaps to aid digestion of a large meal. I do like the thought of the Muskie I encountered having been well fed at the time he was looking at me.
In reality, I have yet to hear of a kayaker being eaten by a Muskie (not to say there can’t be a first). But being stalked by a giant fish from my tiny boat is a reminder that we do have very real enemies in this life and things one could genuinely be afraid of. That is why it is great to know we never have to face our enemies alone.
The Psalmist had that confidence when he wrote, “O God, listen to me! Hear my prayer! For wherever I am, though far away at the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help. When my heart is faint and overwhelmed, lead me to the mighty, towering Rock of safety. For you are my refuge, a high tower where my enemies can never reach me. (Psalm 61:1-3).
It was fun seeing that giant fish head so close (well – maybe just a little too close) to my boat that morning. It also reaffirmed why I have no interest in fishing from a kayak.
By Patty Mondore
Patty Mondore and her husband, Bob, are summer residents of the Thousand Islands. Patty's most recent books include "