Fishing for the big one

On a sunny early-summer afternoon, Matt Clauer reaches back and casts into Lake Harriet from a fishing pier, then slowly reels his line in. Reaches back and casts, then slowly reels his line in again. Again. And again.

This process continues, to no avail, for what seems to be an hour. But instead of sinking into disillusionment, Clauer keeps the big picture in mind. He’s fishing for a muskie — a fish his friend Jack Snyder characterizes as “the fish of 10,000 casts.”

“But if you know what you’re doing,” Clauer interjects, “you can get that down to one cast in 2,000 or 3,000.”

Whenever Clauer does catch that next muskie, he’ll have the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to thank. Like numerous other fish commonly caught in Southwest lakes, muskies aren’t native to the area, but have been introduced by the DNR’s stocking program for the pleasure of anglers.

In 2010 alone, the DNR stocked Lake Harriet with 179 baby muskies (known as “fingerlings”) and 2,862 baby walleye. A DNR report describes Harriet’s waters as “a muskellunge and walleye fishery” and local anglers report an abundance of good-sized bass as well.

In addition, the DNR stocks Lake of the Isles with tiger muskie and both Cedar Lake and Lake Calhoun with walleye, muskies and sterile muskie-northern pike hybrids.

The DNR’s latest analysis of Cedar Lake’s waters in 2009 concluded that “walleye abundance increased to the highest value ever recorded,” with an average Cedar walleye clocking in at a length of more than 16 inches.

Even tiny Loring Pond is stocked with fish species capable of surviving in the pond’s shallow, muddy waters — black crappies, bluegills and channel catfish.

Clauer, who lives in Elk River but occasionally makes the trek to Southwest to try his luck on the Chain of Lakes, said “I do think the fishing here is underrated. People sometimes don’t come out because you can’t use outboard motors, and they think you can only catch muskies out of the city, but that’s not the case.”

Then he reached back and cast again, still hunting for his prized one in 10,000 fish.

A recent survey estimated that 14 percent of Minnesota anglers target muskies when fishing. Anecdotally, on the days this reporter visited Southwest lakes, the vast majority of anglers reported they were after muskies.

One such angler was Matt Foslien. Foslien, who manages a rental property on the hill overlooking the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun, said he has been fishing Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet his whole life. He characterizes muskies as “the king of freshwater fish.”

About 50 years old, he’s still chasing after the muskie of his dreams. He eagerly tells the story of a near miss that occurred while angling with his young nephew three years ago.

“I caught a muskie this big then,” he said, his hands about four feet apart to illustrate the size of the one that got away. “I let him run, then started reeling him in. I almost had him up to the pier, but the line tangled, he ran again and snapped my line.”

Like many other seasoned muskie veterans, Foslien uses a spinner lure.
A propeller makes a fluttering noise that attracts muskies to the surface. Thinking that the lure is a small distressed animal of some sort, muskies bite — and then the real fun begins.

Though Foslein’s status as a lifelong Minneapolitan might compromise his objectivity, he characterizes Lake Calhoun as one of the top muskie lakes in all of Minnesota.

Wading into the sandy-bottomed clear waters, he said, “there are real monsters in here, and if I catch one he’s going up on my wall. I’ve been fishing for him my entire life.”

Reach Aaron Rupar at [email protected]