The air was crisp and heavy mist was rising from the water. We watched the vapor eerily dance across the lake as we prepped our tackle and made our way to the boat. The haunting cry of a loon called out from the heart of Ghost Lake—at the moment its name seemed very appropriate. The outboard came to life breaking the stillness of the morning, and before long we were off. Our target was the elusive muskellunge, king of the freshwater realm.
Known as the “Fish of 10,000 Casts” due to its elusive nature, muskie can be intimidating fish to target. However, our confidence is running high as we are fishing in northern Wisconsin on Ghost Lake just east of the resort town of Hayward in the Chequamegon National Forest. Arguably one of the best muskie lakes in America, Ghost Lake spans approximately 372 acres. Its undeveloped shorelines are dense with birch, hemlock, cedars and boulders to the water’s edge. A majority of the shoreline is part of the Chequamegon National Forest, which means on your hunt for trophy muskie you’ll certainly feel like you have the lake all to yourself.
Within minutes we see a huge swirl, and moments later a flash and push of wake as a hungry muskie follows a lure to the boat.
We kill the motor and drift along a cabbage weedbed. The water is tannin stained but clear, with a visibility of about four feet. It looks like glass, disturbed only by the splash of our lures. Within minutes we see a huge swirl, and moments later a flash and push of wake as a hungry muskie follows a lure to the boat. It is enough to get the adrenaline pumping and the excitement in the air is electric.
I make another cast and wait for the ripples to subside before giving the lure a slight twitch. I’m immediately rewarded with an explosive strike and upon setting the hook a muskie in the 40 inch range leaps out of the water. The fish lands broadside and the drag screams as line rips off the small baitcaster. I can feel the violent headshakes as suddenly the determined muskie makes a run straight for the boat. The fish proceeds to sky completely out of the water, shaking his massive head the entire time. I am able to duck just in the nick of time as my treble hook armed lure whizzes past my ear. Breathless, my heart is pounding as we gaze in awe of what just happened.
Twenty minutes later my fishing partner, Gibby, lets out a cry and the battle is on. His rod bends as the muskie rolls and violently resists defeat. After a few minutes of grunting and groaning he had the fish worn down. My sweep with the net is true and after a quick photo opportunity, the prized fish is back in the water. Catch and release is the norm on Ghost Lake, as these predators are long lived and relatively slow growing. Overharvest can significantly impact the quality of a fishery. On a nearby skiff fishing another weedbed our buddies Matt and Brian had similar luck, landing three mid 30 inch muskie, a couple mid 20 inch walleye and a largemouth bass—all on muskie lures. They mentioned that both of the walleye were severely scarred from encounters with ferocious muskie.
Several times a year the four of us make the pilgrimage to the Northwoods to fish for muskie, often to the nearby fabled Chippewa Flowage. My friends live for muskie fishing, spending the long northern winters organizing tackle boxes and sharpening hooks, eagerly awaiting the six months of the year when the lakes are free of ice and they can test their skills against the mighty muskellunge.
While Ghost Lake is one of our favorite spots, there are hundreds of other lakes to fish in the area including the mighty Chippewa Flowage. The “Chip” as it is known locally, is over 15,000 acres in size, has over 200 miles of shoreline and over 140 islands. Lake Namekagon, Round Lake, Grindstone, Lac Court Orielles, Lost Land and Teal Lakes are also nearby, and all produce muskie, northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappie, perch and bluegill. Lake Superior is only an hour north and is renowned for lake trout, smallmouth bass and monster pike. In addition, there are over 60 trout streams within an hour drive including the famous Boise Brule River.
For a unique and memorable experience in some of the most pristine settings you’ll ever see, visit northern Wisconsin. Some of the finest muskie await adventurous anglers willing to visit The Badger State.
Where To Toss The Bags
If you’re looking for a wilderness vacation and a feeling of what “Up North” has meant to generations, Ghost Lake Lodge (ghostlakelodge.com) is the place. Billed “Intentionally Quiet, Pleasantly Private,” Ghost Lake Lodge was built in 1935 and is one of the oldest and most historic resorts in operation in the Hayward Lakes area of Wisconsin. Rustic log cabins with stone fireplaces are set feet away from the lake in a grove of old growth hemlocks. A visit is an experience you’ll never forget.
The Hayward Lakes area of Wisconsin is a fisherman’s paradise, and Ghost Lake is a small gem. Hayward has an up to date airport for private planes, and the Duluth International Airport is only 90 minutes away, with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport only three hours away. From Milwaukee it is a 6 1/2 hour drive and 8 hours from Chicago.