It began with a hat that I received on one of my birthdays when I was a little guy. I loved that hat. I wore it everywhere I went. Sure, I got picked on, but I didn't care. I wore it anyway. See, I was infected by an epidemic that swept through the Juniata River basin in the mid-1970s and 1980s. I didn't mind catching the disease, because the whole male part of my family had it. It just seemed natural that I would be the next to be overtaken.
My Dad was overtaken by it on January 2, 1973, when he went fishing where Delaware Creek empties into the Juniata River, Juniata County. He left that day a man in perfect mental health and came back never to be the same. The disease soon spread throughout our family, and as fate would have it, my Dad passed it on to me in the form of a hat. I was captivated by the large fish on the hat. I soon realized that this was not just a fish. My Dad read the words on the hat to me: "Musky Madness." That phrase had a certain ring to it. I knew it would stick in my mind for quite a while.
I don't think my Dad knew what he was getting himself into by passing this disease on to me. But he ended up with a crazy seven- or eight-year-old who could think of nothing more than "the fish of 10,000 casts," the elusive musky. Trying to get your seven- or eight-year-old son to catch a musky resembles a challenge on the television show "Mission: Impossible." Yet, through all the trials and torment my Dad endured, I, for one, am very glad he did, because on February 9, 1991, his dream and mine was realized.
We arrived at the Fish and Boat Commission access near Thompsontown around noon on that nice day. Dad realized that the river was high and muddy because of recent rains, but we had traveled 10 miles, so we were going to fish. Dad attached a 5 1/2-inch silver jointed minnow plug to my line, and told me to go down to the shoreline and give it a try. I had taken only a few casts when all of a sudden I got a strike. I yelled for Dad and he raced down to see what I had on. He said, "It's a musky!"
I had a hard time dealing with the idea that I actually had a musky on, so I tried to convince myself, and Dad, that it was a carp. I'll never forget when Dad gaffed that whopper and pulled him up onto the bank. Dad probably ran 20 yards with that fish&SHY;he sure didn't want him to get away&SHY;me, either. After a lot of yelling and hugging Dad gave me a slime-covered hand shake and then we measured the fish. I remember Dad saying, "Well, I think he's about 38 inches." I thought he had to be at least 40, I told him. I'll never forget Dad saying, "Oh, my gosh, he's 42 inches long," as he measured that toothy critter. We weighed it later, and the fish was 22 pounds, my largest and only musky to date.
It has been more than seven years now, and the effects haven't worn off yet. I'm starting to wonder if I will ever completely recover. I know a few other people who are still infected with the disease, and they feel the same as I do. So I guess I have no hope. Oh well, I can't think of anything better than going mad about muskies.
November/December 1998 PA Angler & Boater
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