A big muskie day on the Niagara River

My phone vibrated while I sat in a seat at the DEC presentation on the forage base in Lockport. It was Capt. Chris Cinelli of Grand Island inviting me along on a muskie trip the next morning. One of the guys on his charter had cancelled and he had room for another body. I had to think about my schedule the next day and realized I would be good to go in the morning. Within a few minutes I messaged him back and told him I would be at Blue Water Marina on Grand Island at 8 a.m. After that, it was tough to concentrate on the meeting.

It was a nice morning for anything outdoors, although it was a little cool. I met Gary Laidman of South Wales, Cinelli’s customer for this day. As we motored out in the East River from Grand Island above Niagara Falls, a flock of swans took off from the bay next to us. What a beautiful sight and a great way to start our morning.

As we set up on the first drift of the day, Cinelli explained the rig that he uses to target these underwater monsters with mouths filled with teeth.

“I have my adaptation of a quick-strike rig and I was able to get some prime bait this week from a local bait dealer,” said Cinelli. “I bought a bunch of suckers that were shipped in from North Dakota at $4 apiece.” He ran three rods – two with large shiners and rudd that he catches himself in the river, and one with a sucker, as we drifted with the current bouncing bottom.

All of a sudden the rod with the sucker took a hit and Laidman grabbed it. Fish on! He fought the fish for about 10 minutes and had him right next to the boat as Cinelli held the net. Fish off! We lost the first fish with no fault assigned to anyone. That’s fishing.

After an hour of continuous drifts, we noticed the light breeze from the morning had started to subside. Cinelli had another spot near Strawberry Island that he wanted to give a try. After a couple of drifts, the rod rigged with the sucker started to bend. Laidman pounced on it and waited for the right moment to set the hook.

Fish on! From the start, Laidman could tell it was a big fish. On an earlier trip with Cinelli on Oct. 30, Laidman boated a 48-inch muskie – a personal best weighing around 40 pounds. This one seemed bigger as he fought the fish around the boat. At one point the line was close to the trolling motor. Cinelli pulled it up and saw it had wrapped around once – a close call. The fish bulldogged under the boat and the line was close to making contact to the sharp edges of the Lund. Cinelli had the trolling motor back in the water, and he maneuvered to safety.

Slowly, the big fish was tiring and came closer to the boat as Cinelli held the net with anticipation.

“Oh my God,” shouted Cinelli. He saw the fish clearly for the first time.

He stretched and was able to get the behemoth into the net. There was a slight pause before they both let out a whoop, hugged and then continued with high-fives all around. A quick measure of both length and girth – 48 inches long, but a girth of 30 inches! Gary struggled to hold the fish up for a quick picture.

“This is a heavy fish,” said Laidman. “Way bigger than the 48-incher I caught a couple weeks ago.”

It was time to release the fish and say goodbye. Cinelli grabbed it by the tail and worked the 44-degree water through its gills. When it was ready, it gave us a tail slap and dove into the Niagara River as a bald eagle looked on from Strawberry Island. Then he flew off, almost acknowledging it was a good release. The mission was complete.

Cinelli quickly grabbed his phone and looked up the Musky Hunter magazine calculator for these fish. It showed up at 54 pounds. Wow! It was time for more high-fives around the boat. Gary looked at Chris, thanked him for the experience of a lifetime and said: “Let’s go bass fishing. I will never top that fish we just caught!” Cinelli switched his rods around and motored back to where we had started in the morning. “We’ve taken some nice bass around here this time of year.” Shiners were our bait of choice, fished off three-way rigs.

Almost immediately, Laidman hit a fish. “It’s a good one! Last time we were here we hit some five-pounders.”

Within five minutes, Laidman got a glimpse of the fish. “It’s another muskie!” Believe it or not, using 8-pound test line for the bass, Laidman had hooked into a 36-inch muskie. The hook was set perfectly at the edge of his mouth so that the line didn’t rub up against the sharp teeth. In the net, a quick picture and it was released again to fight another day.

Laidman was planning on going out and buying a lottery ticket as soon as the trip was over.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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