Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Musky Math

Musky. The fish of ten-thousand casts. Fact or fiction? Actuality or self-delusive justification for our hours of failure? Truth or elegant lie that we tell ourselves because we suck at catching the bastards?

Let's look at the numbers.

Actually, before we dig into the math, we ought to examine the premise that these fish really do exist and that they are not the part of the formula that requires proof. Admit it, many of us have never seen one in the flesh, despite how long we've been chasing them. They're sort of like dividing by zero. They make no sense.

A quick Google of the word "musky" (well, of the word "muskellunge" as "musky" sends us down internet paths we'd rather not follow) leads us to the species esox masquinongy and to pictures (mostly drawings, actually, which should make us slightly suspicious) of the large, toothy critters we have all imagined someday catching. Since anything we find on the web is true (and especially indubitable since the term is in unpronounceable Latin), I think we can safely assume that somewhere such a creature exists. Probably swimming right next to its cousin the mermaid.

So, having established that musky are in fact real, we can safely begin to pursue this whole ten-thousand cast business. But how? While John Gierach's recent statement that "all fisherman are liars" may be a bit on the harsh side, you must agree that relying on anecdotal data from this particular population is more than a bit sketchy. We need to find a finite, quantifiable, confirmable set of data on which to test this whole postulation.

Luckily, I have such a dataset. The 2018 Hardly Strictly Musky tournament. This past weekend I and host of other hopeful anglers spent a few days chasing our obsession on a handful of western Tennessee watersheds. The numbers were quantifiable. The tournament duration was set, the participants registered, and all catches were reported and fully documented with photographic evidence. From this, then, we can begin making our calculations.

Let’s start with the anglers. Ninety, to be exact. Ninety chasers of the holy grail. Ninety Don Quixotes.

90 anglers

The tournament itself was held over a period of two days.

90 anglers X 2 days = 180 fishing days

But wait, it’s not quite that simple. A large number of the anglers arrived a day early and hit the rivers. Some to scout for the upcoming competition, some to test out their gear, but most just to enjoy a day on the water because, well, why not? Let’s assume that a third of the ninety anglers did this.

180 fishing days + (90/3) fishing days = 210 fishing days

Now, a Hardly Strictly Musky fishing day is a long day, physically and mentally, because you’re fishing for musky which means that you’re working your ass off for essentially a lost cause. Starting times varied widely across the subjects. Some hit the boatramp at daybreak. Others chose to get a leisurely gas station or Smoke House biscuit. More than a few were delayed by their slowly diffusing inebriation. Let’s average it out at, say, 8:00am. Most everyone finished up about 5:00 as the evening festivities commenced at 6:30, confirmed by the simultaneous clusterfuck of boats at the major takeouts. Let’s call it nine hours, minus an hour for lunch.

210 fishing days X 8 hours = 1,680 fishing hours

An adjustment needs to be made here as a large number of the boats in play were drift boats, effectively taking the rod out of one of the angler’s hands so that he could man the sticks. You’d think that would be a bad thing, being the rower, but after a couple of hours slinging a wet sock around on 450 grain sinking line with an 11wt, manhandling a cranky boat feels like a nap. Let’s conservatively estimate that at any given time 20% of the participants were “resting”.

1,680 fishing hours x .8 rowing adjustment = 1,344 fishing hours

Let’s then figure that a single cast and retrieve takes less than a minute. At a constant rate that means 80, maybe 90 casts an hour. Of course, we’re all not machines and time out is required for sips of beer, lamentations, and the occasional retrieval of flies from streamside vegetation. Let’s play it safe and call it 60.

1,344 fishing hours x 60 casts/hour = 80,640 casts

Now, we really should consider that this particular population deviates from the norm. Yes, I know anyone who goes fishing for musky with anything less than dynamite, much less a fly rod, must deviate from the norm, but that’s a psychological study, not a mathematical one and we’ll set that aside for the time being. For our purposes, the statistical deviation I refer to is that there exists in this dataset a large percentage of fishermen who have chased these beasties for some time and have established a certain elevated level of expertise. It might even be safe to say that they are twice as likely to catch one than the average angler. Let’s be uber-conservative, however, and say that they have an extra 25% of a chance.

80,640 casts x 1.25 expert factor = 100,800 casts

Here’s where the tournament data saves us. We know exactly how many fish were caught. Exactly. No one claimed to have caught a fish on the practice day and you can bet that if anyone did, everyone would have heard about it. Believe me. You wouldn't hear where, but you'd know one had been caught.

Eight fish were caught on Day 1 of the tournament. Two were boated on Day 2.

Ten fish total.

That’s right. Ten.

100,800 casts / 10 fish caught = 10,800 casts to catch one goddam musky

Now, these numbers are preliminary and there's a wide variety of other factors that might be considered. Moon positioning. Competitive juices. The HSM hangout/hangover factor. But we’ll not mess with them in this first pass. They would just be minor puts and takes in these calculations and my head hurts enough already. Besides, we got where we wanted to go.

Proof. Fact. Musky. The fish of ten-thousand casts.

Thanks, Hardly Strictly Musky, for bearing out the numbers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


The second I pulled it out of the slingpack I knew there was a problem. It was neatly folded, all corners perfectly square, aligned, possibly ironed; not scrunched in a crusty ball like it should be. It smelled of peonies.

Over the years it had been worn from British Columbia to the Mexican Baja, from the southern-most Bahamas to northern-most Saskatchewan, from North Carolinian farm ponds to Montana trout Meccas. It was my fishing security blanket, my talisman, my mojo. My buff. Now, it was…laundered.

It no longer smelled of sweat and sunscreen and bug dope. Missing were the smoky undertones of Cuban cigars and the subtle spicy keynotes of Gunnison ganja (though I haven’t a clue as to how they got there). Gone were the phantom flavors of tacos and hops, readily available for a quick pick-me-up with just a flick of the tongue. My comfort saltlick was now tasteless. It no longer smelled of fish.

Front was no longer distinguishable from back by the leaked tobacco stains. No amount of twisting found that comfortable impression of nose and cheekbones and chin. Like OJ’s gloves, If it doesn’t fit, there’ll be no permit.

Until now, its only cleansing had been courtesy of rainstorms, salt spray, and an impromptu dunking or two; ineffective for proper sanitation but perfect for the maintenance of a proper angling alchemy.

So there I sat, rigged and ready on the flats of South Andros, mojo-less, with all of my angling history, encodings in scents, my comfort zone - washed, rinsed, and tumbled dry into oblivion. We’d been sterilized. The Tide had come in and I wanted to cry.

But tucked neatly inside it was a bright yellow Post-It on which, in a beautiful flowing script, was written “I thought you’d like this all nice and clean. Catch lots of fish. Love you.” Mojo of an entirely different sort. Strong juju. Magic that overrides everything else. Energy that I carry wherever I go, in fishing and in life. Her act was selfless and done for my pleasure. A lovely, thoughtful expression. How could I be mad?

I hate the smell of peonies.

Note: I offer this as a follow-on to Jon Tobey's wonderful piece, She Loves Me, She Cleaned My Truck to which this little piece doesn't hold a candle. I've done so as Jon and I discovered these similar premises were each stolen from our mutual friend (and FlyFish Journal editor), Steve Duda. 

Now, who has a third for the trilogy?