Cast, retrieve, swirl your lure a bit and repeat.
That is the methodical mantra followed by Todd Reis, one of the growing cadre of Washington anglers pursuing the tiger muskie, as he fishes Mayfield Lake.
He casts a large bucktail lure as far as he can. He retrieves it, often as fast as he can. As the lure approaches the boat, he swirles it in a circle or figure eight, hoping to entice one of these toothy monsters to bite. When that fails, he casts again, and again, and again.
The muskie is called the fish of 10,000 casts.
"No, I'd say 1.5 million (casts)," Reis said. "I'm up to about a million."
But Reis, and other muskie area anglers, say the chance to tangle with a 50-inch fish makes every cast worthwhile.
"It's one of those working-man sports. You have to really work at it, but the paybacks are pretty good," said Reis while driving down I-5. "Muskie fishing is a lot like gambling, but I think your odds gambling are better."
Growing up in Minneapolis, Perry Peterson was captivated by muskie fishing with his father on the lakes around Hayward, Wis.
"It's a legendary fish. It's a fish like no other. I say that basically because of its attitude," Peterson said in a phone interview. "You can cast your lure out 100 feet from the boat and you can see a freight train hit it, kaboom. Or he just might follow it all the way up to the boat.
"They're not afraid of people, they'll look right at you. They have a personality. They're willing to follow a lure and not attack it, or they go crazy after it."
Having moved to another corner of the lake, we are casting to the points of a small rocky island. Reis said he saw a fish jump, maybe it was a trout, a squawfish, a beaver or a tiger muskie.
We cast toward shore, trying to tuck our lures under limbs. We cast so we can bring our lures past submerged trees. We bounce them along the rocks leading toward deeper water.
With no success, we retrieve our lures one last time before moving. As he steps to the back of the boat to fire up the motor, Reis spots a large swirl, created by a fish, no more than 10 feet from the boat.
Headed for the lake's Tilton River arm, I wonder if it was a tiger. Should we have stayed?
"That had to be a tiger muskie," Reis said. "I think it was giving us the fin."
Norm Dillon, stationed at Fort Lewis, was quickly hooked on these big fish. He started fishing for them three years ago after moving from Portland.
"One of my coworkers is from Washington and he got me into it," Dillon said. "My first time out I got two of them and I was hooked ever since. The first fish was 45 inches. It kind of went downhill after that."
That is until his May 19 fishing trip to Merwin Reservoir. That's when he caught and released a 481/2-inch long tiger muskie. With a girth of 25 inches, the fish likely weighed 35 to 37 pounds. That would have easily eclipsed the state record of 311/4 pounds, a fish caught by John Bays at Mayfield on Sept. 22, 2001.
"We knew it was a good fish but it wasn't until we got it in the net and in the boat that we realized what a monster it was," Dillon said.
Dillon said he is attracted by the elusiveness of the muskie.
"I don't call it fishing, I call it hunting. You have to look at the weather, the moon phases, that makes it a real challenge. Am I going to get a fish today, or am I going to go another 10,000 casts?" he said.
Our stay in the Tilton was short. The water was cold and muddied as the river entered the lake. So we head downlake to the Winston Creek cove. We work around more stumps, the mouth of a small creek and sunken trees.
Stopping at Mayfield Lake Marina and Resort for a break, we talked with manager Sheryl Lupi. She said it's easy to spot the muskie anglers.
"They have a gleam in their eye and a glazed look at the same time," she said.
We work our way slowly along the south shoreline. The leaping trout still taunt us, as does the lack of muskie.
"That's muskie fishing. Sometimes you just don't find them. So you joke with your friends, eat a little and just have some fun," Reis said.
Tiger muskie facts
What are they: Tiger muskellunge are a sterile hybrid of northern pike and muskellunge.
About the fish: Tiger muskies grow rapidly, attaining a length of 20 inches in their first year and 30 inches in their second year. They are ambush predators, feeding primarily on baitfish. State regulations require anglers to release all fish less than 50 inches long.
Washington lakes: Lakes stocked since 1996 with tiger muskellunge are Curlew Lake (Ferry County), Evergreen Reservoir (Grant), Fazon Lake (Whatcom), Green Lake (King), Mayfield Lake (Lewis), Merwin Reservoir (Clark/Cowlitz), Newman Lake (Spokane), Silver Lake (Spokane) and Tapps Reservoir (Pierce).