Outdoor Life – Outdoor Recreation

September 1928





By Robert Page Lincoln


You’ve probably never heard of Shingobee.  It is one of the reputed ten thousand lakes that dot the surface of the state of Minnesota, is located just south of great Leech Lake, in fact, the stream that flows from this lake empties into Shingobee Bay of that famous body of water. Shingobee Lake has nothing exceptional in the way of picturesqueness about it. There are hundreds of lakes that are as beautiful. For one thing its shorelines are for the most part boggy, in fact, it is doubtful if you can find firm footing in getting out any­where around the whole lake. Nevertheless the lake is deep and the fishing good. There are some wonderful specimens of large-mouth bass in that lake and great north­ern pike that make you think you have connected up with an ocean fish, also there are wall-eyed pike, crappies and various other fishes, and last, but not least, there is the muskellunge. And because there are muskellunge in Shingobee this story will blossom out in black upon white and I shall try to unlock some of the secrets of that mysterious old lake.

It is one of the painful truths one will come to know about fishing in Minnesota, that the muskellunge species is found in but a handful of lakes in the state. Try to explain it away if you can but the fact remains, the muskellunge is not, and probably never was, numerous in Minnesota. This in spite of the fact that the state has such a large num­ber of lakes to its credit, many of them apparently the very best to be found as a habitat for the fish in question.  So it was with Shingobee when I first heard of it.  I was told that it contained "tiger" muskies that were as fierce as they make them and broke the best lines that you had to offer.  But I doubted sin­cerely whether there were muskies in Shingobee.  Examination of photos of fish caught in the lake, however, showed true enough that muskies were represented.  I was half-way convinced.  One summer day Chet Bowers, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, hooked into a large musky off the north point and Arnold Nelson who was rowing the boat, promptly shot out into the lake and ­there, by going around and around in a circle, sought to drown the fish.  Failing undramatically in this act, it was decided to lead the fish down to the inlet stream and there run up and beach it on the sands of the creek.  This was done.  Arnold Nelson, spitting snuff and shouting commands to Chet, drove the boat into the shallows, and Chet, throwing his rod over his shoulder like a musket, leaped out of the boat and went on upstream dragging the fish by main strength after him. Arnold, taking his trusty oar in his two hands, also leaped and using the heavy end of the oar as a flail he beat the fish un­conscious.  The fish weighed 27½ pounds and won a prize!


The above is one instance.  The muskies of Shingobee that had been rounded in had not given up their various ghosts without putting up a struggle that had all the ear-marks of tuna fishing about it.  Then, gradually, as Shingo­bee was fished more thoroughly, started the story of the myste­rious line-breaking and back-wrenching musky that it con­tained.  Understand that there was one musky in special and in particular.  No one has ever said that there were flocks of large muskies in Shingobee, but everyone in the country thereabouts was united in common faith and belief that there was one musky in Shingobee that ranged in weight from 50 to 80 pounds.


I have previously mentioned an inlet stream.   Directly out in front of this stream there is a hole that I believe slants down to 40 or more feet, altho I must say that I have never sounded it.  There was, until quite recently, some sort of stand at the mouth of this stream which was, I think, at one time a place where one could tie up a boat and get out and lie or sit down and fish at one's leisure.  A certain villager of Akeley (two miles away) was fishing for wall-eyed pike and was reclining on this stand.  He had a frisky minnow on his hook and was dangling it in the ­water, the cork playing around on the surface.  Eventually, growing drowsy there in the sun, he kept one eye open and the other closed.  He was due to open both of them wide a few moments later, for as he dragged in the minnow a sinister, lengthy and evil-eyed shape loomed up in the water to ­claim the bait.  In telling about it afterwards this gentle­man stated that the fish was easily as long as an oar and ­that, unquestionably, it was the old musky of Shingobee.  How much would it weigh?  Fifty pounds, if an ounce, he averred. He had been so frightened by seeing the fish that he had left the place and had hurried home.  Such eyes the fish had, he stated.  They looked bloody murder and he was thankful that the big fellow had not grabbed his minnow!


Two years in succession I had fished Shingobee, then the third summer (1927) I was again there.  The stories of a big Shingobee musky were still afloat, although they had gained in volume until people spoke in whispers about it.  A certain fish

Fisherman who had a fish-house on the ice the previous winter had seen the fish while looking down into the water from the hole in the ice.  The fish passed directly under him.  According to his version he dared not drive the spear for, of course it is unlawful to spear muskies at any time, or thru the ice.  How long was that musky and how much would it weigh?  It was, he thought, about 5 feet in length and would weigh at the very least, no less than 50 pounds.  At last I was becoming convinced that there really was a big musky in this strange and little known lake.  Every time I approached it I felt that spell of the mysterious, that indefinable anticipation which had back of it that great possibility that probably here among all lakes was a record-breaker.  To add to this, A. E. Spellman, of Omaha, coming over from Moore's' Springs, hooked into a fish he would swear was 5 feet in length.  On a dead pull (and this is Arnold Nelson's version of it) this fish broke a highly recommended 25-pound test, brand new, hard-braided silk line.


To catch this big musky in Shingobee became an obsession with me.  I mapped out a campaign that was, to my mind, as complete as any fish catching experiment I had ever tried.  I apparently left no loop-holes for escape.  I would fish industriously, thoroughly, systematically.  If need be I would put in the rest of the summer and the fall in trying to land this mysterious old musky of Shingobee.


It is one of those inconsistencies of life that if a man wins to himself a reputation in this pursuit or that he at once is singled out as an individual to be looked up to and listened to and from him will be expected much indeed.  In my own case was a reputation for having written innumerable articles, essays and diatribes on fishing.  I was an authority.  If I couldn't catch that Shingobee musky then no one would.  Assertions such as the above got to flying around as I applied myself diligently to the task before me.  But every day as I returned to Jack Port's at Moore's' Springs the people gathered around in vain, for I had no Shingobee Musky to show them.


One day Jack Port and I started out with the intention of bringing home a fish 5 feet in length, in fact, as my happy-go-lucky partner said, "As long as an oar." Today it was to be one of those fine-comb researches, the leaving of no stone or pad unturned. I had always believed in my heart that Jack was skeptical about the Shingobee musky.  That he was passing thru the same stages I had passed thru, and yet to be convinced. Seeing is believing.


Start out from the Bay Where the boats are in Shingobee and you have an elegant stretch of pads to fish.  Arriving, however, at the turn of the shore, you come into the bay where Elmer Welker caught his 25 pounder.  Make this turn and continue on 200 or 300 feet and you are in suspicious ground. I know whereof I speak.  Here is where, on occasion, the Shingobee musky hangs out.


On the day of which I speak Jack was nicely doing galley-service at the oars and I was casting. Now here, now there I pegged the lure but with no results.  The lure was one of those hinged-in-sections min­nows that have a most lifelike wiggle to the tail.  I had used this type of minnow freely and productively before in my fish­ing, and it was my idea that the animation of the tail of this cre­ation would prove too much for the fish.  I hoped that it would be the Shingobee musky.  Back and forth that white-bodied wiggler went gyrating thru the water, to be picked up time and again and returned to the little indentations in the pads, just where it would seem most likely that a big one would be lying in wait.


While I was thus mechani­cally casting, as accurately and precisely as possible, the some­thing happened that I alone was aware of.  Jack was studying the lower shoreline of the lake, I believe.  I had happened to look down as I was about to pick up the bait from the water, and there it was.  I won't say that my hair stood on end.  That would be exaggeration.  But a sudden chill ran over me, I be­came as close to nerveless as a man can be; I did not move a muscle in my body, I just looked and looked.  For there, idly following my hinged-in-sec­tions minnow, like a silent and mysterious apparition from the deep, was none other than the Shingobee musky. I will not even estimate his length or his weight.  That would be putting me on record.  I merely wish to say that it was the largest muskellunge that I have ever seen in the flesh.  I have a photograph here before me as I write of the musky landed by C. A. Karlan, of Topeka, Kansas, caught at noon of the 22nd of August, 1927, on the Sand Point Flats of Leech Lake that weighed 44½ pounds and was 52 inches in length.  If I should say that this Shingobee musky would exceed that by -- but then, I'm not going on record.


As silently as this Shingobee musky had followed that minnow, as silently he disappeared, vanishing into the mysterious and unfathomable unknown of Shingobee lake as tho he had but been a fleeting shadow.  Presently I sat down and passed a hand over my eyes and Jack asked, how are you feeling now? for I had been troubled with my stomach and had been dieting for several days. "Not so well”, I said, breathing hard. "I got a little dizzy look­ing at the water a few minutes ago.  "About as dizzy as I would get if that old Shingobee musky came up here to the boat and tried to grab the oar away from me," said Jack facetiously with a broad grin.  "Yes," I answered, eyeing him sharply, "just about as dizzy!"


Once, twice, three times we covered that length of shore­line from the point to the lower bay where Elmer caught the 25-pounder.  Not a strike, not the sign of a fish.  Dead silence; no splash; no action in the water -- it was as tho Shingobee Lake had given up its ghost and not a finny creature was to be found in its reaches.  And all this time I had said nothing about the fish I had seen.  Jack did not know, for I believed he would doubt my version of it any­way.  Somehow, too, I wanted to keep the truth to myself.  Upon another day I would return. Yes, indeed!


It is true that I caught muskies in Shingobee, but not the one I was after.  I left Shingobee now for two weeks on another fishing jaunt and then, in September, I returned primed for another trial with the big fellow I knew was in there.  I had been keeping tab on the situation pretty closely while I had been away, hoping while I had been away, hoping against hope that no one would "beat me to it" and hang the Shingobee "tiger" up high and dry.  This time I had brought with me a certain top-water lure that had killed one 26- and one 22-pounder.  It ought to be the means of luring the Shingo­bee musky to his doom.  This particular top-water bait one would cast to the desired place and then, lowering the rod tip, one would give the lure a series of sharp jerks, one after an­other, at the same time reeling the line.  This method of fishing I believe is called "pop" casting.  The jerking of the bait injects animation in the lure and prob­ably makes the fish think it is the violent efforts of some marooned water or land crea­ture trying to free itself from the watery element.  Knowing how this bait had gotten me some fine fish, imagine with what expectation I now bore down on Shingobee.  I remember, as we drove by Shingobee on the way to Jack's place, how exultant I was to think that at last I had the lure for the fish.  I had practiced up well on pop casting with this lure. I was all set for the deed shortly to be perpetrated.


The first day I tried this new bait on Shingobee Lake Mrs. Robert Page Lincoln was rowing the boat.  Once she had threatened to divorce me because I criticized her rowing.  A box of candy had restored peace in the family.  Now as I patted her on the cheek I gave directions just how far to keep from the pads and I would do the rest.  She rowed the boat beautifully and, one cast following another, I sounded out the likely places.  On we went, turned the bay where Elmer caught his 25-pounder, and were in those hereinbefore mentioned, said suspicious grounds.  Very suspicious, I may say.  I knew now down to just about a foot where the big fellow had his place of business - the place where he lay in wait for his prey.  There were two certain reeds that thrust themselves out of the water at this certain place….


Here was the program. If in my casting I should chance to seat the hooks of my lure in the jaw of a fish I would at once give the command - "Out!"  That would mean that my better half would bend to the task with vim and a flourish and would instantly swing the bow of the boat lake ward and row away from the pads, to prevent the fish from projecting his honorable self into these obstructions.  So far, so good.  I kept on casting until I reached the place in question. Then looking toward the two reeds, which are about 15 feet to the west of the grotesque stump on shore, I almost had an attack of heart failure, black spots jumped before my eyes, a wave of chills' ran down my spine, to my corns, for there, dimly, outlined in ­the water by the reeds, was a shadowy figure that was not only a fish but a very large fish - no doubt the' Shingobee musky.  From where my wife sat she could not see what I saw, but I communicated my findings to her.  Probably she figured in her mind that at last the time had come, the Shingobee musky was soon to be in the ascendancy.  Upon her ability to turn the boat and row like the old Harry all depended.  She would do her part bravely and well as it fits an emancipated womanhood.


The bait sailed thru the air and dropped nicely just about a foot from the of the shadowy creature in the water.  What happened thereafter was thrilling to say the least.  With a prodigious splash that threw a wave to either side and churned the water to foam that huge shape projected itself like a watery meteor at the bait.  According to all the rules and regulations of pop casting I was jerking the bait.  I must have "popped" it just at the exact moment the fish made his violent sally forward and he must have missed the bait by a foot.  I may be forgiven for believing that I had hooked the fish.   I  do know that I took no chances but gave the rod a jerk that should have been sufficient to have lifted the head off the Shingobee musky.  I do not remember that I hollered "OUT!" so loud that Bill Regan in Akeley heard it.  My wife says I did.  I do know that there was a clash of oars, a grating of oar-locks, decks cleared for action and I was among the cleanings.  For simultaneous with the jerk I gave the rod  the boat swung.  I tripped backward over my tackle box and went down into the depths of Shingobee Lake as tho I had been felled like an ox. I didn't. know how long my visitation in the deep continued but immediately I manfully struck out for the surface like a walrus and finally thrust my head out of water.  Afterward, just out of spite I said that when I came out of the water my wife hit me on the head thinking i was the Shingobee musky.  I am not forgiven for that underhanded cast - I mean underhanded assertion - yet.   0, yes, about that Shingobee musky, Yeah, He’s still there.