Back to Features
North of 8
Funny Tales By Bob Boyd "Geezer Bob"
The Last Tournament
With my musky fishing mentor Ray W. in the back of the boat, “I think this is about as shallow as we can go.” “No, we can go closer,” he responded. My buck tail arched over the water and landed in the only small opening in the weeds that I could see. A short retrieve and the water exploded as a nice 36-inch musky tangled with my bait. Another lesson was learned from Ray as I released the fish boat side.
I had met Ray decades earlier when he had stored his square stern canoe in the pole barn on our farm near Roberts Wi. Ray was a dedicated musky fisherman and it didn’t take long for me to grasp the fact that I could learn how to catch muskies by paying attention to his lessons. Ray and his wife Alane occupied a small summer cabin at a resort on Bone Lake. I would frequently boat over to Ray’s place and noticing me coming up to the dock he would walk down to talk. He was the “Shaolin Master” and I was “The little Grasshopper” when it came to musky fishing. He would dispense words of wisdom about baits and weather but mostly he would tell me stories about big fish.
The years went by and I grew out of the “Little grasshopper” stage when it came to musky fishing. Whenever I introduced a youngster to musky fishing I would take them down to visit Ray on his dock. Ray relished the opportunity to tell his stories, but best of all he would get to show them his “petrified musky eye”. If they were lucky they could hold it in their hands for a few minutes before it disappeared back into his pocket. I recall hearing several times, “Do you think that was a real petrified musky eye?” as we motored back down the lake.
Ray also competed in musky tournaments. The Cass Lake International Musky tournament and the Wisconsin Indianhead Pro Musky Tournament were the two that he talked about most of the time.
Ray’s passion for fishing shallow water was recognized by other anglers when they named “Ray’s Reeds” after him on Cass Lake. He loved that notoriety and would frequently tell others about “Ray’s Reeds”.
His all time favorite bait was a black Mepps Musky Killer with a piece of white Josh’s pork rind impaled on the first set of treble hooks. Silver blades on sunny days and gold color blades on cloudy days.
As the years went by Ray found it more difficult to maintain the steady casting hour after hour that the Indianhead Tournament demanded if you wanted to stay competitive. Ray had been fishing the Indianhead with his nephew, Jay, who was also ready to step aside. Ray asked me if I would fish the Indianhead tournament with him, leaving Jay out, then the next year I could fish the tournament with my son Dave (One More Cast). Then Dave and I could then carry on the tradition of team 33, Ray’s team number.
Months before the tournament Ray developed a cancer that he was not going to survive. Being unable to fish, he asked me if I would take his place and partner up with Jay. I agreed but I knew it wouldn’t be the same as fishing with my musky mentor. Ray’s health rapidly declined as I busied myself trying to find a pattern that would work for Jay and me in the tournament.
By tournament time Ray was sleeping most of the day in his room at a nursing home in Amery. After the shotgun start on Bone Lake the morning of the first day, Jay and I had a few follows early but didn’t get our hooks in any of the fish. If a 34-inch or larger musky is caught by a team they sound a horn and wave a red flag that is handed out to each boat the morning before the start. One of several ‘judge boats’ will come over and measure the length of the musky. They then call in the measured length with the team number and it’s posted on a leader board at the tournament headquarters.
Late in the afternoon on Sunday of the second day, one of the judge boats located us on the lake and told us that they had a message from the nursing home that Ray’s condition was deteriorating fast. Jay left right away to be with Ray taking with him the red flag with team 33 written on it. He hung it up on the bed in Ray’s room. On Monday I went to visit Ray. Alane had advised me that he was unconscious or sleeping most of the time but he might be able to hear me.
The storyteller in me came out as I sat by Ray’s bed with my hand on his arm and I recounted the whole tournament in detail. Every follow, all the casts, all the hours and where we had fished, even the baits that we used. I even told him about the moment of silence they had for him at the awards banquet following the tournament. Ray hadn’t moved yet or even opened his eyes. Ray had often told me and others a story about a giant musky that he had been trying to catch in Lake Wissota. He had named it “Big George.” I had been trying to catch a big musky in a small local lake and had told Ray about it.
Sitting next to Ray’s bed I said “How about if I call that musky “Big Ray?” His arm moved and he grabbed my hand, his eyes still closed.....alone in the room just me, “The Little Grasshopper,” with his master.
Ray died a few days later. His ashes were scattered in places that Ray had loved including the mountains in Colorado. Alane asked Jay and me if we would take some of Ray’s ashes out on Bone Lake and scatter them in one of his favorite fishing spots which we did.
Now when I’m out fishing and nothing seems to be working I think ……..“Talk to me, Ray.”
Back to top
© 2012 OutdoorsWeekly.com