It’s been said that to look deep into the eyes of a muskellunge is to see anger and despair. It’s to see the solitude of a lonely prowler wandering the murky depths as a rogue hunter, ever chasing its prey. Since my childhood, I’ve wanted to feel that stare—see eye to eye with the hunter of the deep as an equal. I want to face him or her, having conquered them with my hunting and fishing skills and a simple rod and reel. I’ve wanted to see what so few see. I’ve wanted to hunt the hunter.

But hunters are crafty…


Two years ago I set out to catch (and release) one giant musky that lives merely a mile from my doorstep. She’s my neighbor (the roaming and daunting hunter of the deep). Each morning I wake, and I see her humble abode…an underwater rock shelf in plain view from my front porch. Dozens of bass fisherman have been robbed of their baits by her fierce jaws and brutal strength. Once she takes their bait, it and all their line are hers. Few have seen her, and few have ever turned her head with their rod and reel. She’s one big, bad girl…my Pearl. My Pearl of the Dale.

It’s even been rumored that she might be the next lake record, this giant green T-Rex of a fish.


And I want to catch her. Little old me. I want to see her—face to face.

So, like most of my ventures, I enlisted the help of all I knew to increase my chances of success. After all, it is said that it takes a thousand casts to catch a Muskie. Every bit of help I could muster would benefit my chances greatly.


First, I enlisted the help of locally famous Muskie fisherman, E. C. Reagan. He generously gave me lures and took me to places he’d caught them for years. I said, “But that place there is where I want to fish. I know she lives there. I want HER.” E. C. and I fished many hours for that old rascally gal to no avail. E. C. still offers hope and inspiration. He’s a kind man and a true friend.


I then enlisted the help of National Fresh Water Hall of Fame fisherman, Fred McClintock. He too gave me lures, and as a Christmas present…his Muskie net. Ever see a Muskie net? I could dip up my bass boat with this thing. It’s a prize possession of mine. Fred wrote out elaborate instructions for trolling properly for the capture of my great Dale Hollow beast. His generosity has been wonderful.


And yet, that hunter has out-foxed me. I still troll. I still hunt. I still roll over in the night, just picturing that solemn stare that I’ve come to know as Pearl. I want to meet my Pearl of the Dale.


Then, one day, a strange thing happened. It was March 7th, 2010. I was on the clock that day working at the marina. I kept noticing a large boat trolling over near my neighbor Muskie’s house. Who’s knockin’ on Pearl’s door? Hummm….


I pressed on with my work and forgot about that single boat trying to catch that fish that no one can catch. I wasn’t worried. Ain’t nobody gonna catch my girl …. or so I thought.


The next day at noon I got the call. It was a friend of Fred’s…a guide out of Nashville. It was David Clark, an avid fisherman and guide for many species of fish here in the Dale. His trolling efforts for Trout, Walleye, Smallmouth, and all sorts of fish has been quite a story of its own here in my native waters.


His words shook me. “I caught a 49 inch Muskie in Irons Creek yesterday.”

Dang. My fish. MY GIRL! I cringed. I whimpered as I said it. “I’ll bet she was beautiful.”


“I didn’t weigh her, but she might have been a lake record.”


After a few pictures, David and his friend, Will Renfro, released my big green sweetheart back where they caught her. (THANK YOU!) They watched her swim back down to her solitary home in the deep on their sonar. Awesome. I’d have given almost anything to have seen her up close…and then watch her swim away again.


But she’s home now.


David and I discussed the many Muskies caught over the years in this lake that covers two states and many counties. I’m one of the few keeping up with lake records of fish on Dale Hollow. TWRA is keeping state records, but no one monitors lake records. In terms of length, (my sweetheart), she isn’t quite a lake record, but giving the heavy belly this fish sported, it was at least a possibility. (See more lake record information at www.DaleHollowGravedigger.com) David and I scheduled a future fishing trip so we could get to know one another. I had to meet the hunter that caught my favorite saber-toothed monster off my doorstep.


A day or two later, I got the pictures. What a monster of a fish! I still like to consider that fish as mine, but it’s David’s catch. It’s his glory. And I commend him. That is one magnificent fish. And I must say…I see that creepy solitude in those dark eyes. I wish her well…my monster…my sweetheart.


And who knows? Maybe next year she’ll measure up as the lake record—when I see her face to face, myself. I’ll measure her, weigh her, and like my friend David…send her back home—as all neighborly folk do.


And maybe someday I’ll meet her sons and daughters, too. DS ~

Pearl of the Dale — A Muskie Story

Solitary Hunter of the Deep

Darren Shell

Muskie

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