Not many people can say they flat-out needed to catch a muskellunge.
Wanted to? Definitely. Longed to? Sure. But Bill Looney insists he really, really needed to catch the muskie he landed earlier this month.
The past year had been a rough one for Looney, a muskie-lure maker from the little Roane County town of Amma. A problem with a thyroid medication sent his blood pressure skyrocketing and caused him to lose 19 pounds in just six days. His car got rear-ended, and the impact put him in a back brace for a while.
Worst, though, was when he rolled a four-wheeler over and got pinned under it. The accident injured a shoulder and caused a deep pressure sore near one of his ankles.
The pressure sore lingered for weeks and weeks; Looney said it didn’t fully heal until December. His shoulder is better, but still not as strong as he’d like it to be.
All those injuries and health problems kept the 75-year-old from fishing his beloved Elk River, something he’d done religiously for decades. He longed for the day he could take his boat and get back on the water.
The opportunity finally came on Jan. 14. Looney had an appointment with one of his doctors that morning, and didn’t get back home until close to 11 a.m.
“I usually like to get out early, but on that day I couldn’t,” he recalled. “I thought about staying at home, but there was a storm front coming in, and the Elk was at just the right flow. I decided I had to get out there.”
He drove upriver and launched his boat at one of his favorite places.
“I did a lot of casting,” he said. “The water was cold, and I figured the muskies were holding deep. They do that in wintertime.”
Looney said his deep-diving Amma Bama lure got hung up two or three times, so he employed a different tactic.
“I cast the lure downstream at an angle and let it swing across the current,” he said. “It’s a deadly technique, but it isn’t one that produces a lot of bites. If you get three bites in a day like that, you’re doing pretty good.”
As it turned out, one bite was enough to do the trick. On one of his retrieves, the lure stopped. Looney set the hook and quickly realized he had a big one on the line.
“I didn’t put much pressure on her, though,” he said. “I made sure I got a good hookset and then just let her have her head.”
Even on the heavy tackle Looney uses, it took about five minutes for the muskie to tire out enough to bring to net.
“I got her close the first time, but when she got to the net, she went the other way,” he said. “The next time around, I got her into the net.”
With the fish safely in the net, Looney eased his boat into a nearby eddy and got a couple of photos.
“I have a cell phone holder on the end of my boat,” he said. “I started the cell-phone camera recording, unhooked the fish and held it up for the camera.”
The fish, a heavy-bodied female, measured 48 inches. As he examined the fish, he realized he’d caught her before.
“I recognized her because she had a scar where she’d been tagged,” he said. “I’d caught her two years before in pretty much the same spot. She was 48 inches when I caught her the first time. In two years, she’d grown about an inch, but she’d put on a lot of weight.”
Looney didn’t weigh the fish, but he estimated she weighed more than 30 pounds.
“With my weak shoulder, I could hardly hold her up,” he said. “I’ve caught longer fish from the Elk, up to 50 ½ inches. But none of them were as heavy as this one.”
As always, he released the muskie back into the Elk so he or someone else could catch it again.
“This was a special fish,” he said. “And it came at a time when I really needed it.”