Eric Workman was one of the top musky fisherman in the state. Musky fishing is addictive I have learned. It's an indescribable adrenaline rush that leaves your knees buckling when you see the wake of the musky chasing your fly, not to mention your heartbeat racing while holding the toothy predator. Eric was addicted to catching musky. Many say it's the fish of 10,000 casts, but it was almost if Eric laughed at that figure... decreasing the ratio to just hundreds probably. Zach Adkins told me that Eric came to the point of not fishing for any other species (other than steelhead runs in the fall).
....Yeah, I was discouraged. It was around a few months back in July that I remember talking to Eric last. Zach was driving and I was texting Eric on the way home about my frustrations. He explained to me it isn't easy trying to catch one on a fly and I can easily wear myself out doing so. I asked "Eric, should I just put the fly rod down and try to catch one on the baitcaster?" Of course he said yes and that Zach would take care of me with the gear and what to do. So I kept trying... and nothing. I just kept raising more musky but they wouldn't take the lure. I even tried fly fishing for them again and no luck. The day that it was announced Eric would rest with God, my boss told me "Get your ass out of the office and make him proud." I went to the stream and had an amazing day moving five different muskies, one of them was a baby and struck my spinner, but he missed, and I also fought a pretty big musky that of course got off the hook. I was jumping up and down in excitement yet full of frustration as I was so close to catching one. I knew Eric was looking down, entertaining me and probably laughing at me at this point, calling me a rookie!
A few weeks later, Curtis Fleming (host of Fly Rod Chronicles) called the WVAngler guys and friends wanting to dedicate a show in honor of Eric's life. Everything came together smoothly and I had a good feeling about it. So many people contributed to the weekend filming. Graceland at D&E provided lodging for the crew and Eric's family, Texas Roadhouse provided amazing dinners, and top 20 billboard country artists "Taylor Made" provided the entertainment. It was an amazing weekend to say the least. All we needed was musky to be caught on film in honor of Eric. If there was going to be a time to catch my first musky, this was it.
Wednesday evening, Nathan Rees and I took his drift boat out and basically did a warm-up session. Nate is the man when it comes to musky on the fly. I consider he and Craig Miller to be the godfathers of casting flies for toothies in West Virginia. After getting some tips and fine tuning what I had already learned over the past year, we called it a night and headed out the next day with the camera ready. We took turns casting and rowing, enjoying the great weather and sharing memories of Eric. I came upon a log jam that just looked "musky-ish"... I had a perfect cast, the giant meaty fly sunk low and I began stripping the line violently back in. As there were logs everywhere I was trying to watch for any type of movement to dart out. "Musky... Musky.... Nate.... Musky...." One came out of the depths and then it froze. Nate questioned me if it really was a musky. I second guessed myself because it had been a slow day thinking maybe it is just a log and "am I seeing something??" So I gave the fly line a fierce rip and then saw the musky quickly follow...
"MUSKY! MUSKY! MUSKY!" Nate finally saw what I had and we went spastic. I stripped the line in so fast, my fly was at the boat right next to the oars. At this point I didn't even flinch and I ripped the fly out of the water. Nate screamed "NOOOO!!!!" ...as I probably should have kept the fly in the water and started to figure 8. The only explanation I could think of why I did that was early in the summer, Zach and I crept up on a musky "sunning" in the open water. He said "Paine, cast that fly right on top of the musky." I followed "Seriously?? I don't want to spook it man!" He said "trust me...." Well, he was right and that musky immediately tuned in and followed the fly. So that's exactly what I did all in one motion. When I stripped the fly to the boat and saw the ore, I ripped the fly up and slapped it as hard as I could back in the water in a split second. After one giant strip of the fly line, the "baby bass fly" darted and the musky INHALED it!!!!! It was unreal!! The beast started thrashing on top of the water and this time I wasn't about to put that baby on the reel! Nate netted the fish within secondas and the celebration began. I think everyone within a mile radius could hear me. "I DID IT!!!! I CAUGHT A MUSKY!! THIS ONE IS FOR YOU ERIC!!" I think Nate was just as ecstatic as I was. We were both shaking and my knees were buckling holding this 40" fish up for photos.
The next day Zach and I headed out in his John boat and it was unreal. We both hooked into musky and lost them on the fly within 45 minutes of fishing. By the end of the day, we moved a total of 13 muskies! Zach ended up catching one on a crankbait as we hit some deeper water. That's what Eric would have wanted him to do anyways rather than continue to wear ourselves out casting flies that weren't getting down enough. The next day we floated along side to Nathan and Zach "Woolybugger" Pittman. It was a colder, rainy day and we didn't even move a fish. However, Nathan finally got one to take in the afternoon and was able to get the action on film.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
Thanks to everyone involved for making last weekend a success and celebrating the life of Eric Workman. For those interested, the show is projected to appear in late January on the Outdoor Channel.
Jonathan "Brookie" Paine