Mar 12, 2019

Me and Frenchy

By Jim Pat Patterson 

Frenchy, whose real name was Verlin, was born and raised in the Eau Claire area. He served in the U/S. Air Force in WWII, obtained a college degree, became a biology teacher, eventually got a job with the Oshkosh High school and somewhere along the line he got “hooked” on Musky fishing. To say that he became obsessed with Musky fishing would be putting it mildly. When he finally got married it was amusingly bantered about, among the faculty at Oshkosh High, that he had an “item” in the marriage contact that would allow him a number of days each summer for him to go to the Chippewa Flowage to fish for Muskies. Be that as it may, he did fish the “Big Chip” lots and lots of days every summer, after he was married. Many people have many stores about Frenchy, even some books and tapes are out there with anecdotes about his fishing exploits and his time spent fishing Musky on the “flowage”.

Frenchy’s enthusiasm for fishing the Musky carried over in his relationships with his friends and acquaintances and it became his trademark, really, that he was always inviting people to “come up to the Flowage and go fishing with me. You can bunk with me in my trailer if you would like”. And so it was that numerous fellow teachers and friends went fishing with Frenchy and I was one of those lucky individuals.

My first trip was a real learning experience. I stayed with Frenchy in his trailer which was right next to the boat launch at Hermans Landing. Now, if you have ever spent time just idly observing the goings on as guys and gals attempt and sometimes succeed at launching their boat you know how it can be very entertaining. For instance, on a Sunday morning Frenchy and I were idly getting ready to go on the water and we heard a lot of commotion at the landing. Cussing, hollering and two elderly fellows each ‘instructing’ the other on the best method of getting their boat in the water. Well, one fellow was on the winch and the other guy was pushing on the boat and as it turned out the winch handle wasn’t in the notch and when that boat started sliding off of the trailer that handle started whirling, click, click, click and it whacked that one old fellow right up side of his head. We were thinking the old boy would be knocked out sure but he just shook his head and started cussing out his partner who replied, “you ok you old hard headed Norwegian?” And then get this. They headed out to fish and within thirty minutes they are back at the boat launch and they have a thirty pound Musky. Verified on the scale at Hermans Landing. “Caught it just off of Pine Island” they said.

When Frenchy took a friend Musky fishing he very much wanted you to catch a fish. He did all the rowing, he took you to all the “likely spots”, he told you where to cast the bait and to “never, never” take your eyes off of the bait. In my case he lent me one of his rods and reels, tried to teach me how to cast and was always telling me to “stop watching the Eagles.” After fishing for about three days and me having “missed” on several small Musky strikes and being sunburned I finally gagged one.

It happened like this. We stopped at the Indian Trail Resort for a pop and a candy bar. One of Frenchy’s friends, who was vacationing there at the time, said “how about I go out with you guys”, and the Frenchman said, “sure come along”. So I’m in the middle seat (I never liked the middle seat) and we motor a little ways from the dock to a little boy and I’m casting away and wham! a Musky whacks my lure. It’s a little one but its legal and I’m playing it and reeling it in and Frenchy gets his gun out. His friend, Walt, says, “you’re not going to shoot that fish are you”, and Frenchy says “damned right I am. We’ve been fishing for days and this is the first one he’s got to the boat”. Well, I didn’t mind because I had me a Musky to take home and a picture to boot showing me and my trophy. We motored back to the resort and they weighed it and measured it and then put it in the freezer for me because in those days we ate Muskies wrapped with bacon, put in the oven, potatoe salad, cole slaw, beer, and friends. It was great. 

There were many times I fished with Frenchy. I even bought my own rod and reel and I caught quite a few Muskies. There was a time when Frenchy would see me arriving and if there were friends near by he would holler “here comes luckass, fishing going to get good now”.

Now let me tell you the story of how we got a “big one”. There were three of us in Frenchy’s boat, August 24, 1965, the Big Chip, on the East Cranberry. But, a little back ground first. There was Karl who most who knew him, was usually referred to as Ky. Ky was quite a fellow, older than Frenchy and much older than I and he was not disinclined to inform us that because he was more experienced with life, he knew more than we did, even when it came to Musky fishing, and even though he had never caught a Musky. But, it was all in jest and it kept the boat lively. So, as a result of him being “all knowing” he only used “spinner baits”, such as the Bucktail, and he had to sit in the front of the boat because he couldn’t cast “overhead” and he had to have room to make his sidearm casts – in every which way and direction, I might add. Therefore, of course, I was assigned the middle seat where the only cast allowable is the “overhead” cast, obviously.

Ky also had a nervous affliction which affected his right hand and watching him trying to light up a cigarette was sometimes very entertaining. So all in all Ky was a very entertaining and interesting friend.

Now, when it comes to watching someone trying to light a cigarette you had to be in the boat with Frenchy when he #1) had a musky following his bait #2) when he had one hooked (even a 16”) #3) and when he landed a nice 30” #4)and then there is the “big one” that gets away. He would then sit back in his seat, reach for his cigs and try to light one up. The sight was almost as much fun as watching Ky light one up. However, you have to keep in mind that Frenchy was “always” expecting the “World Record” to hit his lure, so that helps make his shakes a little more understandable.

So, now, back to the Cranberries, Frenchy was rowing us thru a canal type opening which had had rather shallow opening reaching back into the weeds, a real honey hole looking kind of spots. The entire width of the canal could not have been more than say, 40 feet and we were only casting to one side of the boat so the reach of our casts were pretty much only 30 feet or so. While Ky was throwing his Bucktail out to the front of the boat, I was plopping my Yellow Globe into the pockets on the left side of the boat. I was plop, plopping along, hitting each little inlet and reeling in slow-like and looking ahead for the next cast I would make. I picked a nice looking spot but at the same time I felt I had missed a good one and thought “I’ll come back for that cast after I finish this one. Well – Frenchy had felt that I had missed laying that Globe into a real nice spot and I noticed out of the side of my eye that Frenchy had put the oars down and had picked up his rod and I’m thinking, “darn, I should not have let that spot get by me,” because Frenchy saw it and now he is going to lay one in there, which he did, of course, and there the fun began.

The Musky seemed to immediately and quietly rise up behind the bait as soon as the lure landed. I had not cast again and was watching Frenchy’s bait and I immediately saw that big head and those eyes right behind that lure, its nose almost touching  the  bait. Frenchy hollered “here he is” and began trying to get this fish to take the Globe. It wouldn’t, but it stayed right on the bait no more than a couple of inches away from it. Frenchy was  trying to slow down the bait with a slower retrieve which didn’t work, then he tried to speed up the retrieve a little bit but he couldn’t crank in too much because he was running out of water. He then tried flopping the bait sideways, also to no avail. Now, it’s “crunch time”. There is hardly 5 feet of line out from the end of his rod and thenthe Musky gobbled that bait and I mean gobbled. It was not going to let loose of that bait no matter what. Back and forth he and Frenchy went, to the front of the boat then to the back of boat splashing water all over us. The musky is not giving up and Frenchy is working hard to bring it in, and getting nowhere. Finally Frenchy hollers at me, “get the gun” and “shoot it”. So, I get up off of my middle seat and attempt to get around Frenchy and get to his garbage can where he kept his revolver. In the process I get tangled up in and with his bait pail, with all his baits hanging along the side of it, and I manage to get several baits hooked to my pants leg. All the while Frenchy is fighting the musky and hollering get the “god dam gun”. I am finally able to reach into the garbage can and find the gun, then try to climb back over Frenchys seat so I can then get a shot at the Musky. I’m a hunter and I shoot guns pretty good but this Musky is thrashing around like crazy and throwing its head back and forth, back and forth. I finally figure I can get a bullet into this fish and pull the trigger. Miss! Frenchy hollers ‘give the gun to Ky”. Now, if you’ll recall, Ky is the guy with the shaky hand and has a hard time lighting a cigarette. I hand the gun to Ky, he points it in the general direction of the Musky and pulls the trigger. Bulls eye! He put that bullet right thru that Musky’s head. I couldn’t believe it. Ky couldn’t either but he’s got a big smile on his face-and then says, “pretty good shot, eh”. Well, Frenchy is all freaked out and trying to catch his breath and then we all light up a cig, or at least try to, and then we sit back and admire this great fish in our boat.

By now we have an audience, people motoring over to see the fish as they had heard and seen all kinds of commotion coming from our direction. Then after a few minutes of oohs and aahs and a few of those questions that fishermen are prone to ask, like “whadya catch em on?”, “what you think he weighs?”, “you gonna mount it?”, Ky speaks up and says, “ok you guys, get the hell outa here. We got fishing to do”. As the admirers motor off we sit in silence for awhile, then Frenchy fires up the engine and we go and fish a couple more spots and then we head for the “Little Red Bar”. Frenchy says “let’s have my friends have a good look at this fish”. So, that’s what we did. The siren went off, the bell got rung, the folks in the cottage came running, the fish got hung, we all had some beers and cigarettes, (Frenchy was still having trouble lighting his), pictures were taken, Frenchy told his story, and then after awhile we headed for Hermans Landing. The Musky weighed 32lbs. These were good times, good times.