Rowing For Muskie

by Zac Schultz
| November 10, 2016

Wisconsin Public Television

For Jim Olson, there's nothing more peaceful than rowing around Crab Lake in his 14-foot boat, trailing three fishing lines in the water behind him. He just hopes it doesn't stay that way.  “You hope it doesn't stay quiet all the time. You hope there gets to be a commotion.”

Jim Olson is a muskie fisherman, and that requires a lot of patience. “You gotta be stubborn and bull headed. It doesn't really make any sense to fish for muskies. Somehow you can't get it out of your blood.”

Jim Olson can pinpoint the exact moment it happened. “I was ten years old. Back in 1949 with my first muskie. 33 inches. And that one caused me to become a muskie fisherman for life.”

Jim's father Paul introduced him to Muskie fishing. “He kept telling me, ‘The only fish to fish for.’"

Jim Olson has a different interpretation. “I keep saying it's child abuse to teach a kid how to fish for muskies and then have some success.”

Despite catching his first muskie at age 10, Jim was not a natural. “After I caught my first one it was seventeen years before I caught my second one. So I am persistent.”

Jim Olson and his wife Judy raised a family in Madison, but muskies were always on his mind. “When we wanted to buy a place up north I wanted it to be on a musky lake.” They eventually landed on Crab Lake, a quiet lake filled with back bays and islands.

He was still casting for muskies then, and caught maybe one a year. Then a friend convinced him to try row trolling. “I wasn't having much luck casting for them, maybe I'd try this.”

He built this boat himself in 1997, and took it out for the first time on 4th of July weekend. “I caught two muskies that night. I don't think I caught two in a year, and I caught two right out here in the bay. One was 42 inches.”

The fish haven't stopped hitting since then. “I've caught a lot of muskies. I've had a lot of stories, most of them true.”

Jim Olson himself has taken credit for 75 muskies, but dozens more have been caught with him at the oars, and someone else reeling in the fish. “If it's a grandkid out they always get the fish.”

That's right, despite his claim that teaching a kid how to catch muskies is child abuse, all of his grandkids have reeled one in. “They want their picture on the board.”

Right in the middle of those photos is one of Paul Olson's first muskie. “That was in 1942. Caught that up in the Chippewa Flowage, and that of course made him a Muskie fisherman for life.”

Jim Olson can't help but think of his dad every day. He even named the boat after him. “The reason I call it ‘The Hopper’ is because that's what our oldest daughter called my dad. It was ‘Papa’ but she had trouble with her h's so she kept calling him ‘Hoppa.’ So I call it ‘The Hopper.’ He passed away before I got into this. I think he would have enjoyed this success.”

Jim Olson says it's easier to row than it is to cast, so he sees no end to his lifelong pursuit of muskie. “I can row for quite a while, even at 77 I think I can go for a while longer. I can't imagine a time where I won't be doing it.”

Tags: muskie / Jim Olson / fishing / Crab Lake / boating / patience

Zac Schultz is a reporter for the "Wisconsin Life" project who thinks three-minute stories and one-line bio descriptions are woefully brief.