Muskie were once known as the fish of 10,000 casts but with consistent conservation and resource management efforts, it may take more like a thousand casts these days. Growing up on In-Fisherman and Babe Winkelmann on TV, Northern Pike and Walleye fishing a whole other world. The Muskie was the alligator-like granddaddy of these toothy beasts. Years later I learned that there was Muskie fishing close to the St. Louis area, available in both Missouri and Illinois reservoirs.
In this edition of Adventure Finder, we are focusing on Kinkaid Lake. Musky are not indigenous to this lake and were first stocked in 1985. Since their arrival, Muskie numbers and quality have thrived on a solid forage base of spotted suckers and gizzard shad. Fishing guide Scott Donovan of Shawnee Expeditions brings his more than 18 years of experience to bear in locating and catching these big Muskie. We had an chance to catch up with Scott and learn about his story and the many opportunities available at Kinkaid Lake.
1) Tell us your story. How you got into the profession and why you do it?
I was fortunate enough to catch my first musky at the age of six while on a fishing trip to northern Wisconsin with my father. I was scared to death after releasing that fish and can remember asking my dad if there was any Muskie in the lakes we fished for almost two more years. Lets just say that experience was memorable. The northern Wisconsin trips went on for a couple more years, which turned out to be the foundation for my passion of muskie fishing. At D Bar D Resort, it was a regular stop to see the ice chest filled with trophy muskie and walleye, labeled, “biggest of the week”. Those trips happened years ago, but I can still remember the rock where I caught 100 bluegills along with the muskie that destroyed my Castaic bluegill. Years later I heard D Bar D Resort was the location that the Linder brothers came up with the notion of In-Fisherman. Even if it is a fish story, I have no doubt that dreams where made in those magical Northwood’s lakes.
A couple years later I fondly remember my father asking my mother if a trip to Canada was in the books for me. My father had been heading up to Sioux Lookout, Ontario for a couple summer trips before I was asked to go. At age twelve, I had felt like I had become a “man”, as this remote float plane trip into the wilderness of Canada was a trip of a lifetime. My best memories were from Lake Metionga and Seagraves. Two remote lakes that will forever be a place that my dad and I share as trips of a lifetime, once again… These remote trips are full of memories, so deep that my family cherishes every moment. Although these trips did not always include muskie fishing, they laid the foundation for conservation, selective harvest and leave no trace ethics. Well, years later this “trip of a lifetime” is now on trip #26. Trip #27 will be just as magical as the first time the De Havilland lifted its floats slowly off the water and the pilot skimmed the tree lines in dense fog, off to our walleye and pike factory. These waters are renowned for trophy 30” walleye and 50” pike. A true treat for any outpost trip. Fast forward a couple years~ My college career fell some time in between all these trips north. With a passion for the outdoors, I ended up getting a degree in Outdoor Recreation with a focus on Leisure Service Management. It was a perfect fit and I knew that guiding was in my future. It was just some luck that it all worked out so well. As I was enrolled in my first year at Southern Illinois University, I was able to acquire a small john boat for $300. The beat up old boat did not have a motor, so it was a project boat for the summer. I ended up attending boat show at JALC and entered a $5 raffle from Harrison’s Sport Shop in Hurst, IL. Three tickets and fifteen dollars later, I get a call the day later saying I won a 9.9 Yamaha motor and that I could pick it up that day. Well, lets just say I did not make it to school that day, as I showed up at the shop and picked up a brand new shiny grey motor for my old boat. I knew it was a sign that this was meant to be. I now had my first fish slaying machine!
Now I guide out of a vintage ranger 680T. An ole tiller that can sneak into any cove on Kinkaid and catch fish. Eighteen years later I find myself with a booked calendar year after year. Chasing the elusive Muskie and other game fish in Southern Illinois year after year with the best clients a guide could ask for. It is humbling knowing that my education on the water and knowledge allows my clients to have a fishing experience that is truly unique. It has all come full circle and I could not be more grateful.
2) What’s been your favorite experience/fish story you’ve seen first-hand as a guide?
Being a muskie guide has presented some of the most interesting days on the water that anyone could ask for. I’ve heard tall tales about the elusive six foot muskie, the local big muddy monster chasing deer around the shoreline and of course the stories about the “one that got away”. Most trips are not just full of stories though. They are a time to connect to the lake and enjoy the wildlife. Muskie fishing is truly a group of elite anglers. Often crazy enough to spend hours and hours chasing a fish so elusive, some say a fish of 10,000 casts, just to feel that mighty muskie smash a lure and about rip the rod out of your hand. As I get older and truly understand my role as a fishing guide, I try to provide an experience on the water that is far from the norm of the daily routine we call the rat race. Yes, I must provide the opportunity at putting a world class fish in the boat each trip, but I also must provide the solitude and environment where clients can have a true wilderness experience. This being if only for a couple short hours.
Well…you ask what is my favorite time I often reflect on as a guide? The one fishing expedition that pops up in my mind time and time again involves a father & son trip from a couple years ago. It was mid March and we had been on a great pre spawn Muskie bite throwing bass style baits up to the warming spawning flats. A father had called and said he wanted a “bucket list” Muskie trip, as he and his son were interested in a chasing fish with teeth. I asked if he had ever Muskie fished and he replied that he caught some pike at a young age, but he never was able to get up north. For us southern, Mid-West readers, Up North is referring to Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and even Canada. The land of trophy Muskie and thousands of lakes to chose from. The client went on to say that he and his son are really interested in trying to catch a Muskie before…he paused for a short while and then took a deep breath. He explained that this was the last time he was going to fish with his son, as he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had only months left. I did not hesitate to say that it would be a trip of lifetime and that I felt privileged that he had called Shawnee Expeditions to make this dream come true. The day came and we met at the boat ramp, just as the sunrise hit the horizon. They both walked up to the boat with huge smiles and a great positive attitude towards the day. We never spoke about the pre trip conversation, rather just fished the day away and got caught up in chasing some muskies with joyful conversation. The muskies were kind to us that day, as the father did get to catch his first Muskie. It was an emotional experience for all of us, the only problem was the small size. We had hoped he would have caught a 40’+ fish, as that was his lifetime goal. Still, we cheered for hours, as we kept casting till nightfall. As the father was taking another frequent break to empty his colostomy bag and to sit down for a break, the son kept casting away. I had looked away for just a second when the son said, “Big one!!!” I looked over my shoulder to see his rod double over and his father jumping to his feet. With the rod doubled over, the mighty Muskie put on a show of strength for what felt like hours. I had the net ready to go and the fish came up boat side. We got a lucky with a perfect net job. Finally!!!! A huge 45.5” Muskie for the father/son team that booked us to make sure the mission was accomplished. I remember that experience like it happened yesterday. The son was crying, saying sorry to his father. I remember the son saying that was his fathers fish and he should not have caught it. In the at moment, his father looked to both of us and said, “I know I said my dream was to catch a Muskie, which came true, but my true wish was to see my son catch a fish of a lifetime”. We all stayed silent as the fish swam back into the depths she came from. They hugged and embraced for a short time. It was a trip I will never forget.
3) What are the fishing opportunities where you guide? When are the best times to catch Muskie/hire you?
Shawnee Expeditions lead guide, Scott Donovan, has been learning the local waters of Southern Illinois for over 18 years. Lake Kinkaid serves as the main body of water for guide trips, but there are also expeditions to Pyramid State Park. Since Lake Kinkaid is located in the southern Muskie range, the water temperature can often be over 80 degrees. Shawnee Expeditions does not guide once the surface temps reach 80 degrees. With that said, we still have an extended season as we start in the end of September and stop around the first week of June.
The famous early season, pre-spawn bite provides a chance at a true state record fish. Just this past spring, a local angler caught a 4.9 oz Crappie, while another angler caught a 49.5” muskie. These southern systems provide a chance at world class fish, while most systems are frozen over or have a closed season. When clients do ask what our favorite time of year is on Lake Kinkaid, we often say it is hard to beat May and early October. March can be fun too, but stable fishing as the lake warms up in the spring along with the big cool down come fall, allows for some of the biggest fish of the year to be caught.
Shawnee Expedition is a multi-species outfit, but Walleye, Crappie and Muskie are the main focus.
If you are looking for a place to stay overnight as part of your fishing trip, here are a couple of solid options in Carbondale which is about 10 minutes away to get you started.
1) The Best Western Saluki Inn is a great value, ranked #1 of 10 available in Carbondale by TripAdvisor.com.
2) Hampton Inn is also a great accommodation available. Rated #2 on Trip Advisor and reasonably priced, it's another great choice to consider.
If you have any questions or inquiries, please feel free to check out www.Shawneeguides.com on Facebook @ShawneeExpeditions
or can be reached via phone at 618-201-5820.