WABUNO CHANNEL—It started off as a holiday weekend like any other for the Marshall family—one spent frolicking in the late summer sun, splashing and swimming in the North Channel’s pristine waters—that is, until the attack.
Leslie Ryan-Marshall, a mother of two who hails from White’s Point, spent the Sunday of Labour Day weekend with her husband, two children, her mother, brother and his children boating the North Channel’s Wabuno Channel, specifically near the Little Wabuno where the family boat was anchored for some fun in the sun.
Ms. Ryan-Marshall explained that a ledge divides the Little Wabuno from the Wabuno Channel, marking a drop-off into deep waters and it was here that the Manitoulin Secondary School guidance counsellor broke away from her family for a little exercise in the form of the front crawl.
While swimming the ledge, “I felt a grab on my left calf and at first I thought it was my husband or my daughter, playing a trick on me. It was like someone grabbing me with their nails,” she explained. “It startled me and when I turned around to look, nobody popped up out of the water.”
“I swam as fast as I could to the shore with little screams in between,” Ms. Ryan-Marshall admitted, realizing what it probably was. “I had just finished telling my little eight-year-old niece that there was no way a fish could bite so I was careful not to say what had happened.” When her family realized something wasn’t right, she told them she had skinned her leg on a rock, not letting on what had really happened—her leg had been sampled as a tasty treat by a hungry muskellunge (muskie).
“Jessica figured it out,” she said of her clever daughter’s on-shore examination of her bite-marked calf.
Not one to let it bother her, Ms. Ryan-Marshall swam the next day from her home, albeit a little nervously, this emotion prompted in part by a gag leg grab from daughter Jessica. “She won’t be doing that again,” Ms. Ryan-Marshall chuckled.
No emergency room visits were necessary, she said. “If I had started frothing at the mouth, then maybe,” she laughed.
Doing a little Internet research, Ms. Ryan-Marshall did learn that winning the lottery is more likely than receiving a bite from a muskie. “I would have rather won the lottery,” she quipped. Her research uncovered the story of a Michigan boy attacked and bitten by a muskie in Vermilion Bay, located between Dryden and Kenora in Northwestern Ontario. When asked if a support group might be started for victims of muskie attacks, she said it was doubtful.
While Ms. Ryan-Marhsall didn’t purchase a lottery ticket the following week, she did luck out in the fishing department, expertly angling an 11.5-pound salmon.
Neighbour Bill Caesar was excited when he learned of Ms. Ryan-Marshall’s encounter, and brought in a massive muskie lure to The Expositor office which he had discovered two years earlier along the shore near where Ms. Ryan-Marshall received her bite—a testament to the muskie fishing in the area. “It’s called ‘The Believer’,” he said of the lure.
“It was probably mine,” (Muskie) Mike Sprack of Manitowaning joked. Mr. Sprack is the foremost muskie fisherman on Manitoulin, and in fact started the Manitowaning restaurant Muskie Widows Tavern.
“It’s a reaction,” he explained of the bite. “They’re opportunistic and will lash out but quickly realize there’s something not quite right.”
While the fisherman said he hasn’t heard of a muskie attack locally, he has seen fishermen have their hands chewed up by an angry fish when the hook is being removed.
“Typically, a big muskie would be in the 50-inch plus range and in that water, 54 inches would be a big fish,” Mr. Sprack continued. “There’s a lot of lore around muskie, that they can grow to be as big as a fisherman’s boat, but a 60-inch fish is a very rare fish.”
When explaining the area Ms. Ryan-Marshall was swimming in, Mr. Sprack said he was familiar with the area and that the ledge would have acted as an ambush point for the fish.
“Anywhere in Georgian Bay, and the North Channel, is considered trophy territory for muskie fishing,” the fisherman continued. “The largest Canadian record muskie was caught in Blackstone Harbour (near the Moon River) at 65 pounds and the angler was Ken O’Brien.”
Judging by the size of the bite mark, Mr. Caesar, an avid angler himself, said he believes the muskie to have weighed between 30 and 40 pounds and would have measured between four to five feet in length.
Mr. Sprack said this size is definitely conceivable considering the area, noting that he helped the Ministry of Natural Resources trap-net a muskie in excess of 50 pounds in the nearby Strawberry Channel in 2000.