The right places at the right time

Sometimes the secret to fishing is as simple as being in the right place at the right time. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Ed Barbosa. Barbosa holds the distinction of landing the biggest Muskellunge in the world using 45-pound test line. The mammoth fish weighed 61-pounds and was an inch-and-a-half shy of measuring 5-feet in length. The bruiser also sported a 29-inch girth. Barbosa nabbed the record book fish in the Ottawa River nine years ago this month and after carefully measuring it, he set it free. Chances are Barbosa’s muskie now weighs in excess of 70-pounds, which would make it the all-time world record catch.
But that gargantuan Muskie is only one part of Ed Barbosa’s remarkable big fish saga. The Meaford, Ontario native also landed the largest tiger muskie … the natural cross between a northern pike and muskellunge … ever caught in Ontario. The uniquely striped Moon River fish measured 49-inches long, 20-inches around the waist and weighed 27-pounds.
If you are starting to get the idea Barbosa and big muskies have a kinship of sorts you’re right. He has caught five giants in the last decade that have measured more than 55-inches in length. And get this: he was the first person to stumble on the scene when Ken O’Brien landed his all-time world record 65-pound muskie … also a Georgian Bay goliath. So what is Barbosa’s big fish secret?
“Be in the right place at the right time,” he told me recently, as we plugged away for big toothy critters. “In fact, in O’Brien’s case, he didn’t even know what kind of fish he had caught or the significance of it. He was trolling a little number 4 floating Rapala for walleye at the time and he was using spinning gear. He didn’t even have a leader attached to the line. The reason he was able to land the big fish was because it only had three teeth. I think the muskie was gumming his bait.”
To make the story even more implausible, unbeknownst to O’Brien at the time, he was fishing in the same area of Georgian Bay where a Muskies Canada tournament was underway. So here were all these well-equipped anglers trolling and casting specialized heavy-duty tackle catching nothing, and the neophyte O’Brien nabs the world record.
“He was in the right place at the right time,” remarked Barbosa, who then added as an afterthought, “Only he was the wrong guy.”
Does Barbosa think that a muskie even bigger than O’Brien’s world record still prowls Ontario’s waters?
“I have to,” he chuckles. “But realistically, I think the potential exists only in a few waters. Eagle Lake, Lake of the Woods and Lac Seul are three waterbodies up in your neck of the woods. And the Ottawa River, St. Lawrence River and Georgian Bay are the best bets where I live. Still, everywhere I travel it seems there are more and more cottages. More shoreline houses and development. More boats and fishing pressure. If I was forced to name the two spots where I think a world record fish will be caught, it would be the Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence River. They don’t freeze in the winter. They’re both big and wide and they have plenty of bait fish and forage. And the muskies have the right genetics. There seems to be a real resurgence these days of 60-inch fish coming from the St. Lawrence.”
If those are the right places, what does Barbosa think is the right bait?
“Whatever is working at the time,” he laughs. “It is funny, but in 1994 I caught a dozen giant muskies, and lost four others, over a three day period fishing on the Ottawa River using a homemade lure. The next year I couldn’t buy a fish on the same bait. No matter what your favourite species of fish might be, you need to use a variety of lures often enough to produce what become your favourites. But then you can’t become wedded to them. Conditions change and the fish often become accustomed to seeing the same lures thrown at them all the time. Eventually they loose their lustre.”
Surely, the secret to catching big fish can’t be condensed into such a simple and basic philosophy. Or can it? Lest you think the ever-pleasant Barbosa is a one species wonder, be reminded that he recently landed a 23-pound steelhead during the huge, summer long, Toronto Star sponsored Great Salmon Hunt on Lake Ontario. He would have won with the fish if he hadn’t been trolling at the time from the official press boat. And a month after he landed his line class world record muskie, he accomplished a rare grand slam in Venezuela, catching a blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish all in the same day. “I immediately went out and bought a lottery ticket,” he chuckles.
Solunar tables, underwater cameras, Global Positioning Systems and high tech boats, motors and fishing tackle aside, do you get the feeling Barbosa might be on to something?

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