When it comes to Tony Rizzo and musky fishing, the numbers don’t lie.
In more than 40 years as a northern Wisconsin fishing guide, he has boated more than 1,000 muskies, including 65 trophies. He has also guided his clients to more than 3,000 muskies and has logged more than 37,000 hours in a boat.
Rizzo shared plenty of stories March 15 in New London at Musky Magic, a fundraiser for Mosquito Hill Nature Center.
The author of seven books on musky fishing, he recalled a late September fishing trip to western Ontario, Canada.
“I talked to the pilot and I said, ‘Have you had any frost this year yet?'” he said. “‘No, Tony. No frost.’ I said, ‘Have the nights been cold?’ ‘No, they’ve been in the 60s.’ We flew in, we get out of the plane, I go to stick my hand in the water. I thought we were in trouble. We got the gear ready and I went into the cabin. I said, ‘Guys, we’re in big trouble.’ ‘Why, Tony? We just got here.’ I said, ‘I just put my hand in the water and it’s 68 degrees.’ I can stick my hand in the water and I know what the temperature is.
“We go fishing and the first night, Rich gets a 22-pound musky,” he added. “Maybe it won’t be too bad after all. We go out the next day and we see big fish, but they were not eating. I said, ‘Guys, these fish think it’s still summer. They’re not feeding yet.’ Three days go by and we see all kinds of big muskies, but can’t get them to hit. It’s the last day of the trip and it’s about 1 o’clock. I said, ‘Guys, this is a baseball game. We’ve had two batters up and they both struck out. The third batter is up and he’s got two strikes. That’s where we’re at.’
“Bill didn’t make five casts, folks,” he said. “He sets the hook and catches the biggest fish ever in my boat, 55 1/2 inches, 47 1/4 pounds. He took it home with him and it just goes to show you that even when it’s bad, it only takes one cast. That’s what happened.”
A meticulous keeper of records, Rizzo documents each fishing trip.
“Folks, I have records of everything I do,” he said. “Weather, water, everything. I keep track.”
He said his accomplishments include placing a musky in the top 10 of the Vilas County Musky Marathon since the tournament began more than 40 years ago.
“That is consistency and that is the name of the game,” he said. “I fished in really bad weather and caught fish. I fished in really good weather and caught fish. My clients always stuck with me because they knew, sooner or later, one of them was going to get a trophy.”
Wisconsin’s musky season begins in late May.
“July and August is a great time for muskies,” Rizzo said. “Any bait will be productive, whether it’s a surface bait, crankbait or diving bait. They’re all good. My key is to July and August is night fishing. With the warm weather, the nights cool off, their metabolism increases and the fish get active. I’ve spent thousands of hours night fishing. I used to go out by myself and I’d get two, three muskies a night. I was always experimenting.
“I would go out with these really bright lights, searching for walleyes and muskies,” he said. “I was not fishing. I was looking for active fish in the shallows. Night fishing was the key.”
Although musky action heats up in the summer, Rizzo prefers September.
“September was and is my favorite time to go night fishing,” he said. “I cover a lot of water with all kinds of baits and I catch a lot of trophy muskies night fishing in September. You have a much better chance for a real trophy at night.
“I also like to fish early in the morning, so there were times when my wife would never see me,” he said. “I would go out at 5 o’clock in the morning and fish until midnight. I’d say, ‘I have to experiment, I have to do this.'”
He recalled taking a pair of clients fishing several years ago.
“They were fishing for suspended fish,” he said. “At 2 o’clock, they decided they were going to take a break and have a beer. I tried to be nice and I said, ‘Fellas, I have fished these lakes for thousands of hours. Look, you took 20 minutes to drink this beer. Do you know how many casts I can make in 20 minutes?’
“I’m not a nice guy,” he said. “I want my people working. If they’re young, I’m going to be rough on them. I want my people casting all the time because it only takes one cast and you can go from a chump to a champ. You don’t want to take breaks in Rizzo’s boat because he’s going to ride you. I did not produce 3,172 legal muskies by not working my people. I did not produce 330 trophies by not putting pressure on my clients.”