by Dennis Dalman
Anglers become green with envy when they hear about the magnificent lunkers Stephan Scepaniak landed in his years of fishing, mainly on Lake Mille Lacs but also elsewhere.
In the past couple decades, he’s caught more than 129 northern pike, all exceeding 20 pounds, and he’s reeled in at least 1,000 muskies, all more than 45-inches long.
As a guest of the Sartell Senior Connection, this master fisherman will give a free talk – open to all residents of any age – at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 16 at the District Service Center in Sartell (the old school building). Its address is 212 3rd Ave. N., near the DeZurik valve plant.
If Scepaniak includes catches made by his clients, the number of muskies and pike increases to many thousands.
What sounds like a fisherman’s fantasy is a fact, and Scepaniak has photos and documentation to prove it.
Scepaniak is the owner of Predator Guide Service of Mille Lacs. He’s been a passionate angler and fishing guide for 30 years on that vast lake, where he lives for six months out of every year. He and his wife, Christine, spend the other six months in Waite Park, where he grew up. Scepaniak was the first muskie guide on Lake Mille Lacs, and he is respected widely as being one of the best guides in the business. He has been featured twice in Field and Stream and once in Outdoor Life. His clients come from as far away as France and China, Russia and Poland, as well as every state in the nation.
Successful fishing, as Scepaniak well knows, is a mixture of luck and skill – but mainly a lifetime of knowledge and acquired skills. And he is more than willing to share a knowledge of those skills with others – thus, his guide work.
“I’d rather be lucky than good (at fishing skills),” Scepaniak said in an interview with the Newsleader. “You can know all the stuff you want, but that still doesn’t make the fish bite. Really, only the good Lord can make those fish bite.”
Still, knowledge and know-how are big helps, he added. It helps to know, on any given day, the barometric pressure, weather patterns and weather fronts moving in. All affect fishes’ inclination to feed. Even the phases of the moon will affect fish, he added. Familiarity with the lake is, of course, a prerequisite.
What about bait?
“It’s like a cheap date,” he said, grinning. “I use whatever works. Bait depends on the season, mainly.”
Seasonal factors are also very important as fish live in different places in the lake in different seasons.
“Just last spring, on fishing opener, we caught big muskies in two to three feet of water on Mille Lacs,” he said. “That was spring. Later, the fish move to other parts of the lake.”
Scepaniak, unlike some anglers, has not developed any good-luck charm superstitions, such as wearing one particular item of clothing or a certain color of socks when fishing. He does, however, always avoid wearing bright colors, donning neutral or earth-tone colors of clothing. Fish, he said, can definitely see up through the water at people sitting or standing in a boat.
“Muskies will stare right at you,” he said.
Scepaniak vividly remembers how a giant muskie’s stare caused one of his fishing clients to faint dead away, literally, flat down to the bottom of a boat. It happened during a fall day on Mille Lacs. The client was instantly stunned, as if he’d just come face-to-face with Jaws or a slightly smaller version of Moby Dick.
“That guy took one look at that fish and then keeled over,” Scepaniak recalled. “We thought he had a heart attack. The muskie was at least 63 inches long. That fish followed the lure right to the boat. The guy had never seen a fish that big, and he fainted just like that.
Fishing to Scepaniak is practically a genetic inheritance – a happy one. He still clearly remembers the first fish he caught when he was a tyke, fishing on Pelican Lake near Avon with his father, Leo.
“I caught a sunfish, and I remember how fun it was,” he said.
Scepaniak was hooked.
That sense of fun he later passed on to his own family. His wife loves to fish; so do their three children, now grown and successful.
“All of them grew up fishing since they were 2 years old,” he said. “They were walking in the woods with me since they were 3.”
For years, Scepaniak’s clients, their children and grandchildren have also caught the fishing bug, and they become excited every season, still, dreaming about that prized elusive lunker they just might catch.