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Grandson Carries on a Leblanc tradition

PUBLISHED: August 14, 2003

By Chuck Brockman
Macomb Daily Boating Columnist

This is the first of two parts that is more about the tradition than the catching of muskies and keeping the talent for it in the family.

Last week, Macomb Daily outdoors editor Tom Watts wrote about the fabulous muskie fishing in Lake St. Clair. How right he was. There are many excellent muskie fishermen on the lake and the most famous in years past was Homer LeBlanc.

Grandson Kevin Backus said his first adventure fishing with Grandpa was when he was 2 years old and he caught his first muskie. Of course he doesn''t remember it, and admittedly, LeBlanc had to "help," but it shows the dedication of LeBlanc who lived and breathed catching muskies.

 

Legendary muskie fisherman Homer LeBlanc
seemingly looks up at grandson Kevin Backus
who is carrying on the tradition.


Actually, LeBlanc took his grandson out so many times he burned Backus out and he didn't fish at all for a few seasons. He then realized that he had learned all the finer points that make a superior fisherman from the master ... Captain Backus was back in the game. He obtained his 50 ton Masters Great Lakes license, bought a 27-foot SportsCraft Coastal Fisherman and equipped it to hunt the second-largest fish species in Lake St. Clair. (Only the sturgeon is larger.)

Former Macomb Daily outdoors columnist Butch Sapp, a noted fisherman himself, wrote about the legendary LeBlanc when he was inducted into the National Freshwater Hall of Fame at 83 years of age, after 50 years as a professional fishing guide. He was the only inductee ever from Michigan, and he wasn't done yet. He continued in good health until he was 90, passing away at age 93.

He invented the popular Swimm Whizz plug and Swimm Zag spoon, making the lures that caught more fish. "Never throw anything away," he said. "Make a lure out of it." Probably his most famous saying was, "Think like a muskie."

The wily Muskellunge isn't easily fooled and you've got to be good if you are going to establish a record of producing lots of muskies as was LeBlanc. Backus is carrying on that tradition.

In those early days the largest of the catch was kept and most had to subdue the muskie once in the boat, as they thrash wildly, throwing the hooks that caught them around that could easily "hook" one of the fishermen or their clothing, not to mention the very large sharp teeth they possess. If they were in a tournament, only the largest fish was kept for the competition.

LeBlanc founded the Michigan/Ontario muskie club, of which Backus and Joe Pierce, who served as mate on our fishing day, are members of this fine organization that promotes the sport.

Today, the accepted method is, catch and release. A concept that keeps the lake stocked, producing more and larger fish. Great care is given not to injure the catch and shooting a quick photo while being held up with a special lip grip device doesn't take long. Then the fish is released to fight again another day. They try not to keep the fish out of the water any longer than you can hold your breath.

Backus almost has a reverence for this smart species and wanted not to harm him, so they could match wits again.

Lake St. Clair, for several different reasons, will continue to get better and better as a muskie trophy lake.

Backus trolls fast and puts down as many rods as permitted, spreading them out on "planner" boards. He has boxes of lures of every color and description. Some have been scarred up and have teeth marks covering them. Many of those are original Grandpa LeBlanc's lures. It's the action and color that make the difference, Backus was continually bending and changing the chosen lure to get the swimming action he knew would be irresistible. We asked Backus what his favorite lure was and he said, "It's not what I like, it's what the muskie likes." He had another evasive answer to the query, When is the best time to catch them? He said, "When they're biting." If you've got a good thing going, you play your cards close to the chest.

It doesn't take long to hear one of the rod drags sing out and hear someone yell, "Fish on." Backus is in his element as he lifts the rod out of the holder and hands it to one of his charter guests for the day.

Family and tradition is a wonderful thing, following in the footsteps of an elder pays tribute to the past and respect for the years of knowledge they possess. LeBlanc was not only a fisherman, he spoke to many groups and wrote books on the subject. His second book is entitled "Muskie Fishing, Fact and Fancy, Lore and Lures."

I haven't fished much in the last few years, but plan to do more in the future. We used to be avid walleye fishermen in the St. Clair River, but somehow after getting boats that didn't lend themselves well to fishing, we stopped. My wife Scotty and I liked to cruise the upper lakes and it was wise to be comfortable in an aft cabin on longer cruises.

On a recent day, Backus and mate Joe Pierce took my nephew Lynn Grime and me out to one of his favorite spots where he knew we would get a lot of action. We weren't disappointed. These two gentlemen knew what the other was thinking and before anything was said, they both were doing what had to be done to entice a strike. Neither my nephew nor I had ever boated a muskie before that day and I knew that our family tradition was about to be carried on too, but that's the story for next week.

© 2003, The Macomb Daily.

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