Lee Snyder, Muskie Hunter Lee Samson Shapira 2.10.10
At the Fishing Expo in Maryland this January, I had the chance to speak with Mr. Lee Snyder, a gentleman, a sportsman and a legend in muskie, walleye, pike and pickerel fishing since the 1940’s. But his truest passion was, and is, the hunt for giant muskie, an art he has mastered. We might also mention that his wife, Charlotte, is an extremely able fisherman, particularly for tiger muskie; and that she is a far better cook – one who loves walleye.
Virginia and Pennsylvania lakes have provided his preferred locations now for many years, but Lee’s interest in the big-game sport began in earnest in Lakes Erie and Ontario as well as the St. Lawrence and Ottowa river systems.. Learning to bait-cast at the age of six, he was instructed first by his mother, a fine fisherman. Lee’s uncle and Leonard Hartman, himself a pioneer and legendary muskie, pike and walleye fisher; along with Betty Fisher, contributed a great deal of knowledge and insight to the development of Lee’s skills in the outdoors.
At 16 years, Lee caught his first muskie, at 36”, in the St. Lawrence and at 19 years he caught a 55” beauty in the Delaware River, fishing the Pennsylvania side, using a bamboo rod and a Penn reel.
Six or seven inch lures were fine for rivers and relatively shallow lakes, but the pursuit has taken new turns since those days. Fishing large, bladed lures is physically demanding, and, though casting was a great part of his early experience, he now prefers trolling. He will often use downriggers and weights in addition to his electronics to map out a lake’s contours. He prefers wire line, both for strength and for rapid descent. Then a controlled and consistent boat speed combines with weights ranging from 6-10 ounces to help him understand the bottom he’s working.
Lee’s hunt now begins with studying the thermocline, the temperature and oxygen-saturation conditions and the zones of a body of water. These conditions will vary according to a lake’s depth, its changing contours, and the seasonal surface-temperature influences. The giants seek out these conditions for stability and for a location from which to launch their forage attacks.
Using this grasp of the waters he’s plying, Lee will then search out the shoals or groups of bait-fishes likely to be hunted by his predators. Lee has been making his own oversized crankbait lures (lipped, for diving and movement) since the 1960’s. He began by carving his first out of an axe-handle, but now prefers cedar and other woods. Then deer and skunk hair and a swim-shad synthetic with large, really large blades, combine with 8-0 to 10-0 lead and stinger hooks to create huge lures for huge fish.
The revitalization of fisheries, primarily focused in Pennsylvania lakes, is his principal focus these days. Lee points out that the true giants of all species are female, and so he assures future generations by a very careful handling of them, always keeping their body weight in the water after netting. He also notes that even such factors as the overpopulation of food species, such as crappie and yellow perch, results in stunted populations and an imbalanced relationship, unhealthy for them and for the big predators.
The committees on which Lee serves take on the re-population of predator and food species, seminars for educating the coming generations who will inherit our fisheries, and advocating the catch-and-release philosophy. Lake Marburg, near Lee’s home, is currently the focus of Lee’s fishing, and his educational efforts