Maney’s home-tied mayfly imitation includes a floating bubble-wrap body.
Maney’s home-tied mayfly imitation includes a floating bubble-wrap body.
JOE Maney of Eagle River was merely following his passion for chasing brown trout on a night in late June, working the mayfly hatches that bring out the bigger fish every year.

Not many people hear the call to fish North Woods streams after dark, sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning, but trout fishing runs deep in the Maney family veins.

He grew up in Rhinelander, a son of Tom Maney, a Three Lakes native who taught for Nicolet College and who lived to spend time in the great outdoors — especially trout fishing.

“Imagine a guy who was 5 and a half feet tall with a 4-year-old kid on his shoulders, sporting only hip boots while trying to dodge holes in the Deerskin River,” said Joe. “That was my Dad. That’s how I grew up, on the trout stream.”

For 30 years, Joe Maney has been chasing big trout during the mayfly hatch on the Deerskin River and other rivers in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

So there was really nothing special about the night of June 23, at least not the way it started. It was well before dark when he slid a kayak into the river and paddled upstream to his favorite stretches.

Over the decades, Maney has done enough experimenting to have the right hooks, fly patterns and line for his fly rod, a two-weight rod meant more for average brookies than big browns.

There are so many stories and techniques to share that he wrote a book 19 years ago, though it’s never been published.

He lets the kayak float downstream behind him, attached to his waders, so he’s got easy access to a net, light, tackle and other accessories without packing his vest and waders full.

His goal for all those years was to catch “an honest two footer,” which is a monster stream trout that can go six or seven pounds.

But the goal had eluded him thus far, never catching one beyond the 23 7⁄8 inch brown he took several years back. A cousin of his, the late Bill Maney of Sugar Camp, caught a 25 1⁄2-inch brown out of the Deerskin some 20 years ago that weighed 7 1⁄2 pounds.

“Seven or eight years ago, I had a trout that was well over 24 inches on its side, coming to the net, and it got off just in time to swim right under the hoop,” he said. “I thought I had it; so close.”

At about 10:30 on this historic night, the mayfly hatch was in full swing and they were falling into the water all around him. 

They call it the hex hatch because these are Wisconsin’s largest, the hexagenia, known for its “super hatches.”

Maney heard a big trout slurping mayflies on a sand flat not far from his position. He floated a homemade fly in that direction, heard the take and set the hook.

“I felt that fish for a moment and it was heavy, but I didn’t wait long enough and it got off,” he said.

Not happy with himself, he was stewing about it when moments later another trout surfaced to take a mayfly just 30 inches to the side of the first.

He cast and floated a fly in the direction of that second take, in full darkness but with a nearly full moon, and he heard the fish suck in a fly.

“I waited momentarily and came up hard. It was like setting the hook into a log. Nothing moved,” he said. “And then I felt head movement for the first time, and the fight was on.”

His rod was in the shape of a U for 15 minutes, the big fish running downstream and then  upstream numerous times, right past his waders.

“I got lucky because it was feeding on a flat stretch of sand where there were no tag elders or beaver sticks close by for it to tangle me up,” he said.

When the big trout started to tire, he pulled over his kayak to get a net. Unfortunately, he had lost his monster steelhead net in the darkness of a late night portage several weeks back.

“The only net I had was my wife’s net, which was about 15 inches across with a 10-inch bag,” he said. “The net I lost, the one my buddies always gave me a hard time about carrying, had a 24-inch bag.”

Three times he tried to net that trout and each time, so much of the fish didn’t fit that it flopped out.

“So basically I tried to beat the fish off the hook with the net three times and still had the fish on,” he said, chuckling.

His next move was to move the fish toward the bank and his kayak.

“I tossed the rod into the kayak and got both arms under the fish, scooping it into the kayak,” he said. “And then, realizing for the first time just how big it was, I tackled it to keep it there.”

Maney soon learned that he didn’t just complete his life-long goal of nailing an honest two-foot brown trout, but he had caught a fish that was pushing three feet.

The monster brown trout measured 34 3⁄8 inches and weighed in at 14 pounds, 10 ounces.

The guy who’s spent his career working with taxidermy and following stories of big browns taken from streams and rivers believes he might have caught the largest brown trout ever taken from an inland river in Wisconsin.

“I know of a 32-inch brown that came out of the Spirit River, but I’ve never heard of one larger,” he said.

Before the state removed the Deerskin Dam that once created a flowage downstream from where Maney was fishing, they netted a trophy brown trout that measured 33 1⁄3 inches. If we could name that fish, of course, it would be Walter.

Nobody knows for sure, but that just might be the same fish Maney caught two weeks ago.