Pete Maina in his own words: Maina Vents and the Muskie Allure

They say that keeping anger bottled up can lead to health problems, and if that’s true, then it’s doubtful that renowned muskie expert and TV host Pete Maina will ever suffer from anything pent-up anger might cause. Whenever anything bugs him, he puts on a pink hat and “vents.” His Maina Vents are one of the most popular items found on his Facebook page.

They’re pretty hilarious—and would be just as funny without the pink hat.

“I was on a radio show and one of the guys said I had to start doing these Maina Vents,” Pete says, over the phone.

The evening we talked he said he was a little on the cranky side because weather in northern Wisconsin had been foul and had kept him off the water. But he is friendly and forthcoming—qualities that have made him a successful promoter and co-host of John Gillespie’s Wisconsin Waters & Woods, the highly rated outdoors show in the state that’s also popular throughout the Midwest.

MidWest Outdoors: How’d you get started on a career path to making a living by fishing?

Pete Maina: My parents had the resort (Balsam Lodge on the Spider Lake Chain) for 11 years, and of course in those days that’s all resorts were about: fishing. Period. I was just living that life and being wired the way I was wired. I got nuts about fishing as soon as I started doing it. That being the whole focus of the resort, it was always there.

I started cleaning fish for people by about the time I could hold a knife and did a couple little guide jobs. Those were the last couple of years I was at the resort. I started at 11, and I actually was a full-time guide at age 14 in the summer and on weekends. It was more walleyes, bass and panfish, with some muskies. Actually, my first guide job was for muskies. Our (resort) guide didn’t show up and Dad said to the client, “Well, the kid can row and he likes to fish.” The guy wanted to catch a muskie and he actually caught a muskie.

MWO: That was rowing back then?

Maina: Oh yeah, I lovingly called the oars “struggle sticks,” a term I borrowed from some of the old-time guides. I used oars until I was 19.

MWO: How did the career as a world-famous muskie guy come about?

Maina: I would say that it was just a personal thing that kind of hit me. I did well guiding. I was tenacious, night and day, fishing as a teenager; I didn’t quit fishing when the guide job was over.

I was supposed to go to college, but I thought that was a really stupid idea, which most adults argued with, but I thought it was brilliant. I had built up a really good business by that time. And after a couple years of full-time guiding, decided that I liked the muskie stuff more, and at that time I just started taking clients more for muskies. I was able to be selective because I was busy. And eventually I got to where that’s all I took clients after for the most part. Once the muskie season opened I was pretty much “muskie only” for all those years until I quit guiding 15 years ago.

MWO: Why’d you quit?

Maina: It had morphed into a lot of television opportunities. I kept some clients that could go at the drop of a hat, but I had to get out of the booking a year in advance. I’d been at that stage for 15, 20 years. I had all the business I could take. That was just a lot of luck, and hard work. I did well guiding and by my mid-twenties I was known by most resorts that I worked out of as the guy to hire when people wanted the best muskie guide. I got the nod everywhere because I was doing really well.

I’m a lifetime member of Muskies Incorporated and was doing their release contest. I did that for five years and was winning it with the most numbers, and not necessarily exceptional sizes. So, I got quite a bit of notoriety. People started saying. “Maybe you could write an article—do seminars,” so I started doing those and writing. But the most significant thing is that I bumped into John Gillespie of Waters & Woods TV. The very first show he ever did was with me and we hit it off, and I’ve been filming with him ever since. Because of the show’s popularity, I basically had a following and that set me up with some other opportunities. I had an ESPN crew come up with Lonnie Stanley once. That was through a guy named Bill Caughey. He got me my first pro staff deal and got me on with Zebco’s “release program.” Lonnie Stanley and his TV show wanted to do a muskie show so we did that.

Then there was Gillespie’s deal and I started a lure company Musky Mania tackle in ’91 that went worldwide. That’s why I have a significant following in Europe; the baits got over there heavily. What was unique and really helped with the European audience is that I got to be known as a conservation speaker and not only a catch and release. But I really emphasized the proper handling of a big muskie. It was interesting that the Europeans really have fewer fishing opportunities and fewer resources. Then some of my articles on handling and selective harvest were translated into several different languages. The motto was, “Catch and release only works if the fish lives,” a message that still needs to be spread.

MWO: What else have you done the past several years?

Maina: The last 15 years I’ve had Bass Pro’s Outdoor World TV where I did all the muskie shows for them and guest-hosted. I’ve done Dave Mercer’s Facts of Fishing and Mark Zona’s now Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show where we did one muskie episode on Green Bay.

These TV opportunities kind of came together, and I believe the tackle and conservation thing all played a big part. It’s lucky being in the right place at the right time. Back in those days there wasn’t a lot of TV or fishing videos so people who were on air were really something.

MWO: So, what’s the deal with the pink hat?

Maina: I kind of got stuck with it in a way. A friend of mine who has mainly played rock ‘n’ roll had a gig once. He had a pink hat and I was trying to help him out. I had had him on some shows and would wear the pink hat and also started wearing it to seminars. All of a sudden, I got known for having it on. I started doing these goofy Maina Vents and would always wear it. Those Maina Vents came from a radio interview; it wasn’t my idea. I was an interview and there were three people, and one of them said, “You gotta do something called the Maina Vent,” and we just laughed about it. Six months later I decided to do a Maina Vent and I’d always wear the stupid pink hat. I don’t wear it all the time. I changed from a fuzzy hat I wear too to a pink fish one with eyes and a fin.

MWO: I remember the fuzzy one. I guess I haven’t seen your more recent “work.”

Maina: I still do them. [laughs] It’s essentially I “vent” about something, and it’s not always negative. I’ve done everything from fishing to politics to things like too many coffee cups and to how women put too many pillows on a bed. Believe it or not, in one of the most popular ones I’ve vented about pumps—the ones on shampoo and lotion bottles. The “vent” was about how they stop working when they’re still one-third of the way full and people throw the bottle away and there’s stuff is still in there. People thought that that was the funniest deal. Of course, it’s fun for me too. I get to act stupid and that’s part of the deal. I wave my arms, and I’m just naturally that way and kind of a “mover.” I was teased for years while fishing—I never stand still. When I do these Maina Vents, you don’t want to be close to me because you might get knocked down.

MWO: What’s all the attraction to muskies about? There are fishermen and then there are “muskie fishermen” That’s all they care about; they’re obsessed.

Maina: I’m not quite as hardcore as I once was on muskies. I enjoy any species and I’m happy with a bunch of panfish and an ultra-light rod. But muskies are a species that really grabs you. I think you have to have that type of personality. To me, it’s still the shock factor. There’s no other fish that I’ve fished for that can scare you like a muskie does. And no matter how many of them I’ve caught, they still shock me to this day. I’ll laugh at myself on camera because I appear not that excited compared to others on camera. I seem calm, cool and collected, but I catch myself and then I realize how exciting it is every time after I catch one or just miss one or how they seem to come out of nowhere. Part of it is just the long hours. You’re dealing with a fish you might not even see for five or six hours at a time—or longer—and then all of a sudden is this great, big, toothy fish. It grabs your bait and really scares you. You don’t get that with walleyes or bass or other freshwater species. It takes a different kind of personality to deal with it. The bottom line is, you can go out and do it all day and get skunked. Many like more activity. And frankly, I do too. But the heart rate always is up and I’m breathing a little harder. It’s absolutely different because of the size of the fish, the long periods in between and how fast everything happens—it’s actually over quickly.