GASSAWAY - If Bill Looney were a baseball player, he would be in the ninth inning of a game in which he'd already hit six home runs.
Looney, 66, of Amma, has caught 106 muskellunge so far this year. That's a lifetime's worth of muskies for average anglers, and two or three seasons' worth even for the best ones.
It's even a lot for Looney, a retiree who lives close by the Elk River - arguably West Virginia's best muskie stream - and can go fishing pretty much anytime he likes.
"Up to now, the best year I had was last year, when I caught 52 muskies," Looney said as he prepared to launch his boat for yet another day on the Elk. "I thought that was a lot. But then I got off to a really fast start this year and realized 100 might be in reach."
"Fast start" is probably an understatement. Looney caught his first muskie of 2012 on Jan. 4. By the end of February he had landed 29.
"We had really mild weather all last winter, and that definitely helped," he said. "But I would have been out there even if the weather had been worse. I worked outside in construction for 35 years in all kinds of conditions. I don't pay much attention to weather."
When spring came and Looney kept catching fish, he started thinking about trying for 100. He said two people contributed greatly to his decision.
"My wife, Ruth, is a very understanding woman," he said. "She understands how important fishing is to me, and she encouraged me. Also, my friend and fishing buddy Donnie Powell introduced me to some new water, and we started catching all kinds of fish there."
Looney reached his goal on Nov. 14, with a 34-inch fish that, like all the others he caught during the year, was measured, photographed and promptly released. In reality, he caught his 100th several weeks earlier, but the only ones he "officially" counted were those that met the state "keeper-sized" minimum of 30 inches.
"Counting the little ones, I have 122 right now," he said.
Landing any decent-sized muskie is memorable, but two of this year's catches were especially so.
"I had fished all day, trolling and casting, and I hadn't done much good," Looney recalled about one particular fish, a true trophy.
"I thought I'd throw one last cast and then head for the truck. The fish struck, and when I got the rod up I thought, 'My, forever. This is a good fish!' It jumped clear of the water three times before I landed it. I measured it at 48 inches, with a 27-inch girth. It probably weighed 35 to 40 pounds."
Looney's other memorable fish was the largest he ever caught in West Virginia.
"The day before I caught this fish, I had nine muskies on and landed six. Five of those were over 40 inches and the other was 39," he said. "The next morning, I went to Burnsville Lake and started trolling near the dam.
"I hadn't been trolling long when I got a strike on one of my rods. I saw the fish's head come up and break the water and I thought, 'That's a big one.' I fought it for quite a while. It jumped twice, once almost all the way out of the water and the other about halfway out. By the time I got it into the net, I was shaking."