How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Angler lands monster muskie

Howard Wagner of Fombell shows off the huge muskie he caught in Lake Erie's eastern basin.

By Deborah Weisberg, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The monster catch that muskie guide Howard Wagner recently released in Lake Erie was the second-largest fish he had landed and a personal first.
"I'd never gotten a big muskie on the last day of any trip," said Wagner, of Fombell in Beaver County. "It'd never happened. This fish broke that spell."
On Nov. 19 at 4 p.m., on the final day of a four day trip to Lake Erie's New York waters, Wagner boated a 53-pound, 9-ounce muskie, slow-trolling a 14-inch Legend Plow in red dace about four miles off shore.
His catch -- which he released within seconds -- was 52 1/2 inches long with 28 1/2-inch girth.
"A muskie that big around is pretty rare," Wagner said. "Most muskies have about a 24-inch girth. There's an abundance of food in Erie, an abundance of shad and shiners, that make for fish that fat. We saw schools of emerald shiners from the surface of the lake to the bottom that were 300 yards long."
Wagner said he went to New York on a tip about a particular spot, but fished another area on a hunch. "Why I decided to go to this spot, I can't tell you. I study contour maps for every place I fish and I had picked some spots where I figured muskies would be heading to spawn. I just had a gut feeling about a particular place. What it always boils down to is a gut feeling," he said.
The day was overcast with 10= to 15-mile per hour winds, air temperatures that reached the mid-40s by mid-afternoon and 48-degree water, which was about three degrees above normal.
About half an hour before the catch, Wagner released a 43-inch muskie whose girth was in the mid 20-inch range, on a walleye color Legend Plow. It would prove to be just the warm up.
"I was negotiating a turn alongside a rock bar. As I was turning to go away from the hump -- the lures probably touched close to the bottom of the hump, about 28 feet down -- a friend saw my rod bend. He saw the strike. That turned out to be the big one," Wagner said.
The fish probably had been waiting in the drop-off between the hump and the lake bottom to ambush prey. Once in the net, it shook off the plug.
"It's one of the nicest muskies I've seen -- and one of the biggest," said Jim Markham, a senior aquatic biologist with the Lake Erie Fisheries Unit of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, who looked at photos of Wagner's catch.
"It might even have been a New York state record," he said, indicating that the 69-pound St. Lawrence River muskie that set the record 50 years ago remains clouded in controversy.
Although Wagner usually fishes the open waters of Lake Erie, the upper Niagara River and Buffalo Harbor, at the head of the river, are popular muskie destinations for Erie-bound anglers.

In recent years, though, reproduction problems have put muskies on the decline there, so much so there is a 54-inch creel minimum in Buffalo Harbor -- practically ensuring that most fish will be released -- and a 48-inch minimum on muskies from the Upper Niagara River have been instituted.
Markham said New York has never stocked any part of Lake Erie, so it is almost certain that Wagner's muskie had been bred in the lake at least 20 years ago, given its size.
The fish wasn't as long as the 54-inch muskie Wagner landed in the Allegheny River four years ago, but both were massive in size.
"That river fish had a heavy, thick build to it, too," Wagner said. "But the Erie fish had a thicker build in the last one-third of the body, near the tail section. It could be a combination of the species and the abundant forage in the lake."
And the Erie fish was in pristine condition, he said. "There wasn't a mark on it. It had probably lived its entire life in the open water."
Although Wagner's spot was a hunch, the choice of lures wasn't. "The Plow has caught more fish for me than almost any other lure, and I chose red dace because old timers 40 and 50 years ago always like red and white in cold water," he said. "It's pretty standard practice."


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