How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

'Something special

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The, by BOB RIEPENHOFF

For Tom Gelb, catching the musky of a lifetime was largely a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
The time was about quarter after 10 in the morning on Nov. 30, the last day of Wisconsin's 2006 musky season, and the place was an undisclosed lake somewhere in Vilas County.
"It was 11 degrees when I woke up," Gelb said. "I almost didn't go out."
It's a good thing he did, because Gelb ended up catching a fish that most musky anglers can only dream about - a musky that weighed in excess of 50 pounds.
Gelb, 71, has been musky fishing in Vilas County since the 1950s. He moved up north to Conover after retiring as vice president of marketing for Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee in 1997. Since then, he's had more time for musky fishing.
"I've caught a lot of muskies, maybe a thousand caught by me and my friends," he said. "You never expect to catch a 50. They're so rare."
Although motor trolling is illegal on all lakes in Vilas County and many lakes in Oneida County, there is a time-honored tradition of row-trolling for muskies in the north.
"I've been doing that for 25 years," Gelb said of row-trolling.
That morning, he launched his boat and had been trolling only about a half hour before the big fish hit.
"I was trolling two lines," Gelb said. "One was 24 feet down and one was 16 feet down."
The fish hit the shallow-running lure, a cisco-colored Depth Rader crank bait that Gelb had highlighted with some candy blue Harley-Davidson paint.
"Blue is a good color," he said. "I put a light dusting of blue over the cisco coloring. Who knows? It might have hit anything, but it hit that bait."
When the fish hit, Gelb hauled back on the oars hard.
"When you're row-trolling, you set the hook by rowing real hard," he said. "I brought in the other line and picked up the rod and started brining the fish in. I had about 70 feet of line out and it took some line."
At that point, Gelb didn't realize what he had.
"I've caught a lot of big fish," he said. "I didn't get real excited."
The battle lasted 8 to 10 minutes, he figured.
"When I got it in the net, it rolled on its side and then I saw that it was something special," he said. "The girth was huge. I tried to lift it in the boat and I couldn't do it. I just held the net with my leg and rowed to shore."
When he reached shore, Gelb measured the fish at 53 inches long with a 28 1/2-inch girth. Using those measurements, he did some calculations that put the fish's weight at 50 pounds or more.
"I decided, hell, I've got to keep it," he said. "The last musky I kept was in 1982."
Gelb tried to confirm the weight on his scale by stringing a 2- foot length of quarter-inch rope through the fish's gill and out its mouth, but he couldn't lift the fish all the way off the ground to make the scale work.
So he rolled it into his boat and took it to Eagle Sports, in Eagle River, where it weighed in at 51 pounds. Next, he took it to taxidermist Rick Lax, who put the weight at 51 pounds 6 ounces. Finally, he took it to the Conover Post Office, where the official weight was 51 pounds 2 ounces.
According to Steve Heiting, managing editor of Musky Hunter magazine in St. Germain, who helped measure and weigh Gelb's fish, the last confirmed 50-pound Wisconsin musky was caught 17 years ago. The fish, which weighed exactly 50 pounds, was caught by Robert Grutt from Big Round Lake in 1989. A 51-pound musky caught from the Flambeau Chain of Lakes in 1975 was the last one caught in Vilas County, he said.
"In Wisconsin, they're extremely rare," Heiting said of 50-pound muskies.
Gelb said he considers himself privileged to have caught the fish.
"A lot of people fish hard," he said. "They're just not at the right place at the right time. A lot of these big fish suspend out in deep water. You've got to be at the right spot where he's feeding for 5 minutes."
Gelb plans to have the fish mounted and put it on display somewhere so people can see it.

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