How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Surprising muskie adds to northern rivalry

By BOB LAMB | Tribune Outdoors Editor

Gillette got sweet revenge Monday morning when he caught a larger northern. At least that’s what the men thought, until they were told Gillette’s fish was actually a muskie.

“You know, I think you’re right,” Wehrenberg told me as I snapped a few photos of Gillette holding a 44-inch, 22-pound muskie he caught from the Black River on La Crosse’s North Side.

Gillette caught the huge fish about a block from his condominium in South Lauderdale Bay.

Gillette, 64, caught two northern pike earlier in the morning, and then decided to motor back out in his small fishing boat just before noon. As Gillette was trolling with one fishing pole through a cut leading from the bay into the main channel of the Black River, he felt a tug on his 30-pound test braided line.

“I never made it out of the cut,” he said, adding that he was using a birch-colored Rapala diving lure in about 10 feet of water.

“I couldn’t get the fish off the bottom,” Gillette said. “I just tired him out and netted him. I just thought it was a humongous northern.”

Gillette quickly turned his boat around and chugged back toward the Moorings condominium boat docks. Gillette also called his wife, Joanne, and told her to call Wehrenberg so he could weigh and measure the fish.

“I think I was as excited as he was,” said Wehrenberg, who measured the fish twice and weighed it on two different scales. “And then it dawned on me as soon as you said it was a muskie.”

There is an open season for muskies from May 27, 2007, through March 1, 2008, on Wisconsin-Minnesota boundary waters. The daily bag limit is one each with a 40-inch minimum length, according to Dave Vetrano, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor in the La Crosse area.

Vetrano and Jordan Weeks, a La Crosse area DNR fisheries biologist confirmed Gillette’s fish was a hybrid “tiger” muskie, a cross between a muskie and a northern pike.

Vetrano said there actually is a fair muskie fishery on the lower Black River from North Bend and Melrose all the way down to the Black River in La Crosse, which feeds into the Mississippi River.

“It’s a dandy,” said Weeks, while looking at close-up photos of Gillette’s tiger muskie.

Weeks and Vetrano said “true” muskies, not hybrids, were stocked in Lake Neshonoc and also in the

La Crosse River last fall. More were stocked in the same locations earlier this spring.

While Gillette’s tiger muskie is certainly large, it’s not as big as the 47-inch, 35-pound “true” muskie taken from Jersey Valley near Westby in 1989.

“That fish was even fatter than this one,” said Vetrano, who believes that someone put that fish into Jersey Valley Lake. “It had 52 acres of food to eat all by its lonesome.“

Vetrano and Weeks said they hear occasional stories about anglers catching big muskies in the Coulee Region, but there are no photos or fish to prove it.

Gillette, meanwhile, is having a mount made of his muskie as lasting proof to Wehrenberg and the other two members of the neighborhood “Manhattan Club,” that Gillette is No. 1 when it comes to fishing.

“He’s been trying to beat me for four years and he finally did,” said Wehrenberg, who caught his large northern less than 100 yards from where Gillette caught his muskie.

Gillette, originally from rural Warrens, has a home in Arcadia in addition to his condo in South Lauderdale Bay. He started fishing when he was six years old and has caught a 110-pound tarpon, a 120-pound sailfish and a 24-pound peacock bass on fishing trips down south.

Gillette doesn’t fish a lot in the summer, maybe once every two or three weeks. He prefers to fish in the fall. He said he enjoys fishing for northerns, walleyes, bass and panfish, but not muskies.

“I can’t stand fishing for muskies. It’s no fun,” he said.

“However, I have to admit this muskie is the biggest freshwater fish I ever caught,” he said. “That’s part of the fun fishing around here. You never know what you’re going to catch.”

Vetrano, like others who saw Gillette’s muskie, was impressed by the size of the fish and where it was caught.

“Fish show up in the oddest places,” said Vetrano, a 30-year DNR veteran, who has spent all but three years in the La Crosse area.

“I always tell people that the more time I spend out here in the hinterlands, the more surprises there are and that I don’t know that much,” he said.

Bob Lamb can be reached at (608) 791-8228, or at


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