Fly fishing

Thousand Lakes muskellunge breaks state record

The temperature was 18 degrees Monday night when Nolan Sprengeler and a few friends broke the ice at a public access on Thousand Lakes to drop Sprengeler’s 621 Ranger into the big lake.

Sprengeler, along with Ostego’s Kevin Kray and Zimmerman’s Zack Skoglund, had already checked three more launches before deciding their only bet was to break the ice for about 100 yards to put the fiberglass boat in open water.

“We had thought about fishing after Thanksgiving, but looking at the temperatures, we thought we better go Monday night,” Sprengeler said. “We weren’t sure we could go to the lake after that.”

Passionate about muskellunge fishing, Sprengeler tries to fish the Thousand Lakes in the fall until the lake freezes over, or at least until it is impenetrable by boat. The goal is to catch a muskellunge in the 50-pound class, a memorable fish that would make icy fingers and icy cane guides worth it.

Sprengeler, 27, of Plymouth, exceeded that target around 9 p.m. Monday when he hooked up a muskellunge that tipped the scales at 55 pounds, 14 ounces.

The female fish – and it was almost certainly a female – surpassed the previous state record for musky high water of 54 pounds, set in 1957 on Lake Winnibigoshish.

Sprengeler hooked the fish to the western end of the lake while throwing a large, flexible plastic bait over a rocky reef.

“I wanted to release him,” Sprengeler said. “We tried for an hour to bring her back to life. But she bit off the end of a plaster cast and she was hooked extremely deep into the gill plate. We had all the material we needed to release her. We had cut it off. hooks with a bolt cutter. But she wasn’t going to get away with it. ”

Sprengeler said the memory of a friend accompanied him on his boat on Monday evening.

“’Muggs’ was his name. He was my neighbor and longtime friend who passed away shortly before we went fishing, “Sprengeler said.” I think he played a major role in helping me catch this muskellunge. ‘ ‘

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries chief Brad Parsons said Sprengeler did the right thing.

“What an amazing fish,” Parsons said. “I think this is a very positive thing for the Minnesota fisheries, and I hope [Sprengeler] will not be vilified for keeping it. ”

The fish had a severed pectoral fin, indicating that MNR fisheries staff handled it in 1999 or 2008, possibly placing its age at 22. Muskellunge at this latitude, Parsons said, can in some cases live up to 30 years.

“But we just don’t know,” he said.

Thousand Lakes Muskellunge feed on ciscos in the fall to prepare for winter. The lake’s largest muskellunge are then vulnerable, but only to fishermen willing to brave the freezing weather while repeatedly casting, trip after trip – thousands and thousands of times, in some cases – unanswered.

In 2015, also in November, Robert Hawkins, owner of Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop in the Twin Cities, caught a 57-inch muskellunge on a fly rod. This fish is a fly fishing state record with release.

The Minnesota muskellunge catch and release record, meanwhile, for anglers using conventional bait-casting gear is 57 1/4 inches, caught in Vermilion Lake this summer.

Sprengeler’s big fish took a roundabout path to a scale.

“Once we knew the fish wasn’t going to make it, we put it in my tank and packed it with ice,” he said. “The next day we called but couldn’t find a certified scale that weighed over 30 pounds and also included ounces. Eventually we ended up at a UPS store in Golden Valley.”

The fish was officially measured at 57 3??4 inches with a circumference of 29 inches.

Will Sprengeler’s Fish of a Lifetime, now awaiting the work of a taxidermist, reign over Minnesota muskellunge for 64 years, like the Winnibigoshish record he broke?

Unlikely, because in 2019, MNR staff electrofishing on the Thousand Lakes had a muskellunge measuring 61 1??2 inches – a fish that would surpass not only all Minnesota muskellunge records but also the muskellunge world record of 60 1??4 inches captured in Lake Court Ears near Hayward, Wisconsin, in 1949.