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Minnesota's State Record Muskie

*The fish most people don't know much about.*

It's forty- two years old but for how much longer?

The numbers and size of muskies
caught in this state lately are incredible!

 
Art Lyons with Minnesota dtate record muskie
Minnesota's State Record Muskie
Click for Larger View.
by Terry Hagstrom

It began as an August day in northern Minnesota with a bright blue sky and a few clouds. The temperature was around 70 but soon to be 90 or more by afternoon. As I pushed my fourteen-foot Lund with a 15 hp Mariner off the sandy beach I was anxious to see if the Walleye bite was still on. Of course as many of us know, if they are biting it isn't ever in front of the cabin. Twelve miles later across this vast body of water with small wave action I arrived at my destination.

The enjoyment of catching fish without too many other people around helps the mind to unwind after a hard week's work. After boating a number of walleyes of various sizes the wind made an abrupt change from the south to the west and started to blow. I have been fishing this lake most of my life and was taught when the eagles soar, fish close to shore. Good advice when fishing on 58,544 acres of water in a boat of this size. So I headed back to the cabin but as I approached, my gut feeling told me to give the large cabbage patch a try on my way in. Heck it 's right in front of the cabin.

I wanted to give my new black Suick a try. It was one of only a few muskie lures I owned at the time. Knowing that I was under equipped I figured on just fooling around for only a few minutes. So I pulled out the Berkley heavy bass rod equipped with an Abu-Garcia bass-in reel loaded with 17 lb. Berkley xt clear and began to figure out how this stick worked.

Not long after, with the clouds increasing and the wind blowing about 15 miles an hour out of the West. A few boats moved into the area fishing for Walleye and felt with them being so close there was no way I was going to boat a Muskie. Wrong!

I decided to make one more cast. The lure was within 15 feet of the boat when I felt a light strike similar to a small pike, so I gave it a light hook set. The water boiled with weeds as it erupted with the largest Muskie I'd ever seen. As the fish launched itself above the surface I could tell in an instant it looked to be between fifty-five and possibly sixty inches in length.

I hardly had time to figure out what I should do next when the fish let go and I found myself staring at the lure coming right at my face. As it whistled past my head I watching the fish sink out of sight. My legs felt like rubber and I couldn't stand any longer. As I sat there trying to gather myself hoping to hook this monster again someday, I wondered what it was like the day the state record was caught. I remember hearing about it as kid but never caught the story along the way.

Years later I bumped into Jesse Ross at one of my son's soccer games and after a short conversation found out that his father George Ross was with Art Lyons when he caught the Minnesota State record Muskie. Several months and a few E-mails later the three of us got the chance to sit down over coffee and recapture the moment as though we were all there.

(The following is an account of what happened as told by George Ross)

I was on the Minneapolis police force along with a friend of mine Don Hanson. He had a cabin he had built on some federal land on Lake Winnibigoshish about a mile or so from High Banks Resort. The Hansons were good friends with the Molzens who owned the resort at that time.

My wife Theresa and I decided to go up there and stay for a few days for kind of vacation and help with the cabin. After a couple of days of work Don asked if we would like to go fishing. I said sure, why not, knowing full well Theresa loved to fish for northerns.

So Don went up to talk to Bill Molzen to see if he could get Art Lyons to take us out for the fun of it.

The date was August 28, 1957, a Wednesday if I recall right. The day was hot and sunny with a very light breeze. Art Lyons was a Native American who worked out of the resort back then. He was kind of a small guy with a weathered face and a vast knowledge of the lake.

Art instructed the four of us to go in one boat and he would go in another. These shallow wooden boats had flat bottoms and a very small motor. It was after three o'clock when we pushed off and started working to the north of the resort towards Tamarack Point. We started casting medium sized red and white daredevils with 20 lb. test black dacron line. Art said when he caught a fish he would motion for us to move near him and cast.

We tried to stay about thirty yards away and move along with him. Art would catch one or two and say, "Try it here." After a lot of laughs and a few fish we had drifted further apart. We were only on the water about a half an hour when all of a sudden we notice Art wasn't casting anymore but fighting something.

We kept on fishing and watched Art as he played the fish. He played it not wanting to horse it in. The fish would just stay down and not come up. This went on for about 15 to 20 minutes. His boat wasn't moving so we stopped fishing and moved in for a closer look. We asked him what he had and Art said, "I think I might have hooked a good one," Or something like that. We asked him how big he thought it was and he said it might go 15 pounds. So we sat and watched.

This went on for a while and Art would keep working the motor to keep his boat positioned right. We stayed out of the way because the fish was starting to move more. Sometimes it would stop and Art would play it some more. I can remember hollering something like "Art, I think your kidding us. It looks like it's a little bigger one." He said "Ya I think it is a little bigger, maybe a 20 pounder!" Sort of kidding us back.

He proceeded to try pulling that fish up off the bottom but it wouldn't budge. After about ten minutes or so he tried with more effort and then the water just boiled and weeds were every where. By this time we were wondering what kind of a fish this could be! Art turned and said to us "I think it's a little bigger than I first thought."

The fish turned and moved parallel with the shore line a short distance and then it turned out into the lake. Art continued trying to pull it up off the bottom and the fish fought back even more. A couple of times it would stop and go under the boat and Art had all he could do to keep his line from being caught on the underside. By this time the fish was pulling Art's boat around pretty good. You have to remember these were small cedar strip boats back then.

I think about a good hour had passed, ("oh it's been so many years my sense of time is probably a little off") and we were out a good quarter to half of a mile from shore. We figured we'd better follow him in case he needed help.

This little guy was just hanging on with all he had while standing in the bow. Then the boat would stop and pretty soon more stuff from the bottom would come to the surface. He had weeds caught on his line from his rod down into the water this whole time. After this went on for a few more minutes, Art hollered to move up along side of his boat. He'd started to work-in it pretty hard and I can remember him saying, "It's coming up! It's coming up!"

Well, when the five of us saw this fish come to the top between the two boats, the women jumped. Don and I actually felt a little scared at the sight of it. The size of the eyes alone were enough to scare anyone. They were huge. It looked like a big log. The length! Its head was just huge!

I asked just what the heck is it? and Art said it's a Muskie. With it moving away from the boats a short distance we could finally see how big this fish was, it was almost horrifying. Somebody yelled, get the net! But the only net we have with us is a little dinky pike one with a hole in it and that was not big enough.

Just then the fish went back down and everybody started to look around for something else to help get in the boat. Art told me about a spring gaff back on shore. And that we should go in and get it. One of those trap like things that you bang on top of the fish behind the head and the jaws snap shut around the fish.

When I got to High Banks everyone was watching and knew something was going on because we had quit fishing and were just following Art around. They kept asking how big it was and other questions, and we told them that Art had a pretty good one on and all we wanted was the spring gaff. We got the gaff and headed back out.

When we returned and tried it, the fish was to big and it didn't even come close to working, The gaff just bounced off. Or maybe it was Don that tried it, I not too sure. Then the fish went back down again. After about three or four minutes it broke the water, almost high enough that it was on it's tail. Like you see in the TV shows when they're catching Marlin. It was the only time it did this.

About this time we were getting out there, about a mile or so. Thank God the lake was pretty quiet. By this time Don said he would get into to Art's boat and help Art maneuver his boat while he played the fish. Art told me about a big landing net at the resort or on the launch anchored out in front of the resort.

So the two women and I went back into shore for the bigger net. After we reached the dock, Bill and the others started looking for the net. We were told it must be out on the launch anchored out a ways in front. This was a big steel boat the resort would take groups of people out on. After searching high and low we found no net. Well, they hollered from shore that they had found it so we headed back in.

At dockside, Bill Molzen's wife said that she wanted to go out to see the fish. The problem was that she was about eight months pregnant but she was determined to go. She climbed in and off we went, hoping that Art still had the fish. She said that she was going with, to make sure it didn't get away. So we headed back out to Art and Don.

When we arrived after what seemed to be a long time. Art was still fighting the fish but it was finally getting tired. We pulled up along side of Art's boat and she climbed into it. He said that he wanted the fish to come into his boat if was going to come in at all. Now it was beginning to look like a circus out here.

The next time the fish comes up, Don tries to net it but it flops out. Now were wondering if we can even get it in the net. Art and Don decide to get it along side of the boat, put the pike net with a hole in it over it's head and horse it in by grabbing hold of it and kind a flip-in it up over the side. The first time didn't work but the second did.

As soon as that fish was in the bottom of the boat it started to thrash around and that's when Bill's wife sat on it pregnant and all. She was determined not to loose this fish because it would be good advertisement for the resort. It was finally over. One hour and forty eight minutes later.

After closer inspection we discovered that the fish had one hook in it's mouth and the line wrapped around it's head, behind the gills and onto one of the other hooks on the dare devil. Like a half hitch so he couldn't spit the hook. We headed back to shore where a sizeable crowd had gathered to see it.

Art weight that fish on the boat house scale. It weighed 57 lbs. and some ounces at High Banks. I think it was 57 lbs. 6 ounces. It was as long as Art was tall and he had trouble holding the fish up. After a struggle we snapped some pictures of Art holding the fish while standing on a bench along side the boathouse.

Then we got our chance for a few snap shots. For a time we horsed around at the resort then someone said this must be a record fish and that we should take it in to an official scale. At that time I think it was at Bena. A very small town at the south end of Winnie, wait I think they went to Deer River to weight it.

I remember Bill and Art saying they drove 90 all the way there. On the way there, they did stop at Bena to show the fish off. Well sure enough by the time the fish was weighed there it had been out of the water for a few of hours and had lost a few of pounds. The fish weighed about 55 lbs. and was 56" long.

Then the fish was brought to the Twin Cities to a big sportsman's store called Corries's Sporting Goods on Marquette where it was displayed for a few weeks. The official weight was determined to be an even 54 pounds. I'm not sure where or by who.

Then Bill Molzen had it mounted. The trophy became his in return for taking it to Minneapolis for entry in Corries contest. Art won the contest that included a diamond ring, a bunch of tackle and a new rod and reel. The ring was worth about $250 back then. But Art sold the ring and the tackle as soon as he got it. The fish, well it went on display at the Bena bar for many years. It had been reconditioned in the early 1970's.

But in 1979 the building burned to the ground and so too the prize winning Muskie. It's funny when I think back about that day. Art thought we should go in and get the 22 cal. rifle and shoot it but we were sure it would not be counted as a record then. Good thing we only came back with the net.

I'm sure glad that Art got credit for that fish after all those years. He sure fought that fish hard.

Did you know the original Minnesota State record Muskie was 56lbs. 8oz. And was caught in Lake of the Woods? But after an investigation that fish was disqualified because it was caught over the border in Canada.

This didn't happen until nineteen years after Art caught this fish. Well this is about the best I can recall because it's been so many years, Although sometimes it seems like yesterday.

I would like to thank George Ross for sharing his story and also to Jess Rossi for helping to make this happen.

There still are a good number of Muskies roaming this lake. Several are as big or bigger than the State record told about by George. I know because if you remember how the story started, there is still at least one of several other giants that will continue to taunt me.

Some day when I catch that sixty-inch fish I'm going to …to…to…. get a darn good picture, a measurement and put it back. I hope! Remember it might only take "One more cast."

Note about the author:
Terry Hagstrom has spent over 25 years fishing on Big Winnie and runs Terry's Guide Service with much success for Walleyes, Northerns and Muskies. He says that one of the best things about this lake is that on most days you can have an entire weed bed, bar or mile plus of shoreline all to yourself. Over ninety percent of the shoreline is undeveloped unlike most north central Minnesota lakes.

If you would like more information and maybe book a trip, pull up Terry's web page. At Terry's Guide Service or call him at 612-561-9399 or 218-547-4147.


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CROOKSTON MN 56716-1429

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