Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Was it a 50-pounder?

Editor

Eagle River, Wis. Ever try pulling a 45- to 50-pound muskie
through an 8-inch hole in the ice?

Well, first of all, there are very few fishermen around who can
lend an experienced voice to such a chore.

But, it can be done.

It has been done.

Dean Crueger, 31, of Stevens Point, can attest to that.

Crueger and three friends were fishing for northern pike on a
Vilas County lake within road-trip distance to Eagle River on Jan.
19 when Crueger hooked, landed and released a muskie that measured
at least 54 inches.

The fish also had a girth of at least 26 inches.

And he pulled it through an 8-inch hole.

“We measured it for length quickly because it was getting colder
by the minute,” Crueger said. “It was 54 inches for sure we
probably could have gotten more out of it with a careful
measurement.

“I would say the girth was closer to 27 inches, but it was 26
inches for sure.”

Crueger’s assistants were his fishing buddies, Todd Woyak and
Mike Szymanski, both of Stevens Point.

“When I was holding the fish, I could feel her belly and she was
empty. I don’t think she had much in her,” Crueger said.

“I’m guessing her weight at 45 pounds. If she had a 5-pound
walleye in her belly, boy, she could have been a 50-pounder.”

Steve Heiting of St. Germain is the managing editor of Musky
Hunter Magazine. Heiting took a look at Crueger’s photos last week
and said Crueger’s weight estimate is probably pretty close to
gospel.

“I’m very impressed with this fish,” Heiting said. “There is
absolutely no question that this is one giant fish. He has a very
special catch here.

“It’s unreal. It’s really big. That 26-inch girth? I tend to
believe it,” he said.

Muskie fishermen rely on a length and girth formula to get a
ballpark weight on released fish. Using a 54-inch length and a
26-inch girth, the formula (length x girth x girth / 800) gives a
possible weight of 45.63 pounds.

Bump those numbers to 57 inches for length and 27 inches for
girth, and the ballpark weight would be 51.94 pounds.

Experienced muskie fishermen say that formula is more accurate
with smaller muskies with an “average” shape. They contend that big
fish that are “thick” all the way through can run one pound per
inch.

The three friends traveled north to Vilas County for a bachelor
party weekend in honor of Szymanski’s upcoming wedding. They put
out tip-ups and shiners on a midlake bar adjacent to deep water
where Crueger had caught some decent northern pike in the past.
Because they were targeting pike, the tip-ups were rigged with
Crueger’s homemade 18-inch, 90-pound test seven-strand wire
leaders.

Good thing.

They caught a couple of northerns into the mid-30-inch range
before dark and were getting ready to pull tip-ups at 6 p.m. when
Crueger got a flag.

“If the fish had waited 10 more minutes, we would have been
packed up and gone,” Crueger said. “It didn’t take long to know I
had a big fish. It took me 35 to 40 minutes to get it through the
hole. After about the twelfth run, I finally decided my friend was
going to have to roll up his sleeves. On the fourth time he touched
fish, it ran again and it darn near spooled me. I knew I had at
least 75 yards of dacron on the tip-up.”

Crueger brought the muskie back to the 8-inch hole one more
time.

“My friend had his whole arm down the hole it took two of us to
pull it through the hole. It filled it up.”

The 18-inch leader was past the teeth and the muskie had been
working on the dacron, but it held.

“We quickly cut the line, rattled off some pictures and put the
fish back.”

Muskie season closes Nov. 31 each year, but even if the season
had been open, Crueger said he would have released the fish. He
started muskie fishing seven years ago on a trip to Lac Seul in
Ontario. He caught his first muskie, a 37-incher, on that trip and
immediately became hooked on muskie fishing. They returned the
following year and his buddy caught a 40-pounder.

“The big fish have to go back in the water,” he said. “I try to
find two days per week to fish muskies. My two friends and I get
pretty serious about it.”

Crueger’s unique catch will certainly boost the optimism of
Wisconsin muskie fishermen who wonder whether the state’s muskie
lakes still offer the potential for a 50-pound muskie, or even a
60-pounder.

“I think we have 50-pound muskies in our lakes,” Crueger said.
“There’s an old saying that you never catch the biggest fish in the
lake. If that’s true, well, you never know.”

Heiting said Crueger did a good job of taking care of the muskie
and getting it back into the water as quickly as possible. Crueger
did not lay the muskie down on the ice.

“This is the kind of fish I’ve always wanted to catch and never
have,” Heiting said. “It looks healthy. It will be around for a
while. This is the kind of muskie you hope is out there spawning
every spring and creating a bunch of baby muskies.”

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