Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Unusual muskie pulled from Minocqua

Correspondent

Minocqua, Wis. Paul Ritter caught an unusual tiger muskie last
month not because of the fact that it measured 451/2 inches, but
because of its unique snub-nosed face.

When Ritter watched the water of Lake Minocqua explode,
revealing the silhouette of a large fish against the bright light
of a quarter moon, he knew it was a muskie, but he didn’t know it
was a hybrid. Nor that another surprise awaited after the
fight.

Ritter, of Midlothian, Ill., was visiting his pal Al Tumas in
Minocqua when the pair headed out onto Lake Minocqua to fish
smallmouths and walleyes. To avoid daytime boat traffic, Ritter and
Tumas went out during the early evening hours of Friday, July 23.
While they pitched small Rapalas, smallmouth bass kept the pair
busy. The catch included a couple of dandy 18-inchers

As Tumas battled one smallie, Ritter felt a jolt on his rod.
This, however, was no smallmouth.

“I threw that little Rapala out there and, wham, it came
straight out of the water, straight up in the air. I was in the
back of the boat and there was a quarter moon shining across the
lake. When he whacked it, he came straight up out of the water in
the path of the moon beam. I said Al, I think we’ve got a problem
here,’ ” Ritter recalled. “(The muskie) came clear out of the water
so I knew it was a muskie, but I just had 10-pound test on my
spinning rod. Funny thing about it, Al had a smallmouth on at the
same time, so he shook his loose and then we went from there.”

From there it took a good five to seven minutes to subdue the
muskie, an odds-on favorite against Ritter’s light tackle. Unable
to horse the fish with the 10-pound test, Ritter said he just hung
onto the pole and played a little follow the leader.

“There was a little confusion in the back of the boat, in the
dark with a muskie on and the two of us back there. We followed him
around and Al got him on the first swipe with the net, so that was
lucky. The back hooks were gone from that little No. 9 Rapala. The
front hooks were straightened out, so we didn’t have him by much,”
Ritter said.

“I knew it was a muskie, but I didn’t know it was a hybrid until
we got it into the boat,” he said. “Then we kind of looked at it,
and it was really strange-looking. I saw the head on him and
thought, whoa.’ A 45-inch muskie hybrid is something, but with a
head like that it was really something special.”

The 451/2-inch, 23-pound tiger’s natural beauty was marred by a
deformed snout, giving the fish an odd, dolphin-esque appearance.
Despite the muskie’s unique physical characteristics, Ritter and
Tumas still attempted to revive and release the fish. The
protracted fight against light tackle in the warm water proved too
much for the fish, however, so Ritter and Tumas called it a night
and took the muskie over to Gary Michalsen at Lake Tomahawk
Taxidermy.

“If I didn’t want it, Gary said he’d mount the fish for himself,
so I knew it was a special fish. It’s a strange-looking thing. Gary
thinks it was deformed at birth because it’s too well healed and
round, like the top of a dolphin’s head,” Ritter said.

Although an oddity, the snub-nosed muskie is not the first such
specimen Michalsen has seen.

“I have seen a couple of others, but they weren’t as big as this
one. Both had major deformities to the snouts. One was a tiger that
was missing the top lips on both sides. That fish probably just had
been caught a few times. Somebody set the hooks and damaged it, so
when the mouth was closed all the teeth were exposed on the sides
of it. Pretty strange,” Michalsen said.

“The other one was a regular muskie that I think was hit by a
prop when it was younger. Four inches of its snoot were just cut
off. Gone. It still had the lips on it, but it was kind of
gross-looking.”

The deformed upper snout on Ritter’s muskie severely limited its
ability to open its mouth. Muskies can normally open up wide and
stretch their mouths to accommodate larger prey, but Ritter’s tiger
could only spread its jaws 6 inches. That may explain why the small
Rapala turned out to be its last meal.

“This fish probably ate a lot of small fish in its life due to
the structure of its top snout. I think it was a deformed fish at
birth that just kept getting bigger,” Michalsen said, noting that
the tiger was probably relatively young compared to a true muskie
of similar size. Muskies are aged by counting the annual rings of
the cleithra bone found behind the gill flap. “Tigers tend to run
younger. I’ve seen a 48-inch tiger that was only 8 years old, so
they grow a lot faster than silvers. Normally, it takes 10 years
for a silver muskie to hit 40 inches. I’ve been up here 24 years
and doing taxidermy 30 years professionally, and this fish is a
real oddball. It’s grotesque, but it’s still gorgeous as a
tiger.”

Ritter, as one would expect, agrees. “I thought it was great
(for being a hybrid). Not too many people get a 45-inch, 23-pound
tiger muskie in a lifetime. Even with the head being deformed, I’m
not going to see another one like that in my lifetime. That kind of
sealed it. Some people never catch a hybrid that big, let alone a
deformed-looking one.”

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