Vilas County produces 51-pound muskellunge

By Gary Ridderbusch Contributing Writer

Eagle River, Wis. — With temperatures in the single digits the
morning of Thursday, Nov. 30, Tom Gelb, of Conover, launched his
row-trolling boat on a Vilas County lake.

It was the last day of Wisconsin’s 2006 muskie season and cold
temperatures were not going to stop the hardy outdoorsman from
going after a trophy fish one last time.

Gelb, 71, already had fished several days that week, noting the
time of day big fish were chasing and hitting his lures dragged
behind the small wooden craft.

“The last couple of days, moon rise had been the key,” said
Gelb, as he retold his story at Eagle Sports Center in Eagle River
with a half dozen muskie hunters listening. “Two, three days ago, I
had four fish I caught between about 45 minutes before moon rise
and about 15 minutes after. Yesterday (Wednesday) I got one 493/4
about 45 minutes before moon rise. I couldn’t get 50 inches out of
that fish, no matter how I measured it.”

Gelb said that four of the six (counting the 51-pounder) were
moon fish. “They struck right before the moon rose; one struck just
minutes after it rose, and the smallest hit about two hours after
the moon had risen. That’s not coincidence,” Gelb noted. “And all
of the fish that hit before the moon rose T-boned the bait. They
were very aggressive.”

Moon rise on Nov. 30 was 1:35 p.m. “I caught the thing about 11,
11:30, so that’s (moon rise) what turned it on,” Gelb said. “(It’s)
a bit of a stretch to call it a ‘moon fish,’ but it still struck
before the moon rose,” he said. “The water temperatures were very
cold, about 381/2 degrees.”

It measured 53 inches and weighed an incredible 51 pounds, 2
ounces. The fat fish had a 281/2-inch girth. It was weighed at a
certified scale at the U.S. Post Office in Conover.

The giant muskie hit a Buchertail Depth Raider, running about 17
feet down in 35 feet of water. Gelb said he had about 75 feet of
80-pound test line out. The second rod behind his row-troller was
dragging a Legend Perchbait running about 24 feet down. But the
fish of a lifetime hit the “Harley-Davidson blue” Depth Raider.

“It’s a cisco pattern with blue paint once used at
Harley-Davidson, where I worked,” said Gelb, who retired from
Harley-Davidson in 1997 after 37 years with the company, helping
himself to some paint when he left. “It’s a good fall color.”

When the fish hit the lure, Gelb said he rowed fast and hard,
reeled in his second line and starting fighting the fish.

“That’s kind of the way I do most of my muskie fishing. I had
just a devil of a time getting it into the net. When I finally got
it into the net, I couldn’t get it into the boat, so I rowed to
shore,” he said. “At first it looked like a fat 48-incher, and then
I thought it might be a 50. In the boat, I measured a 30-inch girth
but it was sliding around so much. I measured it at over 50 inches
with a 30-inch girth. I couldn’t believe it.”

For Gelb, it was his first 50-pounder. The last time a
50-pounder was caught in Vilas County was in 1975, when Gene Allen
caught a 51-pounder from the Flambeau Chain of Lakes.

“For me, the biggest one before this was in 1998, a 521/2-incher
with a 26- or 27-inch girth, about 44 pounds,” Gelb said. “But I
said if I ever caught a 50 (pounder), I was going to keep it. In
Wisconsin, nobody has caught a legitimate 50-pounder in some
time.”

The last Wisconsin 50-pounder was caught by Robert Grutt from
Big Round Lake in 1989. In April 2005, walleye fisherman Ryan
Dempsey of Green Bay released a 56-inch muskie in the Lower Fox
River that he didn’t weigh, but with a 331/2-inch girth, the fish
was likely more than 50 pounds, according to Steve Heiting, of
Musky Hunter Magazine.

Gelb, who is a field editor for Musky Hunter Magazine, said
keeping a 50-pound fish once every 30 years won’t hurt the fishery
and proves there are 50-pound fish are swimming in Wisconsin
waters.

“I mean, I starting fishing up here in 1952, and we used to keep
everything that was over 30 inches,” he said. “There are so many
more muskies now. If you get a legitimate 50, then you should keep
it. I’ve been telling everyone that, so I figured I better practice
what I preach.”

Gelb now has the proof, noting that the muskie is being mounted
by Lax Taxidermy in Conover. Ron Lax said the muskie’s stomach was
empty when he opened the fish. “In fact, it didn’t have many eggs,
either, maybe about two pounds, and not a lot of fat. This fish was
all meat,” Lax said.

“Everybody says they want to catch a 50-pounder and I caught
one!” Gelb said.

Musky Hunter Magazine managing editor Steve Heiting, of St.
Germain, contributed to this report.

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