IL: ‘Big Fish’ may have been new record

Fox Lake, Ill. – Ryan Stochl gave up the chance of putting his name in the Illinois record books so that his 50¾-inch muskie, caught on the Chain would live.

But at least for Stochl, his Oct. 30 catch leads the Illini Muskie Alliance's annual Big Fish contest, which is open to members of any of the state's muskie clubs.

The contest was created to get muskie fishermen to fill out the state's muskie creel survey cards, which have been used to glean interesting data on the toothy predator, which has been stocked in lakes across the state.

"It seems throughout the early 2000s, interest [in filling out the cards] dwindled," said Joe Ferencak, impoundment program manager for DNR. Ferencak gathers the data for the annual creel survey.

The survey began in 1985 on Pierce and Shabbona lakes but was expanded to include all of the state's muskie waters in 1987.

Ideally, Ferencak said, fishermen would report every muskie, no matter the size. To encourage people to do that, the state Division of Fisheries sent out a certificate and patch to all who filled out one of the green catch-and-release cards.

"But eventually, the novelty wore off," Ferencak said.

Ferencak knew that the state's growing numbers of muskie clubs also kept fairly good records on muskie catches and reached out to Illini Muskies Alliance chairman Ray Thompson, who was happy to get the many muskie clubs' data into Ferencak's hands.

Thompson, of Oak Lawn, said the Illini Muskies Alliance also started the Big Fish contest as further incentive to get members to report their catches to the state.

"A lot of fish aren't reported to the state," Thompson said.

Ferencak is careful to weed out duplicates, he said.

That shouldn't be difficult with Stochl's Fox Chain monster.

The fish, with a girth of 23 inches, would have weighed 37.33 pounds by one formula, according to DNR fish biologist Frank Jakubicek.

That would have put it in the company of the current state record, a 38.5-pound fish caught in central Illinois from the Kaskaskia River in 2002.

There's several conversion tables and equations using length and girth to estimate the weight of a muskie, some of which placed Stochl's fish lighter.

"We'll never know," Stochl said.

And with no way to quickly get the fish weighed on a certified scale and back into the water, Stochl had to settle for a few pictures.

"I knew it would be close, but I didn't want to risk it dying, and then it not being a record," he said. "It just wasn't worth it."

Stochl's practice of the catch-and-release ethic promoted by Muskies, Inc., just wouldn't let him take any chances.

He's a member of the Antioch-based South of the Border Chapter of Muskies, Inc., which is where the trophy is headed unless another big fish is caught before the end of December.

There's actually two trophies, one for the winner, and another traveling trophy goes to the fisherman's club. It's sort of like the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup, as each year's winner is engraved onto a metal plate and affixed to the trophy's base.

Stochl may get one other memento of the fish. After 14 years of muskie fishing, he caught his first 50-inch muskie this September in Minnesota.

The 50-inch mark is the goal of many serious muskie fishermen.

When a friend asked him if he was going to get a replica mount made of that fish from Minnesota, a state with decidedly more trophy muskies swimming around than Illinois, Stochl said no.

"I said, ‘Maybe if I get one at home [in Illinois]," said Stochl, a stay-at-home dad who has also worked as a substitute teacher in recent years.

Stochl is pumped that the crowded Fox Chain is producing such quality fish.

"I'd just like to see how far it can go," he said. "Hopefully someday somebody will get a 54-incher that'll be just a complete pig."

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