Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Some say state muskie record won’t be broken

Greensburg, Pa. — There is no doubt that Howard Wagner is a muskie expert.

The Fombell, Beaver County, man long ran a muskie-only tackle shop, the Fish Education Center. He’s done countless muskie seminars, and he fishes relentlessly for the giant, toothy predators.

He’s done well, too, with two 50-plus-pound Pennsylvania fish to his credit.

But he’s not been able to topple the state record, and he doesn’t think he or anyone else ever will.

“Just like there are only so many humans that grow to be 8 feet tall, there are only so many muskies that have the potential to get that big, even if they don’t get caught,”  he said.

“That’s why I’m skeptical if it could really happen.”

So far history’s proven him right.

Pennsylvania’s state record muskie stretches 57 inches and weighs 54 pounds, 3 ounces. It was caught way back on Sept. 30, 1924.

Lewis Walker Jr. caught the fish from Conneaut Lake in Crawford County, trolling an 8-inch chub rigged crosswise to spin from a cane pole spooled with 42-pound line and a leader made of picture wire.

He was drifting with the wind when something took his bait and began “fighting savagely,” he wrote in a magazine article years later.

“Finally, a half-hour or more after I had hooked the fish, it came to the top of the water for the first time about 60 feet away from the boat,” he wrote.

“I will have to admit frankly that when I saw what I had on the end of the line, I did have a few moments of buck fever, even after all my years of catching muskies.

“It looked as big as the boat!”

To put that into perspective, consider the records kept by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission for largest fish caught by species each year. The records are accepted on the honor system: No official measurements or weights are taken; the commission takes anglers at their word.

The records are incomplete, too. If a fisherman like Wagner catches a 50-pound muskie but never tells anyone, the commission has no record of it.

Still, not once since 2001 has an angler reported a muskie of 50 pounds or more. Of last year’s top five, the heaviest was 45 pounds, 9 ounces – nearly 10 pounds off the record.

It might be that catch-and-release fishing stresses large fish and that they never get back on track growth-wise, Wagner said.

It might be that fishing pressure in general plays a role, said Bob Lorantas, warmwater unit leader for the commission.

Or it might be that Walker’s fish was just one of a kind, said Al Woomer, the biologist in charge of the commission’s muskie program.

He said he has never handled a muskie that came close to Walker’s.

“It may be one of those records that just never gets broken,” Woomer said.

Jim Burr, president of the Three Rivers Chapter of Muskies Inc., isn’t willing to concede that yet.

“I do believe the record will be broken someday. It will have to come from a big body of water, like Kinzua Dam or Raystown Lake or Presque Isle Bay, but I think it will be broken,” Burr said.

Walker thought so, too. He wrote of having seen two muskies that he believed would reach 60 to 65 pounds.

No one’s caught them yet, though.

The one fish that came closest to breaking Lewis Walker Jr.’s record was the “Kinzua Giant.” Stretching 545⁄8 inches and weighing 53 pounds, it was found dead in a gill net in 1984 when biologists were surveying the Allegheny Reservoir.

A mount of it hangs side by side with Walker’s fish – which was once stolen, damaged, recovered and ultimately remounted — in the Fish & Boat Commission’s Linesville fish hatchery.

At first glance, the Kinzua Giant looks fatter than Walker’s fish. That has led some to question whether his muskie was truly as big as recorded.

The truth is there’s no way to know, said Carl Richardson, coordinator of the commission’s records program.

Today, a potential record fish must be weighed on a certified scale and examined by a commission biologist or conservation officer. No one knows what the process was in 1924.

“It’s apples to oranges, the standards then compared to now,” Richardson said.

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