Pittsburgh — An all-nighter on a frozen northwestern Pennsylvania fishery yielded two Pittsburgh men the catch of a lifetime.
Luke Wholey and Nick Colangelo iced what they say was a 53-inch muskellunge at about 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 9.
They refuse to disclose where they were fishing, and had no scale with which to weigh their catch, but it was the biggest muskie the men had caught in the two years they’ve been targeting muskies together, said Wholey.
“It wasn’t a state record, but even if it had been, we would have released it. We release everything we catch.”
The men were fishing a 10-inch hole in about 10 inches of solid ice. It was barely wide enough to squeeze the fish through, said Wholey, who notes that Colangelo was the one who spent 30 minutes hand-lining the muskie to the surface.
The sky was overcast, the air temperature was in the mid-30s, and the water was just above freezing, Wholey said.
The men had been fishing since 2:30 the afternoon before, when they did an ice-fishing demonstration as a favor to a friend at Raccoon State Park in Beaver County.
During the drive to their favorite fishing spot in a northwestern county, Wholey said he told Colangelo, “Fate will be smiling down on us. We’re going to catch a big muskie.”
Little did he know how prophetic his words would prove to be.
“I stayed up all night watching the flags. Most were false flags,” Wholey said. “Then around midnight, Nick got an 8-pound walleye. He released it, and then he went on this tear.”
The huge muskie hit nearly 12 hours later and was followed by three other muskies, including two over 40 inches, Wholey said. Until then, the men’s biggest muskie had measured 48 inches long.
Photos of the alleged 53-inch fish began making the rounds almost immediately, as did stories about how and where it was caught. “First it was Pymatuning and then it was (Lake) Arthur,” Wholey recalled. “Nick’s even more secretive than I am. All we’re going to say is somewhere in the Northwest.”
Other anglers have tried to figure out the spot from background clues in the photos, but most can’t take their eyes off the muskie the men are holding.
“It’s a real nice fish,” commented Howard Wagner, of Fombell, who landed a reported 54-inch muskie wading an Allegheny River tributary in the dead of winter about a decade ago. He said behemoths tend to strike at this time of year.
“This is when they’re at their biggest,” Wagner said. “The females are eating like crazy because their eggs are developing. In February and March, they start looking for spawning areas.”
Larry Hines of Three Rivers Muskies Inc. and former head of northern hatcheries for the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission admired the condition of the Wholey-Colangelo fish, and said it has a good chance of post-release survival because of frigid conditions.
“Muskies don’t get as worn out when water is cold,” he said. “Part of it has to do with the oxygen in the water.”
Wagner said the cold water also may have given the anglers an edge. “When muskies are under solid ice, it slows them down, and they’re a little easier to catch. It’s not easier to tempt them with your bait, but the fight is easier,” he said.
“The guy (Colangelo) probably pulled the fish in by hand. Can you imagine doing that in the middle of summer?”