Lucas King gets an assist from Aaron Yeager after measuring this 55 pound musky.
My only encounter with a muskellunge happened long ago. Crossing a big beaver dam in Black Moshannon State Park in central Pennsylvania one early spring evening, I stopped short just as a long, dark shape shot away through a sunlit patch of water. The instant before it disappeared into the dark water beyond, I glimpsed its duck-billed head and sharply forked tail. It was the biggest fish I’d ever seen alive.
The largest member of the pike family, Esox masquiniongy got the name muskellunge from an Ojibway expression meaning “big fish.” True to its name, a musky grows bigger than any other fish in its habitat. It’s aggressively predatory and once it achieves adult size its only enemies are humans and large birds of prey, such as bald eagles. Once restricted to the lakes and inland waterways of eastern Canada and the states surrounding the Great Lakes, muskies (or muskie — when it comes to fish there are differing opinions about everything) have been widely introduced elsewhere and now range in lakes and rivers throughout the northeastern states, and in certain waters as far south as Tennessee and South Carolina.
Muskies are a sport fisher’s favorite. One fishing guide’s motto is, “Muskies — all other fish are just bait.” Known as “the fish of ten-thousand casts,” they’re unpredictable and difficult to take on a lure. Once hooked, they put up a terrific fight. While many “fish stories” about big muskies are greatly exaggerated, truly big individuals approach five feet and weigh close to fifty pounds. Historically, muskies eight feet long have been reported but aren’t verifiable. Even so, reports of even bigger ones keep coming in.
Two local fishermen have caught record-setting muskies this year. Kyle Mullenix, a 32-year-old lifelong angler from Hagerstown, said he’s spent decades trying to catch a muskie. Using a 7-foot spinning rod and live bait on March 2, 2022, his luck changed. He caught a lunker muskie from the banks of the Upper Potomac River that weighed 33 pounds and was 49 inches long. The Maryland DNR confirmed it was a state record. The previous Maryland state record was a 32.5-pound Muskie caught by another Washington County resident, Tessa Cosens.
Then on March 19, 2022, Lucas King of Burnsville, West Virginia, caught a 51-pound muskie that was 55 inches long. Using a Hell Hound plastic lure with a 100-pound test braided line and a 175-pound test wire leader, King was fishing on a DNR public fishing area on the bank of Little Kanawha River in the tailwater section of Burnsville Dam. King released his muskie after it was officially measured and weighed by WVDNR assistant fisheries biologist Aaron Yeager. This beat the previous Mountain State record set by Chase Gibson’s 54-inch muskie weighing 40.5 pounds.
At the time of this writing, Virginia’s state record muskellunge is a 45- pound, 8-ounce muskie that fisherman Shannon Hill hauled out of the New River on June 1, 2007.
While it’s honorable and good sportsmanship to release such big fish after they’ve been caught, this isn’t always possible. And most fisheries biologists recommend removing those big muskies so that more fish of other species can survive.
I’m no diehard fisherman but I find it fascinating to think about the muskellunge I saw in Pennsylvania. By now it would be more than 20 years older and could be much bigger than anything ever caught before, lurking in some corner of that lake.
Doug Pifer is an artist, naturalist, and writer. He has a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Penn State and has been an editor and art educator. His illustrations have appeared in various books and magazines and he has been a contributor to The Observer for several years. He lives with his wife and assorted animals on 5.7 acres in a historic farmhouse near Shepherdstown.By Doug Pifer