Fishing guide Ben Knutson of Minnesota Angling recently helped one of his clients catch a massive 54.75-inch-long muskie that had a 30-inch girth. Knutson was guiding a father and two teenage sons on a November outing at Lake Mille Lacs. The impressive catch came at the end of a remarkable day of fishing in which a 16-year-old angler—who’d never caught a muskie before—hooked into not one but two trophy fish.
The 132,000-acre Lake Mille Lacs is known for producing trophy muskies: The Minnesota catch-and-release state record, a 58.25-inch slammer, came out of the lake in June. But in November, the big muskies in Mille Lacs make for more challenging quarry, Knutson tells Field & Stream. “Throughout the years it’s gotten so the number of muskies per acre at the lake is not what it used to be,” he says. “So catching a fish, any size fish, is tough in November.”
Not only are the lake’s muskie numbers low, but in November, their main forage, ciscos, are plentiful and spawning, making artificial lures a tough sell. There’s also heavy fishing pressure because anglers know that fall muskies are bulked up. “It’s the biggest they’re gonna be all year, pretty much,” Knutson says. “My mindset in November is: I don’t care about catching a bunch of fish, I just want to catch that one fish.”
On November 14, while trolling a chartreuse-and-white Musky Innovations Pounder Bull Dawg at mid-day, Knutson marked a big muskie on his side-image fish finder. He put the lure right in front of the fish on three different passes, but it wouldn’t budge. He had 16-year-old Ryan Hurley cast to the fish instead—a move Knutson admits was a Hail Mary. “That almost never works,” he says. “And when it does, it’s usually in summer when the fish are more aggressive. When I saw his rod double over, I said, ‘Oh, my God, you got her!’”
But seconds later, the big fish shook the hook and the line went slack. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, man, that was your one shot.’ But somehow the same thing happened again later that day.”
How the Young Angler Boated a Monster Muskie
Trolling near sunset, Knutson marked a fish on his screen that looked about the same size as the first. Just as before, he trolled the lure in front of the fish three times. “The fish wasn’t really moving at all, so I said, ‘This fish isn’t going to eat a trolling bait. We need to make a cast to it.’ Ryan threw one cast and made a couple of pumps to the Bull Dawg, and she crushed it.”
According to Knutson, the Hurleys had minimal experience fishing for muskies, and Ryan had never caught one. “This was his first time setting into a fish like that,” the guide says. Knutson didn’t want to leave anything to chance. “I grabbed the net, and I put the rod up over my back, standing in front of him, so the rod tip would stay high and we could keep the fish up on top of the water where I could get the net on it right away.
It ate pretty far out from the boat, and it was doing slow-motion head shakes the whole way in. I was saying ‘reel, reel, reel!’ With muskies, you want to rip those fish in as quick as possible because the really big fish can throw a hook pretty easily when you’re using large baits.”
Within 10 to 15 seconds, they had the muskie in the net. “Ryan was in shock, and I was like, ‘Dude, this is the fish. This is the one. This is a fish of many lifetimes. Guys spend their whole lives trying to catch a fish this size, and you did it in one day.’”
In the past four years, Knutson says, he’s gotten four fish in the boat of similar size to Hurley’s catch. But this one was special. “It’s unusual because we were trolling and then made a cast on it,” Knutson explains. “There are so many times throughout the year where you see a fish on the side-scan, and you’re like, ‘OK, cast over there,’ and maybe the fish follows the bait, but most of the time it doesn’t eat. That was very unusual for both of those fish to eat. It also doesn’t happen that someone gets a chance at two giant fish like that in one day.”
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