Barry Larson could see the massive lake trout through 12 inches of clear ice, but he couldn’t get its head into the fishing hole.
Duluth’s Larson and five friends were fishing Jan. 21 on Clearwater West Lake near Atikokan, Ontario.
“He finally swam (past) the hole, so I grabbed my gaff and gaffed him in the tail,” said Duluth’s Larson.
His friend Jim Torkelson of Duluth, who had responded to Larson’s call for back-up support, also gaffed the fish near the tail. Together they hoisted the giant upside-down into Larson’s fishing shelter.
“Jim fell on the ice, and the fish was flapping on him,” Larson said with a chuckle.
It was lot of fish to get flapped by. The fish would measure 45½ inches long and 28 inches in girth at Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle north of Duluth on Sunday, said John Chalstrom. It weighed exactly 38 pounds on a certified scale, Chalstrom said, three days after it had been caught.
At Clearwater West, the fish weighed 39.8 pounds on a hand-held digital scale, Larson said. The day after it was caught, it had weighed 37 pounds on a grocery-store scale in Atikokan, he said.
Chalstrom was asked how often he’d seen a fish as large as Larson’s.
“Never,” he said.
Larson said he caught the fish about halfway down the water column in a spot that was 58 feet deep. He was jigging a half-ounce white PowerBait tube jig tipped with a shiner minnow. His spinning reel was spooled with 10-pound-test P-Line, a monofilament line.
Larson had had another line set halfway down the water column and on his Vexilar flasher, he had seen a fish rising toward that spoon tipped with a minnow head. He began cranking up his tube jig until it was over the rising fish, and the lake trout took the tube jig. He fought the fish for at least 10 minutes before he got it close to the ice, he said.
“It was such an awesome and strong fish,” Larson said. “It was kind of a thrill.”
During the fight, the trout had become tangled in Larson’s other line, so Torkelson cut that line as Larson fought the fish.
“We could see it circling through the ice,” Larson said. “It looked like a monster.”
And it was.
Larson and his group were staying at Browns’ Clearwater West Lodge on Clearwater West Lake. Duluth’s Wayne Neally, fishing in another group of anglers on Clearwater West and nearby White Otter Lake, got a look at Larson’s fish. Neally has been fishing out of Clearwater West Lodge for at least 35 years.
“It’s the biggest lake trout I ever saw,” said Neally, who caught a 27-pounder many years ago.
Larson’s fish takes its place in the company of other big lake trout caught on Clearwater West or White Otter lakes, which are close to one another and connected by a short portage. In 2013, Duluth’s Bruce Sederberg caught — and released — a 46-inch lake trout that became a catch-and-release ice-fishing world record, according to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward. That fish, caught on White Otter Lake, was not weighed.
The ice-fishing world-record lake trout for a kept fish, as listed by the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, weighed 40 pounds even and was 44 inches long. That fish was caught on Clearwater West Lake by Earl Palmquist of International Falls in 1987.
On Sunday, another angler at Browns’ Clearwater West Lodge, Mark Anderson of Luck, Wis., caught a lake trout that weighed just over 38 pounds on a grocery scale in Atikokan, said Barry Brown, owner of the lodge. That fish measured 44¼ inches long with a 27-inch girth, Brown said.
Brown said he sees or hears about four or five fish each winter that approach that size.
“More are being put back each year,” Brown said.
Clearwater West Lake is about 9,000 acres in size with a maximum depth of 471 feet. White Otter is about 25,000 acres and is about 300 feet deep, Brown said. Regulations allow an angler to keep just one lake trout per day and only two in possession. Lake trout season opens Jan. 1 and runs through Sept. 30.