Muskellunge are not the kind of fish most would choose to introduce a first-time angler to the sport. It takes hard work, a lot of time, the right tools and patience before they may even catch a glimpse of the huge predator fish following a giant lure.
But for the angler looking for a challenge and an adrenaline rush, a few local lakes offer the chance.
Based on increasing numbers of youth entering the Brainerd Lakes Chapter of Muskies Inc. sixth annual High School Muskie Regional Fishing Tournament held June 10 on Lake Alexander, it appears more young anglers are up for the challenge.
This year 32 students from Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Pierz, Little Falls, Royalton, Sauk Rapids-Rice and Zimmerman competed, according to Brainerd chapter president Jim Kath.
Pairs of anglers headed out in 16 boats in search of the fish of 10,000 casts during the tournament. Among the thousands of casts that took place from 6 a.m. to noon, only one muskie was netted, a 43.25-inch fish caught by Peter Beam of Little Falls. The photo and stories behind that one fish had the attention of the whole group.
Beam was teamed up with Gunner Boser, also of Little Falls. The two said they had several follows in the morning but only one committed to the bait, a bucktail spinner. They were working rock piles with bright colored lures to attract the fish in about 15 feet of water.
Beam said the challenge is what interested him in the tournament.
“It’s just a thrill and a challenge too,” Beam said.
While some of the anglers said they fish muskie every week in the summer months, for some, this was the first time. Of those were Noah Gindorff and Logan Peterson of Crosby. They found the idea of muskie fishing to be exciting, but they agreed a day of catching is probably more fun.
Another part of the difficulty in catching muskie is that it involves having opportunities to find mature fish, which Kath said is difficult since it can take 10 to 15 years to grow a trophy-class fish of 40-plus inches. They need time to grow and they need a place to grow.
Kath was hopeful the Minnesota DNR would be able to continue with a plan to stock lakes that are currently proposed for muskie stocking, including Gull Lake near Brainerd.
“We know through research and stuff that muskie populations that are managed at low densities don’t have adverse effects on native fish populations and we really want the truth about that to get out and to show that there is really a need and a desire for our younger group of kids to get involved in this sport,” Kath said.
The fact that Lake Alexander is one of the area lakes known to produce quality muskie means that lake sees a fair amount of pressure. Added fishing opportunities, could mean added chances for young anglers to feel the tug of a giant muskie and have a stake in the future of those waters, Kath noted.
“By the end of the day, they are not all going to catch a fish, but every kid has had the opportunity to either see a muskie, the boat next to them saw one, maybe they had a follow and they are excited about it,” said Kath, the program coordinator at the Lincoln Education Center in Brainerd. “We just want kids to come out, have fun and enjoy the outdoors.”
The Brainerd chapter was joined by the St. Cloud chapter in putting together the tournament, which included a shirt and goody bag of muskie equipment for all anglers involved. Kath has a goal of getting at least 40 anglers to the next tournament.
The top four teams will have the option to go on and participate in the MN State High School Tournament June 24 on Lake Vermillion. While only one muskie was caught, the rules state that the largest pike can also be included to qualify anglers. Last year’s winning muskie at the state tournament was 53 inches.
Those who qualified at Lake Alexander include:
• Peter Beam and Gunner Boser, Little Falls, 43.25-inch muskie,
• Alex Zilka and Mackenzie Gibbs, Sauk Rapids, 23-inch pike,
• Michael Hanowski and Sam Beam, Little Falls, 21.5-inch pike,
• Luke Billmeyer and Ryan Fussy, Royalton, 20-inch pike.