Published November 11, 2012, 12:30 AM

Lake of the Woods muskie angler catches his biggest yet

Muskie angler Keith Ogden catches monstrous muskie on a Halloween excursion at Lake of the Woods.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

Halloween is known for its fictional ghouls and goblins, but Keith Ogden got to see a real monster up close and personal Oct. 31.

A retired highway patrolman from Cavalier, N.D., Ogden was trolling for muskies on the Ontario side of Lake of the Woods with friend Kevin Richards of Missouri when his fishing rod buckled over in its holder.

Trolling in 25 to 30 feet of water with a popular muskie lure called a Believer, Ogden said the fish acted like a snag, but he knew it wasn’t because the big crankbait only runs about 10 feet deep.

Right away, Ogden said, he knew he had something special at the end of the line.

“When it hit, even though it didn’t really fight, it was just peeling out line like a snag,” he said. “I knew it was a fish because I knew where the lure was running. I yelled to Kevin, ‘fish on.’”

Even with heavy-duty muskie tackle, Ogden said he fought the fish about 15 minutes. That’s when Richards, a retired Missouri fisheries biologist who now is editor of Muskie magazine, got a good look at what Ogden had at the end of the line.

“He said, ‘Oh my God, that’s a 53-incher, and look at the size of her head,’” Ogden recalls. “Right away, I knew this was my biggest Lake of the Woods fish.”

Considering the thousands of hours Ogden has logged over the years chasing muskies on the Ontario side of Lake of the Woods, that’s saying something. Ogden says he’s landed nearly 20 muskies measuring 50 inches — widely considered the trophy standard — or larger since the mid-1970s.

None, though, were like this one.

“This fish, I would say, was a good 4 to 5 pounds larger than any muskie I’ve ever touched” on Lake of the Woods, Ogden said. “This one was something else.”

Ogden said he didn’t get a precise measurement because he didn’t want to stress the fish. The muskie never touched the floor, he said, and a rough measurement of the muskie cradled in his arms put the fish at 51 inches with a girth of at least 26 inches.

That puts the fish in the 42- to 44-pound range, based on the length-girth formula used to calculate muskie weights. It’s not the biggest muskie Ogden’s ever caught — that distinction goes to a 55-inch behemoth he released in October 1999 while fishing Ontario’s Lac Seul — but his most recent trophy is special because it’s his largest Lake of the Woods muskie.

The girth, he said, is what made the fish stand out.

“There are a lot of longer fish out there,” Ogden said. “There are a lot of fish out there that are 53 to 55 inches, but they’re just not built like this one was. I have had two 53-inchers up there, but none of them were like this fish. This fish was just a magnificent specimen.”

Best of all, Ogden said, the big muskie didn’t need any reviving when he returned it to the 38-degree water.

“When she hit the water, it was bang — gone,” Ogden said. “So that’s a good feeling, too.”

Ogden, who used to log as many as 40 days a year chasing muskies, said he’s scaled back to about 25 days annually in recent years. He’ll fish walleyes, pike and bass on Lake of the Woods, too, but there’s something about Esox masquinongy, the scientific name for the muskellunge.

“I think it’s the attraction of something really big. I like to think of them as the predator with a brain because they’re curious. They’ll do a lot of following, and they have other tricks,” Ogden said. “They’ll roll the bait; they’ll break water at the boat. The ‘Figure 8’ sometimes sparks them into hitting the bait at the boat.”

One time last summer, Ogden said he was working his lure in a Figure-8 pattern at the boat and had a muskie follow four or five times before disappearing.

Ogden reeled up and prepared to change the position of the boat.

“I had that lure a foot out of the water, and that fish came in and smashed that bait a foot out of the water,” he said.

Few freshwater fish, he said, can produce better stories back on shore.

“You come in at night and talk about the follows, the big ones you see that wouldn’t open their mouth,” Ogden said. “It’s just a really unique fish.”

And in this case, a Halloween monster he won’t soon forget.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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