As reported by Field & Stream on Monday, Luke King, 27, caught a new state-record muskie in the highlands of West Virginia over the weekend. Smashing the old record by over 11 pounds, the 55-inch beast was a once-in-a-lifetime haul. But what happens after you’ve landed a record-breaking fish? Well, let’s say that King’s weekend didn’t quite go as planned.
It all started with the catch, of course. King got up early on Saturday. It was his first day off from the West Virginia Department of Highways in two weeks due to recent snowstorms. He thought he’d fish his favorite stretch of the Little Kanawha River for a bit and then go grocery shopping. Fishing from the river bank, he made two long passes, one upstream and one down. Nothing. Then he cast the width of the river to a sandbar on the other side, where the water was shallow but quickly drops to a depth of 14 feet. He started to retrieve his 6-inch Hell Hound glidebait when all of a sudden, it wouldn’t budge. He was using an 8-foot 6-inch extra heavy St. Croix Musky Mojo rod and Daiwa Lexa 300 reel. “I knew I’d either hooked into a log or a really big muskie,” he tells Field & Stream. “Then she shook her head.” The fish surged toward King, then veered in the direction of a nearby blowdown just before it reached the bank. King scrambled to maneuver the fish away from the structure, turned it back toward him, and guided it into his net. It was a relatively short fight for such a giant muskie. But King’s encounter with the beast was just getting started.
King caught his first muskellunge in the Little Kanawha, a tributary of the Ohio, under a swinging bridge in front of his childhood home in the Appalachian Mountains, when he was 9. It was a 36½-incher. His family took some Polaroids, his grandmother fileted the fish, and they had a feast for dinner. But in the next 18 years since, King has released every muskie he’s ever caught. All 1,100 of them, including 28 over 50 inches. So, he says, “At first, I was just worried about getting her back into the river alive.”
But he also realized he could be in record territory. He called another angler over to take some photos. Then he called his girlfriend and asked her to bring his bump board from home. After a preliminary measurement, he called another friend, who drove over with a park ranger from the Burnsville Lake Wildlife Management area, who in turn called Aaron Yeager, a biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Yeager was qualified to certify, but couldn’t get there for a while.
Forgoing his trip to the grocery store, King waited in the river with the netted fish. When Yeager finally arrived, he took the record measurements, but then revealed that the certification on his scale had expired. Fortunately, he had a fish transport tank with diffused oxygen in his truck. The entourage drove 25 minutes down Route 79 to the town of Gassaway, where the record weight of 51 pounds was verified.
Another hour later, King released his trophy back into the Little Kanawha. Apparently revived by the oxygen in the fish tank, King explains, “She took off like a rocket.”
But King’s day was still not over. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, he signed the papers, making the record official. Then, the phone calls started, and on Sunday, he “got 70 bajillion friend requests on Facebook.” Even on Monday, when Field & Stream reached him, though operating heavy equipment for the highway department, he was handling a steady flow of calls. His boss was understanding, he said, but he was looking forward to the weekend when he could get away from it all back on the Little Kanawha. Even as the buzz settled, though, King knew it was a catch he’d never forget. “I’m still kind of in disbelief,” he says. “I’ve always dreamed about this, but never believed it would happen.”