On Friday, July 1, 2011, the only record John Gergen set out to break was his personal best muskellunge. Later that evening, in front of his family's cottage on the shores of Lake Sallie, Minnesota, the 22-year-old did just that. The muskie he landed was monstrous, measuring 3-1/2 inches longer than the standing state record. And if the family's bathroom scale was correct, the fish just might have broken the record as the largest muskie ever landed from that state by 2-1/2 pounds. The fish, however, was never officially weighed or certified by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources due to a shutdown of the state's government at the time of the catch, and biologist and conservation officers were kept at bay.
Gergen’s fish measured 57.5 inches in length. The fish, seen here mere minutes after being caught, hit at 9:30 p.m. “Evening is when the big fish usually hit,” he says. As with all fish he lands, Gergen’s intention was to release the fish unharmed. “We just held her up out of the water briefly to snap a couple photos, and afterwards she seemed fine.” But 30 minutes later, the fish went belly up. “The last thing I wanted was to have her die and wash up on the beach. That would truly be a waste,” he added. Once realizing the fish wouldn’t survive, Gergen and his father weighed the fish on the bathroom scale, each standing on it first by themselves, then while holding the fish. The conclusion was the muskie weighed 56.6 pounds. Due to the state government the shutdown, whether this muskie would was the largest ever landed in Minnesota will remain a mystery. For now, the 54-pound 56 inch-long muskie with a 27.8-inch girth, caught from Itasca County’s Lake Winnibigoshish in 1957 still stands.
Gergen’s 12-year-old brother, Jared, was fishing with him and netted the beast. “He swung and missed it the first time, and then got it on the second try,” says the orthodontic technician from Peoria, Arizona. The fish was larger than Jared and he was unable to lift the net into the boat on his own with the muskie in it. The fight lasted 20 minutes, from the moment the two saw the fish come up and hit the lure just 10 feet from the boat, until it was restrained in the net. “All I remember of the fight is seeing this fish’s giant head coming up and eating my lure, and then I set the hook harder than I ever have before. And once safely in the boat I said ‘Holy crap, I need to get a measurement on this fish!'”
The fish hit a Standard Black Blow-colored Musky Innovations Bull Dawg that was being cast and brought back to the boat with a lift-and-drop retrieve. The equipment that subdued the fish was a 7-foot medium-heavy St. Croix casting rod and ABU Garcia 3C reel filled with 65-pound-test superline and a 12-inch 100-pound-test Musky Innovation’s fluorocarbon leader.
Before his latest trophy catch, Gergen’s largest muskie was this 55-inch fish taken on a black and silver Inhaler bucktail spinner. This fish was also caught in Lake Sallie, on July 9, 2007.
Just six days before, Gergen landed and released this 47-incher, and a 48-incher two days before that. “I have the muskie itch more than anyone in my immediate family,” Gergen says. “By far they are my favorite fish to catch.”
Here Jared holds a nice muskie that was caught and released just an hour before the big fish hit his brother’s Bull Dawg.
Here you see Gergen releasing a small muskie. “I release all my fish, even walleye; that kind of upsets the neighbors as they all let me know how much they’d love a fresh walleye dinner.”
Gergen has been an avid muskie angler ever since landing his first one at age 12, seen here. “I’ve landed about 170 over the last ten years; all but four released, and I tried to release those fish but it just wasn’t to be.”
This is an aerial view of the 1,211-acre Lake Sallie, which is part of the Detroit Lakes/Pelican River chain-of-lakes. The lake’s never been stocked with muskie, but connecting Detroit Lake has. “More than likely, this fish swam in from Detroit Lake and is from one of the two original stockings in 1989 and ’90,” says Jim Walters, Minnesota DNR area fisheries supervisor for the Detroit Lakes area. Past studies show Lake Sallie has the lowest density of muskie of the lakes in the chain, with Detroit Lake and Pelican Lake having the highest population as they are stocked annually.