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September 2014


Dan Busch | Bushy Tales

Monster muskie caught in Green Bay

John Grover poses with his monster muskie.

John Grover poses with his monster muskie. Photo by: Submitted photo

Jeff Tilkins, (a.k.a. "Tilky"), owner of Smokeys on the Bay Baitshop in Green Bay, is no stranger to monster-sized muskies, but nothing he had seen previously compared to what Green Bay angler John Grover showed him. Grover walked into Smokeys in early May and casually mentioned he had caught and released a 64-inch muskie. Tilky reacted with a few choice words, which indicated his total disbelief, prompting Grover, who doesn't even fish for muskies, to pull out his cell phone and show him a photo of what appeared to be a colossal sized beast.

Grover's cell phone battery died a few seconds later, but not until Tilky had a chance to get a good look at what t appeared to be a huge fish. Several days later, Grover stopped back to buy bait and showed several other Smokey's employees the picture of the fish. The story might have ended there as just another urban legend, and Grover didn't come back to the bait shop for several weeks. Tilky and the crew at Smokeys felt a fish of that size should get some recognition and managed to track John down for a five-minute interview, which was recorded and released on YouTube. Tilky also released photos of the fish on the Smokeys Facebook page.

Grover, who likes to catch fish for the frying pan, was fishing from shore at the mouth of Green Bay using a tiny Mister Twister Tail when he latched into the fish. After a long battle, he finally managed to drag the fish ashore for a measurement and photo before releasing the big girl back to the depths. The measurement of 64 inches, if correct, would indicate a possible new world record had the fish been caught in season and registered on a certified scale.

What is the world record muskie? This has been a controversy for decades. For many years, Art Lawton's alleged 69 pound, 15 ounce St. Lawrence River fish caught in 1957 was atop the record book. Years later, after photographic analysis of pictures of the fish, it was determined to be much smaller and the record was disavowed.

At that time, the Freshwater Fishing Hall Of Fame recognized Louis Spray's 69-11 Chippewa Flowage muskie as the new all-tackle worlds record, and continues to do so to this day. The IGFA (International Game Fish Association) wouldn't recognize Spray's fish because it had been shot prior to landing (common practice years ago) and instead crowned a 65-pound, 58 inch monster landed by Ken O'Brien in Georgian Bay in 1988 as the top dog.

More recent photographic analysis has cast a shadow over the Spray fish, and many anglers believe the size of his muskie, as in the Lawton case, was greatly stretched. A pall of doubt was cast over virtually all old records, which led to the formation of the Committee of the Modern Day Muskellunge World Record Program, which recognizes a Michigan fish which was 58 inches long, sporting a 29 inch girth, as the formally recognized world record.

The IGFA now lists Cal Johnson's reported catch of a 67-8 muskie caught in Wisconsin's Lake Court Oreille in 1949 as the all-tackle record. This behemoth reportedly sported a 33 1/2-inch girth and was 60 1/4 inches long.

The Grover fish landed in Green Bay appears to have at least a 30-inch girth, and if truly 64 inches in length may have surpassed the 70-pound mark. We will never know, however, as she was caught a few days before open season and released to swim another day. Even if Grover had caught the fish during season, it is likely he would have let her go, not realizing the magnitude of his catch.

Naysayers, however, launched a barrage of negative comments directed at Grover, Tilky, and Smokeys Baitshop after the initial release of the photograph and video, accusing them of simply grandstanding and seeking publicity. When it comes to potential world records, muskie anglers are inherently dubious or even perhaps a little jealous.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth, as Grover let the fish go without a thought and didn't even know what he had. Tilky simply felt a fish of that magnitude should be recognized, whether or not the dimensions were exact, and put it out there for all to see, appreciate and judge for themselves. Hopefully, an uncontested new world record muskie will someday become a reality for all of us to see.

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