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Don Mickel of Bemidji holds the 35.1-inch walleye he caught on the Rainy River. The fish probably was the state record but state regulations required that the fish be released. SUBMITTED Photo

Fisherman refutes critics of potential state walleye record, bait shop owner questions fish size

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BEMIDJI - By nature, fishermen have to be laid-back types who can spend the better part of a day content with a bite that never comes. But they also have to be competitive because the goal each trip is to outwit the fish.

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Since Don Mickel announced he caught a potential Minnesota state record walleye on the Rainy River earlier this spring, the Bemidji area guide has encountered fishermen possessing both qualities.

The laid-back anglers are continually patting him on the back for a job well done while the fishermen who are on the competitive side of the landing are doubting his measurements and his credibility.

"I've received many congratulations but I also have heard from some people saying 'I don't know about this,'" Mickel said.

On April 4, Mickel and his fishing partner, Robert Garin of Brainerd, were drifting and vertical jigging a Fireball jig on 5-pound test line in 12 feet of water when Mickel hooked into and eventually landed a huge walleye.

Because it was over 19.5 inches the fish had to be released. But before slipping the walleye back into the current, Mickel took measurements: 35.1 inches long and had a girth of 24.25 inches.

Those dimensions, when converted into a probable weight, translated into a walleye that weighed 17.9 pounds. Minnesota's current state record is 17.8 pounds.

Officials of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame also have recognized the fish as the world record walleye caught on 4-pound line.

The photo, which was published in Wednesday's Bemidji Pioneer, shows Mickel holding the large walleye. That photo is proof to some that the fish is as large as advertised. Others who have seen the picture, however, are convinced that it does not reach the announced dimensions.

"Based on what I saw, and compared to other pictures of large walleyes that I have seen, there is no way that is a state record walleye, plain and simple," said Ron Bostic, who owns Taber's Bait in Bemidji.

"Undeniably, it is an awesome wall-hanger and a fish of a lifetime. I'll give you that. But in no way is it a 35-inch walleye. His ruler must have been off," Bostic added.

Bostic is basing his opinion on a number of factors, including the distance from Mickel's hand to the tail and the overall width of the tail.

He also has a less mathematical reason to doubt the size.

"Huge fish are ugly and this walleye is too pretty," he said. "All of the signs point to an awesome fish but not one that is a record."

Many of Bostic's customers, including a host of other Bemidji area fishing guides, agree.

"My customers are laughing and saying (the claim) is just him being a typical fisherman," Bostic said. "When you compare it to the other photos I have of big fish, this one just doesn't stand up. I get state records into the store all of the time, that is until we put them onto the scale."

Mickel is not surprised that some of his contemporaries are questioning his claim.

"I'm not going to worry about the doubters," he said. "I knew there would be doubters. There always are.

"I think those who doubt it are just jealous," Mickel continued. "There's always going to be somebody out there who doesn't want to see somebody else do something they haven't done. If you have a guide catching a world record line class and a possible state record walleye and you don't believe it, it's just jealousy. That's my opinion."

But Bostic remains true to his opinion on the fish.

"If it makes you feel good, call it a state record," Bostic said. "But that's not a 35-inch walleye."

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