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Big Mantrap Lake weathers gold rush of muskie anglers

The public access boat launch at Big Mantrap Lake was abuzz last Saturday as anglers launched their boats in search of big fish. Published accounts recently have re-fueled the lake's popularity. "This reminds me of the Leech Lake launch," one angler remarked of the boat traffic and congestion at the launch site. But local anglers are now wondering if the lake has too many big fish, especially when they're eating the smaller ones kids like to catch. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

After the publication of yet another 50-inch muskie being caught locally, Big Mantrap Lake is becoming the semi-official home of the whopper.

One week after Ryan Wehrs reeled in the trophy fish, Mantrap's public boat launch was like Grand Central Station last weekend as eager muskie anglers went out in search of the big one.

Wehrs, a Wisconsin college student, caught his 50.5-incher on opening day of the season.

"There's lots of 'em out there," said the venerable old man of Mantrap, Charlie Gabbert. The 85-year-old has been fishing the lake for several decades and has seen his own share of the giant toothy fish.

Three years ago a friend of his son caught a 50-incher right off his dock.

"I heard about a 55-incher caught last year," Gabbert said.

"This is rapidly becoming one of the biggest muskie lakes in the state."

But there's a downside, he said, an embarrassment of riches.

"They are out there eating our food fish 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Gabbert said. "They (the DNR) keep stocking and there's no harvest" because the anglers are releasing them.

"A 40-inch muskie, I don't know how much they eat," Gabber maintains, "but it's a lot. It's affecting our crappies.

"We don't need to keep stocking muskies because that's all we've got."

Gabbert knows whereof he speaks. Last fall, just off his magic dock, he landed two lunkers within a half hour, measuring 36 and 45 inches.

He welcomes the boat traffic that picked up on the lake in the last week. But what he'd also welcome is when someone catches those whoppers, they feel free to take them home to be mounted.

The lake can't weather much more catch-and-release.