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Impressive girth makes Duluth tiger muskie special

Muskie guide Dustin Carlson of Duluth has seen a lot of big muskies. But none of them measure up to one of near world-record proportions that his uncle caught aboard Carlson's boat July 16 on the St. Louis River.

"It's absolutely the highlight of my life," said Carlson, 34, a muskie guide for 10 years.

Charlie Gallagher of Crete, Ill., caught the tiger muskie that Saturday afternoon while throwing a red-squirrel-pattern Top Raider top-water lure along the edge of a weed bed, Carlson said.

The muskie was 48.5 inches long with a 28.5-inch girth. A muskie length-to-weight formula put the weight of the fish at 49 pounds, Carlson said.

The Minnesota record for a tiger muskie is 34 pounds, 12 ounces. The world record, according to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, weighed 51 pounds, 3 ounces, and was caught in Lake Vieux Desert on the Wisconsin-Michigan border -- in 1919.

Gallagher's fish, which was released after Carlson took photos of it, had a huge belly, uncommon for muskies at this time of year.

A tiger muskie is a natural hybrid between a female muskie and a male northern pike. It exhibits the characteristics of both fish. It has branching dark bars on a light background and its tail has rounded tips.

"It's amazing to see a fish of that caliber," said Carlson. "It's just a rare freak. I've probably gotten close to 500 e-mails and text messages from guys all over the country and even from Europe."

Pete Brzezinski, another area guide, catches two to three tiger muskies a year on the river, but this one was something else, he said.

"I've handled a lot of gigantic fish," Brzezinski said. "I've handled fish up to 45 pounds. But I've never in my life seen a fish like that. It was amazing."

The girth of the fish is what sets it apart, he said.

"To have a 48.5-inch fish with that kind of girth," he said. "A lot of guys talk about fish with a 28-inch girth. But this is what a 28-inch girth looks like."

Gallagher couldn't have kept the fish even if he had wanted to. Regulations on the St. Louis River require a muskie to be at least 50 inches long to be kept, and most muskie anglers routinely release all the muskies they catch.

Gallagher knew he had a big fish on when he hooked it.

"I'd had a couple strikes earlier and didn't get the hook set," Gallagher said. "I just kept saying, 'Oh, don't get off, don't get off.'"

With Carlson offering plenty of advice, his uncle played the fish.

"She went down and put on a run underneath the boat," Carlson said. "I told Charlie, 'As soon as you get her close to the boat, I'm going to scoop her.' Charlie's rod was just doubled over and I know how my rods bend."

When the fish surfaced near the boat, Carlson scooped.

"Instantly, I knew it was a tiger," he said. "I started screaming, 'Look at the size of the girth on this thing!' I said, 'This has got to be the biggest tiger muskie in the world.'"

Gallagher held the fish for photos, and Carlson released it.

"It makes me wonder how a fish like that gets the girth that one did," Carlson said. "Was that one living in Lake Superior eating smelt and herring all its life and decided to come into the harbor? I've caught a lot of fish over 50 inches long and have never seen a fish like that."

Carlson said Ted Sellers of Duluth caught a 46.5-inch tiger muskie on the St. Louis River fishing with Brzezinski a couple of years ago. But not many tiger muskies are caught on the river, he said. Carlson himself has caught only a couple.

The Minnesota DNRstocked a total of 7,500 tiger muskies in the St. Louis River in 1989, 1990 and 1991, said John Lindgren, DNR fisheries specialist senior at French River. It's unclear whether Gallagher's fish was one of those stocked.