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Mickel catches, releases potential state record walleye

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

On page 77 of the 2012 Minnesota fishing handbook there is a graph that can give an angler the approximate weight of a fish based on the fish's length.

A 17-inch crappie, for example, will weigh approximately 3.3 pounds while a 56-inch muskie will flirt with the 50-pound barrier.

When Don Mickel, who is a professional guide based in Bemidji, landed his large walleye on the Rainy River on April 4, however, the graph was no help. The graph only went up to 29 inches and his walleye stretched well beyond that length.

Fishing with his friend Robert Garin of Brainerd, Mickel was drifting and vertical jigging a fireball jig tipped with a rainbow minnow in 12 feet of water when the fish hit.

"The bite was a 'tap-tap-bam'. And I knew it was a big walleye right away," Mickel, who spends as much time as possible on the Rainy River, said.

Large fish sometimes do not put up much of a fight and this walleye didn't make an effort to escape.

"It made one run and then came to the top. And then we just slid it into the net," Mickel said.

When the fish was secure and the anglers had the opportunity to admire the catch, they were amazed.

"We measured it right away and it was 35.1 inches long and had a girth of 24.25 inches," Mickel said. "On our cheap spring scale the fish weighed 17.9 pounds. And when I compared the measurements to the probable weight, the walleye also weighed 17.9 pounds."

If those figures are correct, Mickel can lay claim to Minnesota's state-record walleye. The current record walleye is 17.8 pounds and was caught May 13, 1979 in the Seagull River in Cook County. That fish was 35.8 inches long but its girth was only 21.3 inches.

"As soon as I caught and measured the walleye I called the DNR, told them that I might have the state record and asked them what to do," Mickel said. "They told me that the walleye was a catch-and-release fish and that, because of the regulation, it had to be released and couldn't be recognized as a state record."

The Rainy River is open to walleye fishing until April 15 and many Bemidji area anglers head north to take advantage of the extended opportunity.

The daily limit is two walleyes but neither can be larger than 19.5 inches.

The DNR official did give Mickel directions on how to contact the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis. Officials there asked for a line sample plus details of the fish and the catch.

Mickel heard back from the Hall of Fame officials this week and the correspondence included congratulations and a certificate for landing the 4-pound test line world record walleye.

The Hall of Fame officials tested the Bionic 5 line Mickel was using that day and determined that it had a breaking point of 5.23 pounds. All of the Freshwater Hall of Fame line class world records are divided into two-pound increments and Mickel's line fell into the 4 to 6-pound class range. Officially, that gave him the record for 4-pound test.

A replica of the walleye will be mounted and it, the framed certificate and a photo of the fish will be displayed in a special place at Mickel's home.

"This was the biggest walleye I've ever caught," Mickel said. "I have one mounted that I caught in Kansas that weighed 13-6. That fish was the Kansas state record but two weeks later a bigger fish was caught.

"I think that this walleye may last a bit longer as a record."