BAUDETTE (AP) -- Wendy Balsley struggled for more than three hours on Lake of the Woods just to reel in a fish.
It's no wonder it took that long -- the lake sturgeon Balsley landed is just an inch shorter than the 5-foot-3-inch Superior, Wis., woman. Her effort was worth it, though, as it appears she now holds the ice-fishing world record for lake sturgeon.
Balsley caught the 62-inch, 65-pound fish last Saturday on Lake of the Woods' Zippel Bay near Baudette. She is registering the fish through the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis.
''The people in Hayward tell me this should be the record on rod and reel through the ice,'' said Balsley.
Balsley and Mike Roberg of Duluth had been fishing for walleye and sauger with several other friends in an overnight ice house on Zippel Bay. Balsley had caught a 20-inch walleye in the morning, but otherwise the fishing had been slow.
She was using a small rod and reel with a small ice jig lure commonly used for crappies or other small fish. The lure was tipped with a small minnow and the reel was spooled with light, four-point test line, meaning a fish much larger than four pounds could well break the line.
But the big fish -- which struck around 3:30 p.m. -- didn't snap Balsley's line.
''I was sitting on a bunk in the fish house and not paying attention when the rod started to slide off a bunk,'' she said. ''I grabbed it and it felt pretty good. Then it didn't move much at all.''
Balsley, 27, spent two hours coaxing the fish to the ice, only to discover it was too big to fit through the hole.
''We knew there was no way it was coming through there,'' said Roberg. ''He had already wrapped around every line we had out. He had $30 worth of tackle tangled up.''
When the sturgeon finally swam directly under the hole, a friend used a borrowed gaff hook and struck the fish in the tail. Then the group used a borrowed auger to drill more holes. They connected the holes using a borrowed chisel, creating a slat in the ice just big enough to pull the fish out.
During all that effort, Balsley's line was cut. But the group used a belt to wrap around the fish's tail until it could be hauled through the ice. The battle lasted more than three hours.
Kathy Polich at the fishing hall of fame said Balsley's fish apparently would qualify for record status. To qualify, only one angler can play the fish and that person can receive no aid while subduing it, ''except for netting or gaffing the fish,'' Polich said.
The lake sturgeon weighed in at 65 pounds at Fisherman's Corner bait shop outside Duluth. It was verified as a lake sturgeon by a state Department of Natural Resources biologist at the French River hatchery.
The fish was brought to a Duluth taxidermy shop. ''The head is going up on the wall,'' Roberg said. ''They're going to smoke the rest.''
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