BENA, Minn. -- In 1976, 19 years after it had been caught by fishing guide Art Lyons, a 54-pound muskie was crowned the Minnesota state record.
The unusual tale starts in 1931 when J.W. Collins of Baudette landed a 56-pound, 8-ounce muskie from Lake of the Woods. The fish was as real as a fish can be, but in 1976 Jimmy Robinson, the famed waterfowler and writer, insisted that the fish had been caught in Ontario. The DNR investigated and the evidence was convincing. Suddenly Minnesota had a new record -- a 54-pounder pulled from Lake Winnibigoshish in 1957.
Joe Fellegy, an angling historian, interviewed Lyons and others who witnessed this catch. What follows is an abbreviated version of the account in his book Classic Minnesota Fishing Stories.
"One August afternoon Lyons, a fishing guide for High Banks Resort on Winnibigoshish, took two Twin Cities couples fishing for northern pike. The couples went in one boat and Lyons in another. After motoring to promising water, Lyons would cast and try to find fish for his clients. When he'd come upon a likely spot, he'd say, 'Try here.' Fishing was slow.
"Suddenly Lyons set the hook and began to play a big fish. This went on for 15 or 20 minutes. The couples watched and kept out of the way. Sometimes the fish would boil up weeds. Sometimes it dove. It dragged Lyons' boat around. Lyons sometimes used the motor to maintain the position he wanted.
'The fish seemed to be getting bigger,' Lyons joked later. Finally, after an hour or so, the fish surfaced between the boats. 'It looked like a piece of log,' recalled George Ross, a member of the fishing party. 'The sight of the fish actually gave us a scary feeling.'
"Realizing they did not have a net big enough to land the fish, Lyons told the couples to go back to the resort to get the gaff with jaws that snapped. They did. But when they tried to use it, the jaws failed and the fish dove deep again.
"By this time Don Hanson had joined Lyons in the boat. The others went back to the resort to fetch the biggest net they could find. The first time they tried to use the new net the fish flopped out. But Lyons decided if he and Hanson could get the fish's head in the net they could grab the body and sort of flip it into the boat. And that's what they did.
"By the time the two boats returned, curious folks lined the shore. Lyons raised his fabulous fish to a chorus of cheers. Many photos were taken, including one of Lyons holding up a fish nearly as big as he was.
A bar in Bena displayed the fish until 1979, when the building burned down and the state-record muskie went up in flames." -- C.B. Bylander
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