Joe Kiritschenko said he cried after catching a 50-pound muskie on Lake Mille Lacs this weekend, but it wasn't because he was 4 pounds short of the state record.
Instead, Kiritschenko regretted that his grandfather was not alive to see it. He had fished for big northerns and muskies with Peter, a St. Paul sign painter, for 20 years - until he died in 2001 at the age of 86.
"He meant everything to me," said Kiritschenko, whose real father left the family. "I called him Papa. He would have loved to see a fish like this."
Kiritschenko, of Woodbury, eventually weighed the fish on a state certified scale. It was 50 pounds, 55 inches long and had a 27 1/2-inch girth. The state record muskie is 54 pounds, caught in 1957 in Lake Winnibigoshish.
Only a few muskies 50 pounds or more have been caught, weighed and documented in Minnesota in the past two decades.
Joe Kiritschenko of Woodbury held the 50-pound muskie he caught Saturday in Lake Mille Lacs. The state record muskie of 54 pounds was caught in 1957 in Lake Winnibigoshish. Associated Press
"It's a rarity," said Jerry Younk, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources muskie researcher based in Bemidji, of Kiritschenko's fish.
Using a formula based on length, the muskie could have been 14 to 20 years old, Younk said.
Kiritschenko is like many muskie anglers in that he believes in releasing his catches so they can grow bigger, but his 50 pounder was hooked deep and couldn't be revived.
"It was belly up," Kiritschenko said. "I have mixed emotions about keeping it because I know there will be a backlash from other anglers who don't believe in keeping fish. But I didn't have a choice."
Kiritschenko was fishing alone around 11:30 a.m. Saturday on the northwest corner of Mille Lacs when the muskie hit. He was using a 15-inch, cream-colored lure called a Heli Dawg.
He said it didn't take too long to bring the muskie to the boat, then net it with one hand while holding his rod with the other. "I just scooped it up and fell backwards into the boat," he said.
Once it was in the boat, he called a fishing buddy, his mother, his sister and his wife. "I told my wife, 'I finally got him. I got him for Papa."'
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