"Look out Mille Lacs Lake state record muskie, because you will be in my boat very soon."
So wrote Travis Frank on his Web page while reporting from deer camp - yes, deer camp - just west of Pillager after the opening weekend of the state firearms deer hunting season.
That story was posted Nov. 6. On Nov. 8, Frank had his hunting-camp buddies wide-eyed over photos taken earlier that day.
And this was no monster buck. It was a prophecy. Or close.
In the photo, Frank, dressed in camouflage and leaning backward, grimaced as he hoisted the largest muskie he's ever boated. And that's saying something.
Frank, 23, the fishing guide at Trophy Encounters in Waconia, took a break from deer hunting mid-week to fish with a friend on Lake Mille Lacs. Fishing about a mile off the south shore in about 15 feet of water, Frank landed a 54 1/2-inch fish - with a 26 1/2-inch girth - that he estimated at 51 pounds.
Travis Frank struggled to hoist the monster muskie he caught on Lake Mille Lacs on Nov. 8.
"It's the biggest one I've ever had in my boat. It stopped me in my tracks," said Frank, who has been a guide for seven years and mostly fishes muskies, on Mille Lacs and his home lake of Minnetonka. "The battle was intense but short-lived. Usually, when they get that fat and that water is that cold - it was 41 degrees - they put up a brief fight and give it their all. But they're too big (to put up a long fight)."
As there wasn't a scale on the boat, Frank didn't weigh the fish. But he's been around enough muskies to be able to calculate, to within a pound or so, the weight of the fish, he said.
Less than two weeks earlier, another Twin Cities-area man, Joe Kiritschenko of Woodbury, also caught a monster muskie on Mille Lacs. Kiritschenko's fish was 55 inches long, had a 27 1/2-inch girth and weighed in at 50 pounds on a state-certified scale.
Both fish were caught at about 11:30 a.m., with Kiritschenko's catch coming on the northwest corner of the lake. His muskie was deeply hooked on a 15-inch Heli Dawg and couldn't be saved. Frank, fishing with a Bull Dawg, enjoyed a successful release.
"It was a very healthy release," Frank said. "I had it out of the water for maybe 20 seconds. It was all I could do to hold it. It was in and out and back in the water."
Only a handful of 50-pound-plus muskies have been documented in Minnesota in the past two decades. The state record 54-pounder was caught 50 years ago in Lake Winnibigoshish.
But, according to Frank, Mille Lacs is primed to give up the next record muskie - and any day now.
"This time of year they get so fat. They're feeding on tulibees that are going up to spawn. They're gorging for winter," said Frank, who added that he wouldn't be surprised if the fish he released hits record weight in the next week or two because of the feeding frenzy.
"This late in the season you basically have a chance (of landing a big fish) up until the lake freezes up. You're up there fishing for one giant fish. It's not common to catch a lot or see a lot of them. There's not a lot of people who do it, but fish can be caught out there."
That morning, there wasn't another boat in sight.
"There's no one else that stupid," Frank said with a laugh.
"It was cold, nasty and windy. Everything was frozen up solid. It took a while to thaw things out.
"There are a few other people (fishing muskie). But they're concentrated in one area. We were 10 miles away from them. The key is to get away from people."
At least for a while. Later that day, he was back at deer camp, showing off the photos of his catch.
And how did he fare with the rifle?
"He shot two deer - a buck and a doe," said Art Becker of Pillager, a fellow deer camper. "It was a good week for him."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at brian. firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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