This is the first and only muskie Charlie Gallagher has ever caught, and it very well could have been a world record. The specimen is a 48 1/2-inch tiger muskie with a 28 1/2-inch girth and was caught in Minnesota’s St. Louis River. Aside from it’s size, the fish is spectacular because of its rarity. Tiger muskies are hybrids between muskies and northern pike. They grow faster and are much more aggressive than pure strain muskies, but they’re also less common. Dustin Carlson, Charlie Gallagher’s guide (and nephew), has been getting his clients into muskies for 10 years and puts more than 100 fish in the boat each season. Of all those fish he only catches one or two tigers each year, and he has never seen one even close to this size.
Carlson was guiding Gallagher on a sunny afternoon on July 16 – it was the first muskie trip Gallagher had ever been on. He was throwing this Top Raider over weed edges in about 6 feet of stained water. As the sun began to sink toward the horizon, Carlson maneuvered the the boat so his angler would be casting into the sun. That way the sun wouldn’t be in a muskie’s eyes if it tried to hone in on the bait. Just 10 minutes after Carlson repositioned the boat, the big tiger hit.
“I almost dropped the rod. It was like a great white shark coming out of the water after a seal,” Gallagher said. But the rookie muskie angler showed some composure. He waited half a second and then struck the fish hard. The muskie stayed down, doubled over Gallagher’s heavy rod and then shot under the boat. Carlson knew it was a big fish, and he also knew they’d only have one shot to land it. When Gallagher was able to wrestle the monster out from under the boat, Carlson swooped in with the net. “I knew it was a big fish, but when I saw it roll over in the net I just about had a heart attack,” Carlson said. “As soon as he saw the fish he just started screaming like a third grade girl,” Gallagher said.
The fish is long yes, but its most impressive feature is its girth. A 50-inch muskie typically has a 25-inch girth, this fish topped that by 3 1/2 inches. Carlson didn’t weigh the fish, but later he plugged it’s measurements into a standard length/girth formula to estimate a muskie’s weight. He got 49 pounds. That figure crushes the state record, which is 34 pounds 12 ounces, and just misses the world record, which is 51 pounds 3 ounces.
But since this fish carries its weight steadily from its gills all the way back to its anal fin, there’s a chance that it could have broken the world record, Carlson says. At the time neither Carlson nor Gallagher were concerned with breaking world records. They quickly snapped a few photos and got the big fish back into the water.
What’s even more unique about the tiger muskie is that DNR officials think it wasn’t stocked, but was actually born naturally. There three different types of muskies commonly found in the St. Louis River: the tiger, the barred (pictured here) and the spotted (see next page). The tiger muskie is sterile and most large tigers are the result of state stocking programs. However DNR officials estimated that Carlson and Gallagher’s fish was between 8 and 10 years old. The last time the DNR stocked tiger muskies in that water was about 16 years ago. Carlson said that those stocked muskies are probably dead by now.
It’s uncommon for tiger muskies to occur naturally because muskies and pike generally spawn at different times (all tigers are sterile, they can’t reproduce). Pike spawn immediately after ice-out while muskies typically spawn later when water temps hit 55 degrees. But there are a handful of shallow backwater areas on the St. Louis where the water heats up fast. So theoretically, the water could hit 55 degrees in these areas shortly after ice out, causing the pike and muskie spawn to overlap, Carlson says. Pictured: Carlson and a big spotted muskie
Carlson has caught and guided anglers to a lot of big fish (like the one pictured here) but he’s never seen anything like his uncle’s tiger muskie. Hardly anyone else has either. “I got about 500 emails from people all over the country and even Europe asking me about that fish … the DNR said they have never seen anything like that either,” he says. “It’s a rare freak.”
One thing’s for sure: the muskie had plenty to eat. The St. Louis River and Lake Superior (which the St. Louis runs into) are full of high-protein forage such as ciscoes, herring and smelt. What’s even stranger about the fish is that it’s so heavy this early in the year. Typically, muskies don’t start to put on extra weight until the fall. “I’d hate to run into that fish in fall when it’s five or 10 pounds heavier … Actually, I’d love to run into that fish again in the fall,” Carlson says.
To book a trip with Dustin Carlson, visit his website at Northland Muskie Adventures
Charlie Gallagher caught and released this massive and rare tiger muskie on July 16. The fish was never weighed, but it could have threatened the world record.