Canadian Couple Catches and Releases Potential World Record Muskie

While trolling for pickerel on the St. Lawrence River Jason Phillips and Sandra Ellis hooked, landed and eventually released a muskie that was potentially the world catch-and-release record. News of the catch quickly spread throughout the region and across the continent (it was first covered by the Recorder & Times newspaper). But because the fish was never officially weighed or measured, we'll never know for sure how big it was. Weight estimates on this fish vary from 50 pounds up to 70 pounds, which would have made it a world record by weight too. But this fish is just another mark in a long history of controversial muskie records. Right now there are three main muskie world records: 1) The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame record 2) The International Game Fish Association record 3) IGFA catch-and-release record. Where would this fish have stood? We take a closer look at this muskie and the controversy surrounding one of the most coveted records in fishing.
Jason, an avid outdoorsman, introduced Sandra to hunting and fishing about a year ago, when the two started dating. Since then, they've fished together nearly every day after work. The two met after work on Nov. 9 for a maiden voyage in a new river boat that they intend to use for fishing and duck hunting. They paid $75 for the boat and simply wanted to test it for leaks. But of course, they took a couple of rods along just in case. After running across a friend on the river who was fishing for pickerel they decided to do some trolling as well. Jason is an accomplished pickerel angler, but he had never caught a muskie before. That changed just 10 minutes into his first trolling pass.
At first, Jason thought he was snagged. But then his line moved, and he couldn't budge the fish. His first thought was that he had hooked the biggest pickerel in the river. It wasn't until 20 minutes into the fight that they got the fish up to the surface to see that it was in fact a muskie. "I'd get him in 50 yards and he'd peel off 150 yards," Jason says. "There were a few times when I didn't think I was going to have enough line on the reel, and I had a big counter reel out because I was fishing for pickerel. It was just amazing. I didn't know what I had on. We must have drifted a half a kilometer before I got it in."
It took 45 minutes of tender playing to tire out the fish enough to land it. But it gets better. Being a new boat, and because they weren't really planning a fishing trip, Jason had forgotten to bring the net. He had Sandra sit on the rod and hold his spotlight while he reached over, dunked his arms in the water and bear hugged the fish into the boat.
Controversial Muskie Records The fish bottomed out Jason's small hand-held scale, which goes to a max weight of 50 pounds. According to Sandra, who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall, the musky was slightly longer than she is tall. That would make it at least 64 inches, which is a tremendous (and unverified) estimate considering the record implications. They measured the girth at 32 inches. The current International Game Fish Association (IGFA) all-tackle catch-and-release record was set by Mark Edwin Carlson in 2011 on the Ottawa River in Canada. That fish measured 50.4 inches. If Sandra's estimate is correct, Jason's fish could have easily topped the catch-and-release world record. Because the new catch-and-release record is new for the IGFA, the bar has been set relatively low. There have been countless muskies caught over 50 inches, but they haven't been entered for records.
The St. Lawrence River is a border water between Canada and the U.S. where big muskies have been caught in the past. The current IGFA 20-pound-class record musky, a 52-pound, 4-ounce fish, was caught there by George McQuillen (pictured here) on Nov. 12, 1994.
The IGFA all-tackle world record muskie was caught by Cal Johnson on July 24, 1949 at Lake Court Oreilles near Hayward, Wis. The fish weighed 67 pounds, 8 ounces. Johnson's fish reportedly measured 60 1/4 inches. The World Record Muskie Alliance (WRMA) in 2009 challenged the legitimacy of the record based on a photo analysis, claiming that the study results indicate the fish could be no longer than 54 inches. The report even claims that the mount of the fish was doctored to make it larger than it was when alive. The record still stands, however, and you can see the fish mount at Moccasin Bar and Museum in Hayward.
Previously, the world record, as recognized by both the IGFA and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, was held by Art Lawton (pictured here) with a fish that supposedly weighed 69 pounds, 15 ounces and was caught in 1957. In 1992, that record was disqualified following an intense investigation by researcher John Dettloff that determined the record fish might never have existed. Photo analysis of a photo Lawton provided of the fish determined that the fish in the photo could be no more than 57 inches, not the 64 inches Lawton claimed that the fish measured. Of course, there are some that contend that the investigation was flawed and that Lawton's record should still stand. Coincidentally, the Lawton muskie is reported to have been caught on the St. Lawrence River, the same place where Jason and Sandra caught their amazing muskie in November.
Another giant muskie is the current IGFA 12-pound-test line-class record. The fish weighed 65 pounds and was caught in 1988 by Kenneth O'Brien (pictured here) in Ontario.
It's difficult to piece together a complete history of muskies that have at one time been recognized as the world record or that have claimed to be new world records throughout the years. This record is highly scrutinized and tirelessly protected by anglers and, most notably, the WRMA. This organization has completed several photo analyses and investigations into world record muskies, including Cal Johnson's fish and Kenneth O'Brien's fish. One such investigation was done regarding a record fish caught by angler Louis Spray. Spray has caught several muskies that, at the time, were records or challenged the record. He currently holds the world record (pictured here) as recognized by the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum in Hayward, Wis. That fish reportedly weighed 69 pounds, 11 ounces and was caught in 1949. The WRMA submitted a report to the hall requesting that his record be disqualified, but the hall chose to keep it as the record.
The IGFA has a new system for registering catch-and-release world records based on length measurements, rather than weight. The new system requires that fish be measured on an approved IGFA scale. Measurements are taken in centimeters. In order for a fish to become a record it must surpass the previous record by at least 2 cm. Anglers must also submit a series of photos documenting the measurement of the fish. Finally, a fish is not eligible if it is not released alive. There are also several equations used by muskie anglers to estimate the weight of a fish based on its length and girth. The simplest is girth x girth x (length/800), with all measurements taken in inches. A similar equation is done by first subtracting 0.75 inch from the girth before calculating the estimated weight. With either formula, the fish caught by Jason and Sandra would be a new world record, using the estimate of 64 inches in length, which is equal to Sandra's height. For reference, this 48 1/2-inch tiger muskie with a 28 1/2-inch girth weighed an estimated 49 pounds.
(Read the full story of this muskie here).
If you want a shot at the next world record, the St. Lawrence just might be your destination of choice. Jason and Sandra released their catch back to swim another day so that, as Sandra expressed, her two children and Jason's five children could one day catch the same fish. They even claim to have seen another trophy musky earlier in the year while building a duck blind. "It went right under the boat, and it was bigger than the one we caught," Jason says. "It was massive. It was like a shark coming though the water." The fish pictured here was caught on the St. Lawrence earlier this year by Dan Polniak and had an estimated weight of about 60 pounds. It measured 60 inches long with a 29 1/2-inch girth.

We take a closer look at this massive muskie caught on the St. Lawrence River and the controversy surrounding one of fishing's most coveted records.