Bryan Melant caught and released a muskie, weighing 27 pounds, on his first cast of opening day at Heidecke Lake on Wednesday.
Melant had thought it was a tiger muskie. But when I asked the majority of readers, including all professional responders such as wildlife chief Mike Conlin and fisheries chief Steve Pallo, declared it a pure muskie. Biologist Rob Miller said tigers had not been stocked at Heidecke since 1997.
But either way, it is a helluva fish, and with a good tale, good enough on both counts to earn Fish of the Week honors. FOTW tops the Midwest Fishing Report each Wednesday in the Sun-Times. An extended online version with photos is posted here by midnight Tuesday.
Here's Melant's story:
``Hello, I caught this 27 lb. tiger musky on opening day at Heidecke Lake in Morris Illinois on my first cast. I weighed the fish on two seperate scales and both read 27 lb. The fish crack my rod and broke my line as I was trying to land it, alone and without a net. Luckily, at this point, the fish was in less than a foot of water so I quickly jumped in and wrestled this beast onto the shore. I released the fish after weighing it and taking the photo. I hope this monster can be the fish of the week.''
I had a couple other questions for Melant, a Joliet man who manages a restaurant at night, which allows him good fishing time.
He was not targeting muskie while fishing the center dike.
``I caught it on a night crawler with a number 4 gamemaster hook,'' he e-mailed. ``While I was fishing for walleye and it hit around 8:30 a.m.''
And I beat my brains out for a couple hours casting big baits for muskies opening morning. Without success.
I thought Miller's response worth posting:
``Hybrid muskies exhibit morphological traits which are intermediate between their parents; caudal and paired fins have generally rounded tips, they have 5 to 8 pores on the underside of their lower jaw and scaling on the upper cheek and operculum covers about 2/3rds. The confusion between tigers and pures usually stems from their coloration and stripe/spotting patterns. Your records are correct - tiger muskies were last released into Heidecke in 1997 (6,000+ 10-inch fingerlings). If any fish remained from that or previous stockings, they would be very large fish and I think the odds of that happening are pretty small. The fish in question is a typical, fat Heidecke Lake muskellunge. Congratulations to the angler on a fine catch!''
It is a pure muskie, and a helluva fish. Miller has been saying for a couple years now that muskies will crack the 30-pound barrier again at Heidecke, since it is no longer a cooling lake.
But, oh, if it had been a tiger, it would have been the third heaviest unofficially documented, at least from looking at my old stories in the Sun-Times.
Michael Behmetuik of Lockport caught the standing Illinois record for tiger muskies (31-3) from Lake Will in Will County on Aug. 6, 2004. That knocked out the tiger (29.56 pounds) caught by Robert McDermott of Chicago's Northwest Side on Lake Somerset in Stephenson County on Aug. 31, 2002.