Not many anglers can claim they’ve landed a fish in the world-record range, but Tom and Tim Berger can.
The father-son team hooked a muskellunge (muskie or musky, for short) that was 60 inches long July 26 while fishing in Ontario, Canada’s North Channel.
“We’ve seen and caught a lot of big fish up there, but nothing like this,” said Tim, a resident of Orion Township and 1991 Lake Orion High School graduate.
“This was a monster,” said Tom, an Oxford resident. “When you see one that big in real life, it’s almost hard to believe. Just the mass. Unbelievable.”
This muskie’s girth measured 31 inches.
“That’s my grandson’s waist (size),” Tom said. “This fish was so thick all the way back to the tail. We couldn’t bend the fish to get it in the net completely.”
The Bergers didn’t have a proper scale aboard their boat to weigh the beast, but based on the measurements they took, they estimated it weighed about 72 pounds.
“This definitely dwarfed all the other ones that we’ve caught up there,” Tim said.
“It was a dream come true,” Tom said. “We’ve been fishing for so many years, trying to hook a big one . . . I can’t even tell you how many hours we have (spent) on the water.”
To put this great fish’s size in perspective, it’s important to know that, according to the International Game Fish Association, the all-tackle world record for muskie is 67½ pounds and 60¼ inches long with a girth of 33½ inches.
It was landed by Cal Johnson on Lac Court Oreilles, a large freshwater lake near Hayward, Wisconsin. The famed catch occurred on July 24, 1949.
The Bergers, along with Orion resident Ethan Beckman, were trolling in 17-foot deep water along the edge of a weedbed near a 120-foot drop-off when they encountered this giant muskie.
They had four lines out, one of which contained a jointed wooden lure handcrafted by Ziggies Muskie Lures in Marine City.
The lure’s pattern is called “$9 Bass” and that’s the one that piqued this hungry, underwater predator’s appetite.
“It looks just like a smallmouth bass,” Tom said. “It’s a great bait.”
When the fish hit, they definitely knew it.
“(The reel) just started singing,” Tom said. “It peeled out so much line at first, it was crazy.”
Beckman grabbed the rod and commenced the fight. But after about 10 minutes, he was worn out, so Tim tagged in, while Tom drove the boat. “It was a battle,” Tim said.
“The rod was just bent right over – looked like a C,” Tom noted.
They were using a 60-pound test leader attached to 30-pound test main line.
“We fish purposely for big fish with big equipment,” Tom said. “You don’t catch big fish on little, teeny hooks and line. That just doesn’t happen with a muskie.”
Several times, Tim managed to get the muskie close to the boat, only to have it take off on another run. “To get it in the boat was a chore,” Tom said.
They tried netting it, but that was easier said than done.
“I have a large muskie net and it wouldn’t even fit,” said Tim, who noted it was only able to cover about three-quarters of the fish.
They were finally able to get it alongside the boat and unhook it while it was still in the water. “It wasn’t hooked deep,” Tim said.
The muskie was too heavy to lift with the net. “It would have broke the net,” Tim said.
So, using one hand to hold the outside of the gill plate and the other to support the belly, Tim hoisted it out of the water and into the boat. It was so massive and he was so fatigued that Tim stumbled a bit.
“That’s not like me,” he said. “I was worn out. I was definitely tired from the fight.”
The whole battle lasted at least 40 minutes. “He’s stronger than me,” said Tom, referring to his son. “I couldn’t have done it.”
Once the fish was in the boat, they worked quickly and efficiently to measure and photograph it for posterity. “I started snapping pictures pretty fast,” Tom said. “We were all hyped up. It was a beautiful specimen.”
Instead of keeping the fish and turning it into a trophy to hang above the fireplace, the Bergers opted to let this mighty muskie live to fight another day.
“We have always let big fish go,” Tom explained. “That’s our habit.”
“I didn’t see a need to kill the fish,” Tim said. “The fish was in very good shape, very healthy.”
So as to not put too much strain on it, the muskie was only out of the water for about two or three minutes before being released.
Tom described the feeling of watching it swim off as “rewarding.”
The Bergers are no strangers to muskie fishing. The father and son have been angling in this area of Ontario for decades and staying at the Bay Villa Lodge in Whitefish Falls. Tom’s been going there for 54 years, while Tim’s been making the trip for more than 30 years. Closer to home, they fish Lake St. Clair.
“I’ve caught a lot of muskies. We’ve caught several in the 50-inch range,” Tim said. “I’ve never seen or had one this large up there. It was the fish of a lifetime for us.”
“We caught a 54-inch (muskie) on Lake St. Clair a while back and we thought we would never exceed that,” Tom noted.
For Tom, the best part of the whole experience was being able to share it with his son.
“That’s what fishing’s all about,” he said. “That’s priceless.”