Some of the most beautiful country anywhere in North America surrounds Lake Bellaire, in Antrim County, Michigan. The land of Hemmingway’s youth is gripped by massive lakes like Torch, Elk, and Charlevoix that reach inland like the fingers of Lake Michigan. Stretching through rolling hills, massive dunes, and stately forests, these vast waterways are mostly clear as air and dramatically underfished.
Bellaire, connected to that chain of lakes via the Grass River, is where Joseph Seeberger (center), of Portage, Michigan, decided to sojourn with a couple friends (brother Chuck and friend Jason Orbeck) last October. On the “lucky” 13th of that month, he boated this kraken: A Great Lakes muskie 58 inches long, with a girth of 29 inches. It weighed 58 pounds. He was fishing with a sucker minnow on 8-pound test fluorocarbon—obviously not out for muskies in particular. They were, in fact, chasing smallmouth bass.
The goliath has since been recognized as Michigan’s new state record muskie, eclipsing the “old” mark by a couple of inches and 8 pounds. The “old” mark was established in 2009 by Kyle Anderson…on Torch Lake. Move over, Hemmingway. Antrim County. Home of world record muskies.
That’s right. Seeberger’s fish has now been recognized by the International Committee of the Modern Day Muskellunge World Record Program (MDMWRP) as a world record muskie. The MDMWRP, besides having too many words in its title, is made up of fisheries scientists, industry leaders, top anglers, and outdoor-media types. According to them, muskies can’t get any bigger than about 68 pounds and, in the first seven years of their existence, no muskies reported have exceeded their minimum requirement of 58 pounds for verification. Until now. And, though I haven’t asked them, we presume they take umbrage with some of the “ancient” records from the days when muskies were dispatched with handguns and sometimes certified through questionable, even less than credible means. Louis Spray’s 63.5-inch, 69 pounder, stands in evidence. Taken in Wisconsin in 1949, that muskie has been an object of controversy ever since.
Some big muskies have been verified during the ensuing decades. Jeff Gardner reported a 59 incher from the St. Lawrence River in 2006—but it weighed “only” 55 pounds. A 57-incher was also reported in Wisconsin in 2006, and in 2010, angler Ed Beers reported another 59 incher that was released and uncertified. Prior to those catches we were regaled with a lot of “would-have-beens” that were, of course, released. While Seeberger decided to keep and mount his trophy, Michigan Department of Natural Resources folks are anxious to point out that, in Michigan, anglers can only kill one muskie per year from now on, beginning April 1. Any angler killing a muskie will be required to tag it. Tags will be available March 1.
Undoubtedly, some will say Seegberger should have released that fish. But it was his legal right to keep it and see if it might not break a record. Well, it broke several, gave us all a look at a record muskie, and that’s all I’ll say about that—other than to applaud Michigan’s rule change, which will further protect these critical, top-of-the-line predators from harvest.
Certainly, this fits right in with my recent theme on travel in February. Not only would I recommend Antrim and all surrounding counties to traveling anglers from anywhere, I’ve spent many a day chasing perch, steelhead, and pike through the ice in this magical area. Many rivers in this region provide open-water steelhead angling all winter long. And Antrim County was one of my favorite destinations for brown trout, smallmouth bass, and lake trout throughout the many summers I spent living in Michigan. Perhaps that’s where I’ll pick up this thread next time—unless something more interesting comes along. Right now we have about 30 below-zero-wind-chill factors, and I’m busy writing articles for the June issue of In-Fisherman—so I won’t be pulling any fish out of any holes in the ice today. (Hate it when their eyes freeze solid the second you pull them up for a photo. Can’t be good for them, looks like the fish is dead, camera batteries die quick, and our fingers have a tendency to turn black. No wonder I’m thinking about Florida, Mexico, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan and California—anywhere I’ve been in winter that isn’t right here, at this particular moment. Think I’ll go reorganize my muskie boxes…)
- Here is the Mecca, the Wailing Wall, where muskie men and women come like pilgrims to pay homage to the waters that produced the world’s biggest muskie—the 69-pound, 11-ounce, all-tackle world record caught here by Louis Spray in 1949, as recognized by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in nearby Hayward, Wisconsin—the Musky Capital of The World.
The “Big Chip” is a 17,000 acre reservoir on the Chippewa River. It featrures 233 miles of undeveloped shoreline, 140 islands, and untold numbers of reefs and weed-covered humps that provide awesome habitat for muskies and everything they eat. Connected to the Flowage are 11 other lakes and 9 rivers. Muskies are found throughout the system.
The Wisconsin DNR reports that muskies in the Big Chip have been steadily increasing in average size in recent years. The state stocks muskies here, and will increase the number of muskies stocked beginning in 2016. A 57-incher was reported here in 2006, and in 2010 a 59 incher from the system was released uncertified.
Big fish continue to be caught and released here every year, but because Chippewa Flowage is a Mecca, fishing pressure for muskies can be extraordinary. As such, I wouldn’t call this the best place to catch a muskie, but it’s certainly one of the best places to grow one. Guides often say the best way to beat that pressure is to find smaller, isolated spots that don’t attract the attention those bigger, classic points and sprawling bars do. (Contact: Ty Sennett, guide cell: 612/839-1227 or 715/462-9403; tysennett.com/)