November 25, 2021
“Even though winter was setting in, the conditions were perfect for one last run to Mille Lacs to chase the Queen,” said Minnesota native and muskie fanatic Nolan Sprengeler. “At about 9 pm, on the last spot of the night while sharing the boat with my two friends Kevin Kray and Zack Skoglund, I felt the tap I’ve been hoping for all fall. I set the hook hard, and tremendous, violent headshakes told me I had hooked into the kind of fish I was hoping for, but I had no idea how big she really was, even after she was in the in net.”
Passion runs deep among muskie hunters, and let’s be honest, the pursuit is more of a hunt than the act of fishing, per se. They are elusive fish, hard to predict, difficult to locate and even harder to catch when they seem willing to eat. The mighty muskellunge prefers tough weather conditions beneath which to dine—but, no doubt, tougher are the anglers who wet a line in pursuit.
As you can probably imagine, extensive lore often accompanies a fish that so seldom cooperates. Imaginations run wild, stories are told, and lies spun like damp spider webs spread across a springtime wildflower field. The lies and exaggerations have been around for decades—even spanning back to the original world records that have since been debunked.
What’s kept new records from being entered over recent years is the fact that muskie anglers prefer to release the beast once she’s been subdued, which makes an official weight and registry basically impossible. Even with catch-and-release records being acceptable, historical weight records seemed to be a thing of the past because it would basically require a dead fish. Something muskie anglers, at all costs, try to avoid to maintain and improve the fishery for all to enjoy for generations to come.
When a fish is caught that likely exceeds the existing record, speculators argue that “It’s close, but we’ll never really know.” And then there’s the internal battle some anglers face, “Do I kill the fish to dethrone the record?” That answer has always been, “Absolutely not.”
Killing a muskie for simple ink on paper is harshly looked down upon in the muskie-fishing community. And rightly so.
Despite the very best efforts of nearly all muskie anglers, fish do die, although it’s highly unlikely. That’s an unfortunate reality of the sport.
Back in 1957, a fish was caught from Northern Minnesota’s Lake Winnibigoshish that has stood the test of time spanning 64 years. The fish measured 56 inches and weighed a whopping 54 pounds, which would impress any freshwater angler—even today.
“I’ve been muskie fishing for 10 years, but really it’s been in recent years that I’ve banked all my PTO and put in the most time and effort during the fall bite,” Sprengeler said. “My friends and I have put in a lot of full days, evenings and late nights chasing this dream fish, but our success rate has been pretty low. That doesn’t surprise me, though, we signed up for the entire experience.”
The 27-year-old and his circle of fishing buddies are as dedicated as they come battling severe winter conditions, frozen rod guides, reels that become ice blocks and at the risk of frostbitten fingers and faces—all for a tiny chance at a world-class fish.
“I have a very close-knit group of friends who share the same passion for catching a record-class fish, and Mille Lacs has been the lake where we know that fish swims,” he continued. “After a short, but intense battle, that muskie hit the net and we immediately underestimated its size. In fact, we couldn’t believe it was as long as it was. We took photos of it on the bump board and of the tape wrapped around her midsection—we wanted to be completely transparent on the size so there was no question.”
“Ultimately, we wanted the catch-and-release record. But after over an hour of effort trying to revive and release the muskie, it was clear that she wasn’t going to make it. It was an unfortunate situation—not for the lack of experience or trying—but we also kept our heads about it and decided to then take her to a certified scale for official weight and measurements.”
The modern muskie benchmark is length—weight is seldom even discussed anymore. The release is often considered as exciting as the fight itself because of what it represents. Seeing a top-end predator swim away signifies a battle won with a chance to have the same encounter again in the future. It’s a practice that resides at the core of muskie anglers, true conservation and a moment to be proud of.
Sprengeler’s fish measured 57 3/4 inches nose to tail and carried in impressive 29-inch girth that collectively gave her a new state-record weight of 55 pounds and 14.8 ounces. As is the case with most muskie anglers, the bait was left unmentioned, but he did clarify, “It’s not really a secret.”
It’s truly an incredible fish, and one that was likely at the end of her lifetime. As unfortunate as it is to lose a muskie like this, it reset historical data that was unlikely to change due to modern muskie-handling techniques.
With final approval pending from the Minnesota DNR, the behemoth muskie will likely be the new Minnesota state record muskellunge. But not a standard to be beat, rather recognized and appreciated because it represents the incredible, community-wide effort muskie anglers put forth to release every single fish they catch.
A fish all Minnesota muskie anglers can be proud of.
“I’d be remiss for not thanking the people who contributed to this result—I feel it’s a team sport,” he said. “I can’t say enough about my friends Kevin and Zach. As a group, we’ve kept each other motivated and hungry for that single lifechanging bite. And a huge shout out to Austin Tausk and Kyle Dorr for helping me find a place to get her weighed and helping with that entire process. Also, thanks to Randy at the UPS store for being so cool about us weighing the fish on their certified scale.
“I’m so incredibly blessed to be a part of this journey with my best friends.”
If you’ve never chased muskies, it’s basically impossible to fully grasp the deep passion and commitment the anglers share. There’s no way to explain it, the only way to feel the magnitude of success like this is to experience it for yourself—and there’s really no better place than Minnesota. It’s a harsh, physically demanding way to fish, but the memories and rewards that come with a catch of any big muskie are incomparable in freshwater fishing.
From all of us at In-Fisherman, Congrats Nolan and company!