‘It lurched out of the water to bite her’: Family recounts Island Lake fish-bite incident
One moment, Paige Dougherty of Hermantown was sitting on her family's Island Lake dock Sunday afternoon, dangling her feet in the water. The next, she was screaming and yanking her feet from the water.
"I thought she might have seen a turtle," said her dad, Kirk Haldorson. "The next thing I knew, I saw all this blood on the dock. I knew she got bit by something."
Island Lake is a popular walleye and muskie fishing lake just north of Duluth. Five members of the Haldorson family were sitting on the dock that afternoon about 3 or 3:30 p.m., Haldorson said. Dougherty's mom, Wendy Haldorson, had seen a fish leap partially out of the water at the time Dougherty screamed, Kirk Haldorson said.
"It lurched out of the water to bite her," he said.
"I actually saw the mouth," said Wendy Haldorson, Kirk's wife. "The whole head and past the head came out of the water. I saw all the teeth. They looked like a bunch of razors in there."
Dougherty, 22, was wearing a small ankle bracelet with a silver object dangling from it, her father said.
The attack marked the second time this summer that a person was bitten by something in the waters of Island Lake. In July, 11-year-old Maren Kesselhon had her foot and leg bitten severely by something beneath the water's surface. She received nine lacerations on her foot and ankle and required surgery, her father, Ryan Kesselhon, said at that time.
No fish was seen in that incident, and nobody knows exactly what bit Maren — though doctors who treated the wounds had said they thought they were caused by a fish. There has been at least one previous report of an otter biting a swimmer in the lake.
Dougherty's wounds were much less severe than Maren's.
"She had to have at least 20 little pokes and scratches, not like that other girl," Kirk Haldorson said. "She was lucky because she could pull her feet back. It was still significant, but she's walking today."
The Haldorsons did not seek medical attention for Dougherty.
Kirk Haldorson said he could see the muskie clearly in the water for some time after the incident. The water next to the dock was about 4 feet deep, he said.
"I looked over the edge, and I could see the muskie down there," Haldorson said. "I could see it was a muskie, not a northern, by its light color. It didn't go anywhere. We grabbed a rod and a net, but by then it had glided over to the kids' water raft. I could see it there about a foot under the water. It stayed around for about half a minute or 45 seconds."
He estimated the length of the fish at 36 to 40 inches.
"It could have been longer," he said. "It was at least as long as the bench on our dock, and that's 3 feet."
Haldorson said he had three small walleyes in a fish basket hanging from the other side of the dock. That might have initially attracted the muskie, he said.
The Haldorson cabin is about 100 to 150 yards from a point that is popular among muskie anglers.
"I've seen huge muskies caught off that point," Haldorson said.
Contacted Tuesday evening, Dougherty said her foot and ankle were recovering well.
"It's just a little swollen," she said. "But I think it will heal quickly."
And she'll be swimming in Island Lake again at some point.
"I think I'll go back in the water next summer, but I won't be wearing any jewelry and I won't have painted toenails," Dougherty said.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been stocking muskies in Island Lake on a regular basis since 1992. Muskies up to nearly 53 inches long have been caught in DNR assessment nets and released.
"The muskie is characterized as an ambush predator," said Chris Kavanaugh, DNR regional fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. "In this case, she (Dougherty) had an ankle bracelet on with something that caused the muskie to think it was a prey item. A lot of fishing baits mimic injured minnows or fish. When (predator fish) see that flash, that's what triggers the biting action."
The DNR doesn't keep track of fish attacks on humans, Kavanaugh said.
"It's a relatively unusual occurrence," he said.