St. Louis River muskies continue to grow, and the bite has been good

Muskie fishing has been good again this summer on the St. Louis River, with the largest muskies now in the 53- and 54-inch range, according to angler reports.

Cade Busche
Muskie anglers have enjoyed another good summer on the St. Louis River in Duluth. Cade Busche of Superior recently caught and released this 45½-inch muskie. (Submitted photo)

Muskie fishing has been good again this summer on the St. Louis River, with the largest muskies now in the 53- and 54-inch range, according to angler reports.

"The nice thing about the Leech Lake strain (stocked in the river) is they're still growing," said muskie guide Dustin Carlson of Northland Muskie Adventures. "Last year it was 53s. The year before, 52s. In a couple more years, they'll be maxing out their length."

The largest Carlson has heard of this summer on the river is a 54-incher, he said. The largest he has boated so far was a 53½-incher.

Nick Nergard, an avid river angler from Wrenshall, took advantage of that kind of muskie fishing last weekend. Early on Aug. 28, he hooked and landed a 52½-inch muskie, and early on Aug. 29, he landed a 48¼-inch muskie on his fifth cast. He caught both on a surface plug called a Bucher Top Raider while fishing alone.

He caught the big one, which had a girth of 26¼ inches, while doing a "Figure Eight" with his lure right at the boat. Muskie anglers often swirl their lures, especially bucktails or topwater lures, in a figure-eight motion at the side of the boat. They hold their rods almost vertically in the water and let the lure trail just a foot or so behind the rod tip. Sometimes, this triggers a strike from a muskie that has followed the lure to the boat.


The trick is not setting the hooks too soon. The better trick is holding onto your rod while the fish makes a wild first run.

"The muskie came from under my boat," Nergard said. "It [pretty near] took that rod out of my hands. It took 60 or 70 feet of line. Then it came out of the water like a tarpon."

The ensuing fight lasted about six or seven minutes, he said. Fishing alone, he got the fish in his net and managed to get it on board. He measured it on a board he keeps for that purpose, leaving the fish in the net. He took a few photos of it, but they were on film rather than a digital camera, and they weren't available.

Bob Maas, a regular walleye angler on the river, was 35 or 40 yards away. He said Nergard's fish appeared to be at least 50 inches long.

A fish of that length and girth, according to muskie length-weight ratios, probably would weigh about 45 pounds.

Carlson said when he hooks a muskie during a figure-eight pattern at boatside, he tries not to set the hook too soon. Keep your rod tip down near the surface of the water, Carlson advises. Let the fish turn to run, so it becomes hooked in the side of the mouth. Freespool your bait-casting reel if possible to let the fish make its first run, he said.

One thing that has made muskie fishing somewhat difficult on the river this summer is that some patches of cabbage weed have died and decomposed, leaving a fine "fuzz" in the water, Carlson said. Anglers have had to avoid those areas. Eelgrass has flourished, and when it gets cut by outboard motors, it can fowl muskie lures.

Despite those challenges, the muskie bite remains strong, Carlson said.

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