Anglers on the hunt for record muskies on Vermilion

Corey Kitzmann of Davenport, Iowa, with his state catch-and-release record muskie caught last year on Lake Vermilion.

For years the fishing guides and muskie nuts I’ve talked to for various stories and columns swore up and down that the Minnesota State record fish was going to be caught in Lake Vermilion – predicting a beast in the 60-inch range was possible.

And for years that prophecy went unfulfilled.

Until last fall, when a guy from Iowa (of all places) landed what is now considered the state record for a catch-and-release muskellunge – a 57 1/4 -inch beast landed on Aug. 6 in our very own backyard.

Not quite 60 inches but a monster of a fish, nonetheless.

Corey Kitzmann, a Davenport native, has a cabin on Vermilion and was fishless for most of the day before landing that beauty at one of his special spots, he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

His fish was certified on Oct. 11 and weighed an estimated 47 pounds, according to officials at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The previous catch-and-release record was a 56 7/8-inch fish caught on Pelican Lake in Otter Tail County in 2016.

Minnesota’s official “kept” muskie record is 56 inches long, weighing 54 pounds and having a 27 ¾-inch girth.

It was caught in Lake Winnibigoshish in 1957

The best part of this story is thanks to catch-and-release, there’s a good chance that muskie is still out there and I’m willing to bet more than a few interested anglers will be chasing it this weekend, as the muskie season officially opened statewide Saturday.

It’s game-on for a select group of hardcore anglers who spend many a summer and fall day chasing the fish of 10,000 casts.

But Vermilion isn’t the only fishery where muskie are prevalent.

In Minnesota, the fish is managed in nearly 99 lakes (which make up about 21 percent of the total surface waters managed by the DNR in the state) but can be found in small numbers in about 50 other lakes.

According to the DNR, they are native to Minnesota waters, and they were present historically in many lakes and rivers, mainly in the north-central and northeast part of the state in waters connected to each other in the Mississippi River watershed. They were actually found in all the major watersheds in the state.

Presently, pure-strain muskies are descended from the fish that lived here historically and are referred to as the Mississippi River or Leech Lake strain. The state also has a small number of waters with smaller-growing native muskie from Shoepack Lake in what’s now Voyageurs National Park, although this strain has not been stocked since the 1980s.

Finally, tiger muskies are hybrids of northern pike and muskie.

Some well-known muskie lakes include Leech, Cass, Winnibigoshish, Mille Lacs, and the St. Louis River estuary. Muskies are also found on many smaller lakes.

Of the 99 waters the DNR manages for muskie fishing, they stock pure strain muskie in 50 waters, and tiger muskie in 11 waters in the Twin Cities metro area. Some waters are stocked every year. Others may be stocked every other year or less frequently. The number stocked in any given water varies from as few as 63 fingerlings to 4,000 fingerlings.

In any given year, about 30,000 fingerlings are stocked across the state.

To qualify as a traditional state record fish, the fish must be kept, killed and weighed on a certified scale. But Minnesota now has special catch-and-release state record categories for muskie, northern pike, lake sturgeon and catfish. Find current records and guidelines for each type of state record at mndnr.gov/recordfish.

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Forkhorn youth camp cancellations

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association announced this week that due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, almost all the Forkhorn Camps around the state have been cancelled for this summer.

That includes camper opportunities at the Laurentian Environmental Center (LEC) in Britt.

MDHA officials said in a news release that if anyone is registered at one of the camps and have not received cancellation notification from your desired camp,

please contact your camp to inquire on their status.

The idea behind Forkhorn camp, which according to the MDHA was started in 1985, is to teach kids between the ages of 11 and 17 the ins-and-outs of the outdoors and hunting through a unique hands-on, interactive experience, including firearms safety, bowhunting and advanced hunting techniques.

Each summer, week-long camps are held at eight different facilities across the state.

The MDHA added that some camps are planning or considering camps to provide Firearms Safety Classes later this summer/fall and are asking interested people to contact camps for information.

LEC officials can be reached at 1-888-749-1288. More information is available on their website, www.laurentiancenter.org.

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Funds raised despite change in format

COVID-19 has changed the way we do a lot of things, including fundraisers.

But that doesn’t mean organizers can’t still find success.

According to a recent story in the Outdoor News, despite a different look this year, the officials that put on the annual Fleet Farm Minnesota Fishing Challenge in Brainerd each year still managed to raise a lot of money while attracting more anglers more anglers than usual.

The 12th version of the contest, which traditionally draws 150 to 200 teams to Gull Lake, attracted 300 fishermen and women on Saturday, May 30, and raised more than $300,000 to support MN Adult & Teen Challenge drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs statewide.

The major change in the multi-species contest, was instead of a large gathering on shore for weigh in, fish were measured, photographed, and immediately released.’

Since 2009, anglers have raised more than $2.5 million.

This year’s top fundraisers, according to Outdoor News, were Stu Nelson and Rich Brummer, of Cloquet, who set a stout record this year bringing in more than $127,000.

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