BY MICHAEL WALTON
— TRAVERSE CITY — This is no fish story: A downstate angler casting for smallmouth bass hooked and landed a 52-pound muskellunge on the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay.
Jim Vozar, of Coldwater, fell just short of a state record when he hooked the monster muskie while fishing with his wife and Up North Smallmouth Charters Capt. Tony DeFilippo on June 21.
Vozar, 77, was casting with eight-pound test line and plastic tube baits when he thought his hook snagged on something.
“The gentleman thought he had a log at first, the Old Field & Stream story," DeFilippo said. "Then it started to move.”
The anglers chased the muskie for 20 minutes using the trolling motor on DeFilippo's boat, and were careful to keep the line from snapping.
No one realized what they were about to catch.
"At first I thought it was a northern pike, but when we got it up there we realized it was a whole lot bigger," Vozar said.
The muskie was so big it snapped DeFilippo's net in two when he tried to pull it from the water.
"It's a miracle we got that fish in the boat," Vozar said.
DeFilippo called fellow charter captain Chris Noffsinger, whose boat contains a large livewell. The men wrestled the muskie into Noffsinger's boat and called Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials.
A DNR officer weighed the muskie at 52-pounds, six pounds shy of the statewide record for Great Lakes muskie, a fish landed last year in Antrim County's Lake Bellaire. That fish also was caught on eight-pound test line.
DeFilippo said Vozar's muskie was wider than a dollar bill for almost the entire length of its body. He estimated the fish at about 50 inches, or just more than four feet in length.
The men released the muskie alive back into the bay. Vozar said he was happy just to measure the fish and snap a few pictures before he let it go.
"I'd feel really bad if it died," Vozar said. "It was a beautiful fish."
Vozar marveled at both local whopper catches.
"Muskie fisherman fish a whole lifetime and don't catch one that big," he said.
Vozar credited DeFilippo with making sure he landed the near-record.
"Without him, it wouldn't have happened," Vozar said.
Muskellunge naturally inhabit Michigan waters, according to the DNR. They can reach lengths of 30 inches or more in the first three to four years of their lives. Females tend to grow larger and faster than males, and the fish can live for 30 or more years.
With a mouth full of sharp teeth muskie are perceived as an aggressive predatory species. Many anglers rate muskie as the premier challenge of freshwater fishing, the DNR states.