NANFA-L-- how do you say no?

njz (njz at
Fri, 14 Oct 2005 08:41:55 -0400

A couple of weeks ago we lost our perfect exhibit musky sort of suddenly. Not
sure exactly what happened, but it had some kind of an ulceration in the back
of his mouth. Anyhow, it was a beautiful animal about 3ft long and 10 lbs.
So, now we needed another one for exhibit. I contacted our DNR guys and they
suggested I go with them to Leesville Lake in Carroll county. The Division of
Wildlife routinely surveys all the lakes in the area and makes recommendations
on what to stock in which lakes. Leesville is apparently a very productive
musky lake with lots of lunkers. Phil was the supervisor and in our dealings,
he had suggested we try to get a giant for the 50,000 gallon exhibit. Phil is
talking about an animal that is about 50 inches and about 30 pounds. A 50 in
fish! Geez o' man, I was just thinking of a couple of medium sized ones.
Immediately, my inner gollum* came out and a cheezing, daizily smile came
across my face. Wow, it would be a stunner, however that is it for most of
the other species in the system. I pondered it a couple of days, then came
back down to reality. I talked to Phil again and explained to him that
although I would have to agree that a leviathan would be great, I have some
issues with transporting an animal that is about 12 or 14 years old. Larger,
older fish are a bit more touchy to transport and they don't seem to adjust to
captivity as well as smaller fish. I really didn't want to endanger a
precious animal that has been able to survive for that long in the wild. Not
to mention that my transport tank was only 42" x 48". So I kindly explained
all of this to Phil and although he agreed to what ever I wanted, I know he
was thinking in his head that I wouldn't be so steadfast once I saw one.
Well, today was the day we got to go out. The district has a great
electrofishing set up that they use in their surveys. They run scheduled
transects on the lakes where they take data on various measurement and species
information. Today we had one goal however, get me a musky or two. So out we
go on a great crisp morning in a very picturesque resevoir. We had tried a
couple of spots close to shore and just off weed beds. The first few fish
that surfaced were a couple of nice sized saugeyes, about 18 to 20 inches. I
was really looking for walleyes, but these were nice size fish so I snatched
them up and threw in the live well. Another half our or so goes by and just
some nice bass and sunfish. Interestingly, we also brought up some larger
golden red horse. DNR stocked these several years ago as an experiment. They
did ok, so I am told, but I always associate redhorses with clean rivers, not
turbid resevoirs. We also saw lots of nice sized shad, about 6 to 8 inches- a
very good sign when you are looking for musky. Then we motored over to the
other side of the lake to try our luck in a promising looking spot. Within
minutes, Phil screams out. I saw a white log rolling about three or four feet
down in the dark, turbid water. With my net on the bow I reach down to help
Phil grab this "log". It comes closer to the surface......Holy ****! This
log was a lunker musky. It takes two nets to lift it out of the water and get
it into the live well, where I might add it would only barely fit on a
diagonal! It sat there jittering in the live well trying to regain itself.
Somehow I managed to sheepishly spit out the words, "that is huge, maybe we
should.....put it back?" That was my problem, it wasn't really a definitive
statement, but instead more like a question. Phil, the oportunistic predator
that he is ;) says with a grin (that had to cause his teeth to dry
out)...."are you sure? That sure would look nice in the big exhibit." Well,
what was I to say? How do you say no when the division of wildlife tells you
they would surely love for you to have this monster fish? Being the
reasonable person that I am, and one to not want to dissappoint anyone, I told
him that we should get it into the holding tank and see if we end up get any
smaller ones. Then I could let this one go (yeah right!) After all, the
division of wildlife was going through all this trouble just to get me some
fish. I'd hate to seem ungreatful... And then there was the fact that the
taxpayers were paying for two DOW fisheries biologist salary and my salary to
get fish. I surely didn't want to waste their money. Well, we raced back to
the vehicle in the hopes that we would get there before the fish fully came
too. I had a large fish "sock" that works well to transport giants such as
this, so we packed it up while it was still out. This way if it came to before
we had a chance to get it into the transport tank, it could thrash about all
it wanted without hurting itself (or us!). With some minor aeration issues,
we managed to get things set up and get the fish in the transport tank.
Immediately the fish came to the surface and I saw how huge it was. The
bottom lip touched one end of the tank and the tail fin just ever so slightely
curved on the surface of the other side of the tank. And let me say that it
wasn't the short side of the transport tank. Yepper, it was the long side- a
full 45 inches (after you take the thickness of the walls off the 48" outer
dimension). As long as this fish was, the most impressive thing to me however
was how wide its head was. I did not measure it but it was every bit of 8".
Phil said that a fish that length is about 10 years old and should be about
25lbs. It seemed to be OK, breathing normally and all so I put the top back on
and then I heard the lound wham! The lid bellowed up about an inch or so, and
let me tell you that it was a heavy lid! So, now it was back to the boat to
try to find a couple of smaller ones so that I would have an excuse not to
take this one. Pickings were slim, but we did manage to get another smaller
one shortly after, about 24" or so. He had a ripped lip so I assumed he was
just recently caught by an angler. I thought this would be good. I had a
larger one that I would do what I could to acclimate and a smaller one which
should transport easily and adjust better for me. Starting to get worried
about the big girl, I suggested to Phil that we head back, and he said that we
would, but there were a couple of quick spots on the way. Nothing panned out,
so we decided that we would try one last try right off the boat launch and
next to the camp ground. We were probably about 50 feet off shore, right next
to the camp ground and heading back to the vehicles when we ran across another
lunker, but this one was not as big, only about 37inches and about 18 pounds.
My first thought was how ironic, those campers just a few yards away probably
motor to all ends of this 1,000 acre lake looking for big fish, and we just
got one withing spitting distance of where they sleep. How funny. I bagged
this one too, thinking that it would be good to have two larger ones on
exhibit, or at least one if one of them for some reason didn't make it. The
smaller one I would keep in an off exhibit system for the time being so as to
not keep all my eggs in one basket. So there I am, frantically driving home
with literally 50+ pound of fish to get back to Cleveland safe and happy. Two
hours on the road led me to thinking, how the hell was I going to get these
lunkers out of the tank without them jumping out and hurting themselves
(myself)? Well, normally in these situations we resort to drugs. A little
MS-222 in the water should make the transfer go well, and that it did. I am
happy to testify that the introduction went textbook style. The smaller fish
revived in no time and the bigger guys we were able to just slow down a bit so
that they wouldn't thrash. Everyone was impressed by these monsters, except
many of the smaller fish in the system, of course. All animals in established
systems and swimming normally. Me however, my feet are still not on the
ground ;) This is what I call a good day!

*Trademark Todd Crail

Nick Zarlinga

"If we ignore nature.....maybe it'll go away."
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