Sports

Sarley: Giant Fox River muskie not eligible for Illinois state record

Carpentersville angler doesn't regret releasing fish near Algonquin Dam

Nick Wechet of Carpentersville holds a muskie he caught below Algonquin Dam on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. He estimated its length at 50 inches.
Nick Wechet of Carpentersville holds a muskie he caught below Algonquin Dam on Tuesday, April 26, 2016. He estimated its length at 50 inches.

The news of Nick Wechet’s catch of a giant muskie from the banks of the Fox River near the Algonquin Dam on Tuesday has become something he's heard a lot about over the past two days.

“Aw, man! Everybody at work was congratulating me and patting me on the back," Wechet said. "I felt like I was a celebrity while I was working at Menard’s that day.”

Steve Kroll. The President of the Fox River Chapter of Muskies, Inc. called Wechet and invited him to join the group.

Wechet did not have a scale or tape measure available to him when he caught the fish. He and friends have estimated the size to be about 50 inches in length. But there is no way to determine the exact size.

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It’s a good photo and the fish is held in good perspective, for the most part, but It’s easier to judge if the fish is held straight and not angled. That being said, I challenge anyone to be able to hold up a fish this big in a perfect manner.

In the past, the World Record Musky Alliance has done work to scientifically determine the size of old world record muskies via the use of photogrammetric technology. That won’t happen here because the technique is astronomically expensive and time consuming.

People have asked if the fish could be a possible record. There are no records kept for fish on particular bodies of water, for those who inquired if this beast was the largest ever caught on the Fox River.

As far as a record in the State of Illinois, a fish has to be killed to be eligible for record status. There are no records for catch-and-release.

The current muskie record is a 38-pound, 8-ounce behemoth taken on April 20, 2002 on the Kaskaskia River in Shelby County below the dam at Lake Shelbyville. The previous four record fish all came from Shabbona Lake south of DeKalb.

I think that Nick Wechet’s story will have people heading down to the banks of the Fox in droves in search of bug muskies. Is that a good plan? I put the question to Hall of Fame angler James Lindner from the Lindner’s Angling Edge television show.

“There really isn’t a lot of difference between lake muskies and river muskies," Lindner said. "They position themselves on the prime feeding spots because they are the top-of-the-line predator in any water that they are found in. They are the most aggressive predator and the first to feed."

While rivers can be smaller and certainly move unlike a lake, that has nothing to do with how large the fish can get in each body of water.

“One interesting thing is that river muskies can often be bigger than lake muskies," Lindner said. "Rivers contain a higher amount of biomass per acre than lakes do. That means there is more food for them to eat and get fat on.

“People get the misconception that you need big water to have big muskies and that just isn’t true. Up here in Minnesota, we have a couple of rivers that are so small that you can easily flip a lure underhand and reach the other side. Well, these rivers regularly produce fish that go 20 to 25 pounds. Those are big fish."

As the season warms up, that can also change the spots where muskie hang out.

“River muskies can live in some exceptionally shallow water in the warmer months," Lindner said. "In the winter, they’ll run deeper, but remember that they are always close to food. As we warm up, look for muskies in fast water.

“The perfect spot to find a big muskie is in fast water and positioned behind an ambush point where they can sneak up on their prey. Look for front ends of islands and front ends of points sticking out. Look for boulders and big rocks. We call areas like these 'current pushes.' The big muskies will hand out there where the current picks up as it moves past the pushes."

Then, Lindner went on to explain why Wechet's muskie might have been where he caught it.

“Winter fishing for muskies can be incredible," he said. "These fish like to relate to dams, both above the dams and below the dams, during the coldest winter months. They’ll seek out deep holes that are near shallow feeding grounds.”

Lindner is one of the best on the subject of river muskies and I was honored to spend a day chasing those critters with James and Spence Petros on the Mississippi River in Northern Minnesota. It was quite an education.

So, Nick Wechet, after you’ve had time to think about it, do you feel that releasing that big muskie was it still the right thing to do?

“I believe so," he said, without hesitation. "I talked to a few people who told me that I should have had it mounted but I don’t agree. You don’t eat muskies either. Putting it back for someone else to catch was the right thing to do.

”I’m heading out for turkey hunting this weekend and then I’ll be back on the Fox River chasing catfish when I get back. I’ll send you a picture if I catch a monster!”

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