A West Virginia angler held his record musky in freezing water up to his waist for four-plus hours waiting for it to be verified, so that he could safely release it.
Joe Wilfong caught a monster of a muskie on April 30 in the Little Kanawha River. Wilfong and friend Frankie Steiner were just ending a float trip down the river when he decided to throw a couple more final casts. It's a good thing he did, too, because that's when the record musky followed his spinner.
Wilfong saw the follow and threw again, this time figure-eighting until the fish struck the lure and the fight was on.
"I decided to throw a couple more casts," he said. "The fish followed the first cast. I threw back again real quick, and I was figure-eighting the lure in the water when the fish came back and hit. Funny thing was, I had told Frankie just a little earlier that if we were going to get a big one, that would be the place we'd do it."
Wilfong knew he had a big musky but had planned to immediately release the fish since he didn't have a tape measure with him to verify it. But a bystander threw a 48-inch folding ruler to the angler and when he laid it on the fish he realized that he might have a record breaker.
"I saw then that it was well over 48 inches," he recounted. "That's when I decided to see if it was a record."
Records can only be certified by the West Virginia DNR, so Wilfong called the DNR station and held the fish in the water until fishery staff showed up... more than four hours later.
"For the first part of that time, I was holding the fish without a net," Wilfong said. "I called a friend, who brought a big catfish net down to me. I put the muskie in the net and made sure she was comfortable. I wasn't comfortable. In fact, I was shivering. That water was mighty cold."
At 53.5 inches, it was confirmed that the big musky had indeed broken the state length record of 52.7 inches set in 2003. However, at 34.58 pounds the fish fell well short of the musky weight record of 49.75 pounds set in 1997.
After the fish was verified, Wilfong gently released it from the net and watched it swim away.
Breaking the record made standing in the cold river all worth it for Wilfong.
"That's the fish of a lifetime," he said. "I'm pretty much floating on air right now."
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