The one that got away (with no official weighing)

  • Updated: July 16, 2011 - 10:26 PM

We'll never know the exact size of a giant Lake Sallie muskie.

John Gergen of Phoenix, Az., with 57.5-inch, 54-pound muskie he caught recently on Lake Sallie near Detroit Lakes.

John Gergen's monster muskie seems to keep growing. The big fish, caught July 1 at Lake Sallie near Detroit Lakes, has Minnesota's fishing world abuzz.

That happens when a fish is caught that approaches the decades-old state muskie record -- a 54-pound, 56-inch whopper caught in Lake Winnibigoshish in 1957. (The record likely has been broken, perhaps numerous times, by anglers who chose to release their fish.)

The Star Tribune published a photo and account of Gergen's fish on Wednesday's Outdoors page. Gergen, 22, told me Tuesday the fish measured 57 1/2 inches and weighed 54 pounds -- tying the state record, which is based only on weight. However, the fish wasn't weighed on a certified scale and wasn't checked by Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials, as required. (The state was shut down, so that would have been impossible anyway.)

So no official record, but a huge fish and a neat tale.

Then on Friday the St. Paul Pioneer Press quoted Gergen saying the fish weighed "54.5 to 55 pounds" -- implying the fish had broken the state record, even though it was in pieces at a taxidermist and never would be certified. (Gergen told me he tried to revive the fish for five hours, but it died, so he was having it mounted.)

Brian Basham of the Detroit Lakes Tribune first reported the catch July 10, saying Gergen told him the fish weighed 51 to 52 pounds when it was weighed using a bathroom scale. Basham said he interviewed Gergen on July 6 -- five days after the catch.

However, on Tuesday, Gergen told me his dad gave the newspaper the wrong information, and the true weight was 54 pounds. He said he didn't recall talking to Basham.

On Friday, Basham said the 51- to 52-pound weight came from John Gergen.

"He said it was a record length, but he didn't think it was record weight, based on several weights they had taken," Basham said. "They said it was a couple pounds under the record weight."

Basham was as surprised as I was to read in the Pioneer Press the fish now weighed 54 1/2 to 55 pounds.

Reached on Friday in Phoenix, where he lives, Gergen denied telling the Pioneer Press the fish weighed that much.

"I just said 54 pounds," he said.

He said the St. Paul paper got the higher weight from his taxidermist, Leonard Sunram, owner of Leonard's Taxidermy in Detroit Lakes.

But Sunram, in a telephone interview, said he never offered anyone a definitive weight estimate. Could the muskie have tipped 54 pounds?

"I would be surprised," he said.

Either way, the monster muskie becomes another slice of Minnesota fishing lore.

"It's a whopper," Sunram said -- referring to the fish, not the tale.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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