The Department of Natural Resources is adding to its list of record Minnesota fish by including a catch-and-release category. As the agency does, it’s worthwhile to review records it already has on the books — including the state’s most famous, or perhaps infamous: that of a 45-pound, 12-ounce northern pike presumably caught by Chicago angler J.V. Schanken in Basswood Lake in May 1929.
A photo of what might be the fish Schanken caught is shown here — a northern pike that many people say could not weigh 45-12, mainly because it’s too skinny. This doesn’t mean Schanken didn’t catch such a fish — just that, if he did, this might not be it. Or, possibly, the fish had deteriorated significantly by the time the photo was taken.
Here are facts surrounding the fish, based on research I did some years back.
• The DNR recognized Schanken’s fish as a state record in 1950, even though it had no evidence it was ever caught. In 1980, when the DNR formalized its record-keeping, it retained the northern as the state’s biggest, again without evidence the fish was caught.
• In fact Schanken and five friends did visit Basswood in May 1929, and on the trip he caught a northern pike he reported to Field & Stream magazine as weighing 45-12. A story also appeared in a Chicago newspaper telling about Schanken and his big catch. The photo published here is from that story.
• In the record fish application made to Field & Stream, Schanken said his fish was 49 inches long with a 25-inch girth. It’s possible a 49-inch northern could weigh 45-12, but generally fish that size are about 5 inches longer. If, however, the 49-inch mark is accurate, the 25-inch portion of the fish’s girth would have to extend about a third of the fish’s body — which it doesn’t in the photo.
• Schanken began coming to northern Minnesota to fish and hunt about 1920. He died Jan. 28, 1975, in Sullivan, Ill, at the age of 86. His wife, Louise, died in 1962 in Bemidji.
• During their Basswood trip, Schanken and his friends rented tents and canoes in Ely and camped on Wind Bay of Basswood. In a written account by Schanken of the trip, Schanken said he caught the fish on a Bass-Oreno.
• Field & Stream recorded Schanken’s northern not only as a Minnesota record, but as a world record, “besting the previous record by 9 pounds 4 ounces.”
• Here are length-and-weight samples of verified record-size northern pike caught around the world: 47-pounder, 46.8 inches; 43-pounder, 53.9 inches; 39-pounder, 51.2 inches; 34-pounder, 47.25 inches.
• Schanken’s record fish. Is it real, or not? As I said when I first researched the record: Maybe.