Few gamefish inspire quite as much awe as the muskellunge—the toothy, elusive trophy hailed as the fish of 10,000 casts. Several muskies have made a run at the world record, but none have yet managed to topple the nearly 70-year-old reign of Cal Johnson’s 67-pound 8-ounce freak. That said, each of these 11 muskies is gargantuan in its own right and has secured a place in the International Game Fishing Association record book. Not only that, they turned up plenty of good stories—from epic quests to beginner’s luck—along the way.
Richard Zebleckis, a longtime guide and the owner of Swenson’s Resort at Lake of the Woods, reeled in his 39-pounder, in 1987, while trolling a classic Believer lure on his home waters. The fourth-largest muskie in the IGFA book at the time, Zebleckis’s fish remains, 30 years later, the 80-pound-line-class record.
Luke Meverden was 12 years old when he set the male junior muskie record while casting a Northland jig for walleyes in Leech Lake. Interestingly enough, it was the second big muskie that Meverden had caught while fishing for another species; the first was a 42-incher hooked on a bass lure. The fight with the 40-pounder lasted only 20 minutes, but the record has stood for 18 years and counting.
Lalie Tronel-Peyroz, of Saint Saveur, Canada, was trolling a Depth Raider on the St. Lawrence when she tied into a 41-pounder. With the help of her guide, the young lady weighed and then released the fish, which easily surpassed the IGFA female junior record of 28 pounds 8 ounces.
Ken Hunt hooked his big muskie while fishing with his four daughters, as he trolled a nightcrawler-tipped walleye spinner in 37 feet of water. After a 45-minute battle, the fish snapped the handle of the angler’s small net and made one last run away from the boat. Five minutes later, gripping the net by the hoop, Hunt and his daughters managed to wrestle the fish over the rails. The muskie measured 53 inches with a girth of more than 25 inches, and it still stands as the 6-pound-line-class record.
William Pivar, looking to change his luck after a slow afternoon of trolling, switched to a lighter lure—a Believer—with no leader. The move paid off, for Pivar hooked a 45-pound muskie and landed it within five minutes, despite using only 16-pound line. Nearly 40 years later, the fish is still a line-class record.
George McQuillen netted his 52-plus-pound trophy after a 20-minute fight, marking the end of his nearly 40-year quest to catch a record muskie. McQuillen set the 20-pound-line-class record while using a trolled Kwik-Fish lure, during a late-season trip to the legendary St. Lawrence, the only waterway to appear twice on this list.
Some anglers spend decades and thousands of casts chasing a trophy muskie. Then there’s Gary Ishii. On only his third fishing trip, Ishii hooked a 55-pounder on a jointed Swim Whizz lure, then spent a half hour battling it to the boat. The big muskie broke his rod at the handle, then snapped his landing net at the hoop. Undeterred, Ishii grabbed the net with both hands and wrestled the fish aboard. The catch still stands as the 50-pound-line-class record.
Gene Borucki needed only six minutes to land the so-called Monster of the Manitou, after having hooked it while trolling a Rapala on 30-pound line. But it took a whole lot longer for Borucki to find a scale—two days, in fact. No telling how much weight the fish might have lost in the meantime, but it was still heavy enough to be, at the time, the second-heaviest muskie ever submitted to the IGFA. More than 30 years later, it’s still in the top five and a line-class record.
The only muskie weighing more than 50 pounds to make it into the IGFA book this century, Joe Seeburger’s Michigan state record sets the standard for modern muskie hunters. Seeberger was chasing smallmouth bass, on 8-pound line, with his brother and a friend when he hooked this 59-inch fish with a sucker minnow. It purportedly took all three men, using life jackets and a dock line, to get the fish in the boat.
Kenneth O’Brien had rented a 14-foot boat for a daylong fishing trip near his hometown of Ontario when he hooked into a 65-pounder, while trolling a 4-inch Rapala on 8-pound line. He took him only 15 minutes to wrestle the 58-inch fish into the boat. But because IGFA testing found O’Brien’s line to have a stronger breaking point than advertised, the record was placed in the 12-pound class, where it still holds the top spot nearly 30 years later.
Still proudly displayed at the Moccasin Bar in Hayward, Wis., Johnson’s catch has survived numerous challenges in its nearly 70-year-reign as the IGFA world-record muskie. In a 1949 article, Johnson—a seasoned angler and outdoor writer—described a rain-soaked morning trolling a wooden Pike-Oreno lure on 30-pound line, while his son Phil rowed their boat. After an hour fight, the pair beached the 60¼ inch fish, which boasted a girth of 33½ inches, and then loaded it into the boat and headed back to Moccasin Lodge—where “bedlam broke loose.”
Written by Steve Hill for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.