Huge Skeletal Muskie Jaw Found Shows That Record Fish Probably Are Still Out There

Huge Skeletal Muskie Jaw Found On The Big Chip Shows That Record Fish Probably Are Still Out There

By: Terrell Boettcher

The year 1998 was a phenomenal, unprecedented year for numbers of large muskellunge caught in the Hayward area, and nowhere more so than on the Chippewa Flowage, where at least nine muskies from 50 to 54 inches long were boated (six of them were released) and anglers had some even larger ones on their lines but lost them.

Capping off 1998 was the discovery on October 31 of the lower toothed jaw of a muskie which perished earlier that year on the Flowage. The fish appears to have been in the same league as the two world-record fish caught in 1949: Cal Johnson’s 67 1/2-pounder from Lac Court Oreilles, and Louis Spray’s 69-lb., 11-oz. specimen from the Chippewa Flowage.

On Oct. 31, 1998, a veteran muskie fishermen from Appleton, Jack Woehler, and his wife, Peggy, were muskie fishing on Pete’s Bar. Their two children, Erin, 17, and Ryan, 15, “were bored, so we dropped them off on the island known as Miami Beach to explore,” Woehler said. The two teens came upon the jaw on the sandy beach. Woehler later picked it up. “It looked like it was from a pretty large fish, so I brought it to (friend] Randy Lawry,” he said. Lawry then took the jaw to Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Frank Pratt.

Pratt measured the bones, from which the length of the head could be determined, based on published reports of Canadian researchers. The jaw’s inside spread was 9 3/4 inches, the needle-sharp teeth were about 1 1/2 inches long, and the estimated length of the head from snout to gill plate was about 18 inches.

From the measurements, “It is highly probable that this muskie was from 58- to 70-inches long,” Pratt said. “There is no way of knowing how many pounds the fish weighed, except that a robust, healthy fish in that size range is on the order of 55 to 70 pounds,” he added.

Pratt placed the jaw next to the jaw of the 50-inch, 42-pound mounted muskie at the Hayward Ranger Station. The 18-inch head dwarfed that, with about 1’b times the volume. “So this was a very, very big fish,” he said.

Pratt also compared the jaw to the jaw of Cal Johnson’s mounted 67’1/2-pound muskie, which is on display at the Moccasin Bar. The mount is under plexiglas, so it was hard to get a total measurement on the jaw. “But this (discovered) jawbone appears to be one or two millimeters bigger than the jawbone on Cal Johnson’s fish,” Pratt said. “It’s very similar to that fish.”

The discovery “is startling,” Pratt said. “This is on the order of digging in the sand and coming up with a skull for Cro-magnon man, or walking along the beach in Africa and seeing a dead Coelacanth, which was thought to be extinct for 13 million years, suddenly wash up on the beach.

From the jaw’s annual growth rings, Pratt estimated the fish to be about 15 years old, “which is very young for a fish this size,” he said. “This means it probably was quite a robust fish, and that in all likelihood it did not die from disease or old age. If I had to make a wild stab, I would say that possibly a (boat) motor hit it.”

Like the manatee in Florida, “big muskies are really vulnerable to motor hits,” Pratt explained. “We’ve got these big, fast motors tearing around all our muskie lakes now and these big fish just like to suspend in deep water a couple of feet below the surface in the middle of the lake. That makes them ready targets for high-speed boat hits.”

“Some of these boats go 65 mph. I’m not necessarily advocating speed limits, but it’s I think we should be concerned about,” Pratt added.