Monster Muskie Speared…

The angler is not a beginner – Mark Ormsbee has been fishing Burt Lake for over 30 years and it is easy for him. His home, near the tiny settlement of Brutus, is just 2.2 miles from big Burt Lake. He fishes almost every day or at least every day when the time is available. Right now, he is laid off so he can really get after the fish on a daily basis. He does much of his fishing with the traditional hook and line, winter and summer.

For some part of the winter, between December 1st and March 15th, the spearing season for pike and muskie, he sits in a shanty with spear poised, looking for a muskie to swim by. He has never seen one, in all those years. He has speared many a pike but no muskie.

His shanty was dark inside, to provide better visibility under the ice. With just 12 feet of water, he could see the bottom clearly. His spearing decoy was suspended off the bottom. Most spear anglers use a wooden or plastic decoy to attract fish to their holes. The decoys usually mimic pike or perhaps a sucker and may be as large as 12 to 15 inches in length.

He had cut a hole a whopping 34 inches long and his spear was suspended above the hole. It is a home-made weapon, crafted by a friend, with eight sharp tines and a wooden handle. The end of the handle is attached to a long rope and the rope is often secured to the inside of the top of the shanty. It was not secured, in this case, and that almost caused a problem.

Along about 4:30 in the afternoon, after hours of seeing nothing, Mark glimpsed a long shadow curving through the water under the shanty. He dropped the spear instantly, almost as a reflex and struck the fish in the back, in the area of the dorsal fin. The spear is designed to be dropped, rather than thrown and the design permits it to sort of glide through the water. The big fish rapidly swam away, pulling rope after it. Mark quickly grabbed the end of the rope and let the fish swim away against the resistance he applied.

At the same time, he yelled for his brother, Sherman, who was in a shanty about 100 yards away, to bring his spear. As Sherman was running over, Mark was able to stop the fish and began to retrieve line.

With Sherman now at his side, the fish finally was under the hole in the ice and the two had to quickly plan on how to get a fish through a 34-inch hole when the fish was clearly much longer than that. A good deal of pulling, letting line run out and pulling again ensued, with a lot of yelling involved. Mark was finally able to get the head of the fish up to the top of the water where Sherman could grab it by the gills and haul it out onto the ice and out of the shanty.

All the yelling that was involved in the landing of the fish attracted quite a few other anglers and by the time they reached the landing, a crowd had gathered to look at the muskie and take photos.

The next day, the Ormsbees took the fish to nearby Indian River, to Pat and Gary’s Bait and Tackle Shop, knowing that the shop had a scale large enough to weigh the fish. It registered 53 pounds on that scale and measured 55 inches in length. It could have lost a little weight, from bleeding or simply from freezing.

Unfortunately, they next took the fish to the taxidermist and the fish was quickly skinned, meaning that there can be no further effort to get a weight on a certified scale. The scale at Pat and Gary’s cannot be certified, since it is simply not sufficiently accurate. The current state record for a Great Lakes muskie is fifty pounds, eight ounces, so if the weight of the fish would have been accurate and certified, the Ormsbee fish could have been a new state record.

If any angler is fortunate enough to catch a fish that might qualify as a state record, the fish should be taken to a DNRE regional office, such as the one in Gaylord. The fisheries biologists there would be glad to weigh the fish, officially, and identify it officially (there are three different sub-species of muskie in Michigan). The fish could then be recognized as a record.

According to Tim Cwalinski, Fisheries Management Biologist at the DNRE Gaylord office, this fish had to be a Great Lakes muskie. Even if the fish is not a record, taking it to a DNRE office would insure that the angler could complete a form for Master Angler recognition, and provide the required witnesses.

The Master Angler minimum requirements for any muskie are currently 42 inches in length or 20 pounds in weight.

Burt Lake, by the way, is a real jewel for ice fishing. There are probably more anglers on Burt Lake on a Saturday in February than on any day in the summer. The lake has a wonderful population of walleye and pike and the perch are both large and plentiful. The walleyes reproduce naturally, so the population has been quite good, despite the recent lack of planting.

The lake also has an interesting population of both brown and rainbow trout. The trout are seldom caught in the summer, since they remain at depths well below those that are normally fished for walleye or perch but they move into the shallows in the fall, as soon as the water cools sufficiently and they are often caught in the fall and winter, in the same 12-to-14 foot depths that harbor the walleye, pike and perch.

Unlike the other large inland lakes in northern Michigan (Lake Charlevoix, Mullet Lake, Torch Lake, Crystal Lake), Burt Lake is largely composed of relatively shallow flats, with a great deal more fishable water than those other large but very deep lakes.