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West Virginia Muskie: A Split Record
For the second time in a year, West Virginia has a new state record muskie!
It is important to note that West Virginia offers state records for both length and weight. Some fish have met the criteria to claim both records whereas many – including the muskie – have been split for years.
Before March 19, 2022, the certified weight record for muskie in the Mountain State was 49.75 pounds, caught by Anna Marsh on Stonecoal Lake back in 1997.
The length record has fluctuated over the past several years, however. Joe Wilfong captured the length crown in 2017 with his 53.5 inch catch on Little Kanawha River. Despite weighing under 35 pounds, the fish’s length earned Wilfong a place in the record books for several years.
Landing a Mountain State Giant
Alas, records are meant to be broken.
Cue Luke King…
On Saturday, March 19, 2002, King – an angler who has landed nearly thirty muskie that crossed the impressive 50-inch mark – landed both the longest and heaviest muskie on record in West Virginia.
With an obligatory grocery shopping trip planned for later in the day, King decided to fish a spot on the bank of the Little Kanawha River a couple miles from his home. It was a nice morning and, like so many avid anglers, King decided a few hours would be well spent on the water.
Not expecting to land the largest muskie of his life, King fished an eddy with good bank access. When he finally got a bite, King initially felt the weight, eventually realizing that there was a significant fish on the other end of his line.
The fish came to the surface with her head shaking. King was tasked with netting the fish himself, so he negotiated with the muskie before getting her to swim into the net head-first.
King’s location alone made for some challenges, though.
“(There is a) super steep bank, so I had to pull her up to get the hooks out,” King said. Once he started working on retrieving the hooks, however, he noticed that this fish might be different from the other 50+ inch muskie he has landed over the year.
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is the state record muskie,'” King said.
In the spirit on spontaneity, however, King had left his bunk board at home. He called for assistance from another angler who was trout fishing with his kids. From there, King made calls to his dad, his fiancé, and another friend who was fishing the area that day in an attempt to get in contact with a WVDNR representative who could certify the length and weight.
Despite having so many large fish that were right on the cusp of the record, though, King noted that the fish’s safety was his top priority.
“I have successfully caught and released hundreds on muskie,” King said. ” I didn’t want to kill one
just to get my name in the record books.”
Fortunately, King’s experience handling muskie proved vital as the race to the record book proved to be a marathon rather than a sprint…
Unifying the Record, but It Wasn’t Easy…
King’s friends were able to get in contact with Aaron Yeager from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources at around 9:30 a.m. – roughly 45 minutes after the fish was caught. Despite making contact, it was going to be another couple hours before Yeager would be able to make it to the site.
After King managed to keep the fish alive and safe in the net for over three hours, Yeager arrived and got the fish set up in a tank before she was transported to Southern States Co-Op in Braxton County – a good 18 miles south of the site where the fish was caught – so she could be weighed on certified scales.
With an official weight of 51 pounds even and a length of 55 1/16 inches, King’s catch will claim both parts of the West Virginia muskie state record crown upon official WVDNR confirmation.
While the shock of sitting on a new record and seeing his photo of the fish on Facebook receive thousands of engagements, King also noted being thankful that the record fish was able to endure the less-than-ideal certification process. He also was grateful for the chance to release her back into the water.
“I’ve turned a lot of them loose and she took off like a rocket,” King said, noting that the muskie returned to the water more effortlessly than other fish whose landing, hook retrieval, and release took under a minute. King credits Yeager’s tank for revitalizing the fish on the trip to and from her official weigh-in.
“(The tank) is a really nice place to put a fish and rejuvenate it,” King said.
He also noted the fact that the colder water played a big factor in the decision to go through with the certification process.
“Every time she thrashed around, it made me super nervous. If it was summertime, she wouldn’t have made it,” King said.