ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — There are plenty of times in fishing when some good fortune trumps the art of actually knowing how to target a predator species like a muskie, and that was certainly the case for a group of local anglers on Lake Ida recently.
Alexandria’s Jerrod Hammerback and his oldest son, 22-year-old Casey, had no plans set in stone to even fish on Aug. 16. It just happened that a family friend was in the state and wanted to get on the water.
Danny Worth played for the former Northwoods League baseball franchise in Alexandria, the Beetles, in the summer of 2006. The Hammerbacks were his host family then.
Worth went on to play six years in the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros and is now an assistant coach at Pepperdine University in California. He was in Minnesota on a recruiting trip in mid-August when he made the drive to Alexandria.
“That was his favorite thing when he was here was to go on Ida in our little fishing boat and go troll,” Casey said of Worth’s time as a Beetles player. “He happened to just be scouting in the Cities so we figured we might as well make it a weekend.”
Jerrod said they might not have even put a line in the water if Casey wouldn’t have joined them. At the last second, they grabbed a small walleye net that was sitting in front of the pontoon they took on the water.
The group was trolling for northerns about a half an hour into the trip when Casey latched into a smaller pike. As he was reeling it in, a much bigger fish grabbed hold.
“We were just trolling the shore, and I had that little pike on. I was getting adjusted in the boat, and I felt the muskie hit,” Casey said. “It was a double hit, and I was like, ‘Oh, jeez. This is another fish, obviously.’”
No one in the boat was expecting a muskie. That’s because it’s not one of the area lakes that the Department of Natural Resources actively stocks with the fish.
Lobster, Oscar and Miltona are the lakes in Douglas County that typically come to mind for muskie anglers. The stocking efforts started in 1982 on Miltona, but a narrow channel does connect the south side of Miltona with the north side of Ida.
Once the Hammerbacks and Worth realized what they had on, their attention quickly turned to the fact that the muskie was never actually hooked. The fish had latched onto the northern and wouldn’t let go. Once the fish surfaced, Worth started shooting video of the battle.
“It was one of the craziest things I’ve been a part of,” Jerrod said. “The first 45 seconds of that video you see and about a minute before that, the (muskie) is just on that fish and won’t let go.”
It’s not unheard of for muskies or bigger pike to grab hold of a smaller fish while it is being reeled in. Usually, though, that bigger fish will spit the smaller one before it reaches the net.
The group believes that’s what this fish tried to do. Jerrod noticed while watching the video that the muskie was no longer clamped on the northern as Casey was finally able to turn them into the net as his dad landed both fish. They were fortunate that not long before that outing, Jerrod had changed the old monofilament line on his reels to brand new Spiderwire.
“(The muskie) lets go of the fish and the fish goes off to the side and (the muskie) goes into the line,” Jerrod said. “The line going through his mouth and the fish blocking him of being able to slide off of the other side is ultimately what kept him on there.”
The muskie immediately came off the line when it got in the net. All three anglers were in disbelief when they saw the size of the fish up close.
“I was like, this looks like a dinosaur,” Casey said of his reaction. “It’s just crazy to see something that has survived that long. Obviously, we were super pumped. It was cool, man.”
Jerrod did not have a scale to weigh it with or a tape measure to get a length, so they improvised. They marked a spot on the boat from the tip of the fish’s nose to the tip of its tail to measure once they got back to shore. It came in at nearly 48 inches. Length-to-weight conversion charts put a 48-inch muskie at nearly 34.5 pounds.
“You always hear, ‘Well, that one thing went wrong,’” Jerrod said. “This was three or four different things had to go exactly right for us to get that fish in the boat.”
After taking some photos, both fish went back in the water. Jerrod said the northern swam off with no problem, and they worked the muskie back and forth for a minute or two before it broke free from their grasp and swam back into the deep.
Jerrod has had people tell him since the fish was caught that it is not uncommon to see muskies in Lake Ida. Some have even joked with him that he let out the secret of their hidden gem for where to fish muskies locally.
Dean Beck, fisheries manager for the Glenwood Area DNR, wouldn’t go that far, but he was not surprised to see this fish caught on Ida.
“We just finished a standard lake survey on Lake Ida last week and did not catch or encounter any muskies, but this story confirms that some displaced muskie do exist in Lake Ida,” Beck said on Aug. 21. “There was a dead muskie found floating on Lake Le Homme Dieu two years ago. That fish may have originated from stockings in Lake Miltona or Lobster Lake. Not common, nor would I target muskie, but there is opportunity for interbasin movements.”
The Hammerbacks may never catch another muskie on the lake, but this one provided an experience they won’t soon forget.