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New Johns Lake produces yet another trophy muskie

Ryan Getz holds the 51-inch muskie he caught Feb. 24 on New Johns Lake. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has sent a tissue sample to a lab for genetic testing to determine whether the fish is a pure or hybrid strain muskie. If the fish is a hybrid muskie, it will be a new state record. Courtesy photo / Ryan Getz1 / 2
Brad Dokken2 / 2

BISMARCK — Whether the behemoth muskie Ryan Getz of Bismarck caught while ice fishing on New Johns Lake in Burleigh County is a new state record tiger muskie — a hybrid pike-muskie cross — or just a very large pure strain muskie won't be known until genetic test results become available.

Either way, it's one heck of a fish to pull through a hole in the ice. The muskie measured 51 inches and weighed 41.3 pounds.

"Yeah, it wasn't too bad," Getz said with a laugh Thursday, March 6, in a phone interview. "I wish they'd give me word" on the test results.

That could take several weeks, said Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. New Johns Lake has both tiger and pure strain muskies, which is why genetic testing is required, Power said.

Getz caught the muskie Saturday, Feb. 24, on a herring dunked below a tip-up he had set outside his portable fish house in about 6 feet of water. Getz had the lake to himself that morning and says he'd been fishing about an hour and a half without marking anything on his electronics when he looked out the window of the portable and saw the flag was up on his tip-up.

Lifting the tip-up from the hole, Getz says there wasn't any line peeling off the reel, but he could see a marker he'd put on the line to set the depth had disappeared below the ice.

"I pulled on the line and sure as (heck), there was some tension there," Getz said. "It honestly felt like a northern ran the line into some trees, and it felt like I was pulling on a log, so I'm like, 'OK, there's something serious on the bottom of this line.'"

Then he saw the fish's head at the bottom of the 8-inch hole in the ice.

"The hardest part was getting that big head in the hole, and there was probably 30 inches of ice at the time," Getz said. "He took a couple of runs, and that's about it. It took, I bet it wasn't even 15 minutes, to get him in."

After determining the muskie met the 48-inch minimum requirement to keep, Getz says he started packing up to head back to Bismarck.

"I wish somebody would have been there because I was kind of jumping around on the ice by myself," he said. "It probably would have looked kind of crazy to somebody on shore. There wasn't a soul out there."

Weighing in

Getz initially brought the fish to a Bismarck convenience store to be weighed, but the scale wasn't big enough and bottomed out. He then contacted a game warden, who recommended weighing the muskie on a certified scale at Butcher Block Meats in Mandan, where the fish weighed 41.3 pounds.

Game and Fish collected a tissue sample a few days later for genetic testing. If the fish is found to be a tiger muskie, it will break a record that has stood since June 26, 1975, when Marvin Lee of Rolette, N.D., pulled a 44.8-inch, 40-pound tiger muskie from Gravel Lake in Rolette County.

If it's a pure strain muskie, it will fall just short of the 54-inch, 46-pound, 8-ounce muskie Cory Bosch of Mandan caught July 3, 2007 on New Johns Lake.

Getz is hoping the fish is a tiger muskie so he can land state record bragging rights, but either way, he says, the first muskie he's ever caught is going on the wall.

Dakota Head Hunters Taxidermy in Bismarck is mounting the fish, Getz says.

"I don't even know if I would have gotten this one back down the hole if I wanted to throw it back," he said. "We measured the fish, and it was about 27 inches inches in diameter at its thickest."

Muskie reputation

One of the so-called Garrison Diversion Unit lakes, 676.4-acre New Johns Lake has a reputation for big muskies, Power said.

"It's interesting how many big fish that little New Johns Lake has put out for muskies," Power said. "New Johns is probably the only lake I know of in the state where people truly do target muskie, at times, and go up there with the big gear."

North Dakota only has "literally a handful" of muskie waters, Power said, all entirely reliant on stocking. Game and Fish is establishing a muskie fishery in Lake Audubon, Power said, and Wood Lake in Benson County and Larimore Dam in Grand Forks County also have gotten limited stockings in recent years.

Lakes generally require some depth and a forage base of oily fish such as white suckers or herring for muskies to do well, Power said.

New Johns has an average depth of 20.4 feet and a maximum depth of 31.4 feet.

"We have a pretty good history of 30-plus-pound muskies coming out of there," Power said. "On the pure muskie, our last four state records all came from New Johns or McClusky Canal," another GDU lake.

If tests show Getz's trophy to be a tiger muskie, New Johns will have yet another record to add to its list; time will tell.

"That's definitely one of my favorite lakes," Getz said.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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