LAC LA CROIX – While working a jig on another line, Rob Scott saw the flag on his tip-up pop up.
Scott walked about 25 feet to the tip-up, but when he retrieved it from his fishing hole on Lac La Croix, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“All that was left was the line around the spool and the knot,” said Scott.
The fish had reeled off nearly 250 feet of line. Scott plunged his bare hands into the icy water and yanked up about six to eight feet of his 20-pound monofilament line. He set the hook and the battle was on.
About an hour later, Scott landed his trophy. The immense lake trout, caught on Feb. 8, measured 45 inches long with a girth of 32 inches. A hand-held digital scale recorded the fish’s unofficial weight as 52 pounds, 3 ounces.
If the fish exceeds 40 pounds when officially weighed, it could be an ice-fishing record, according to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis. Earl Palmquist of International Falls holds the current National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame record for a lake trout caught through the ice and kept. Palmquist’s fish, caught on Clearwater West Lake near Atikokan, Ontario, in 1987, weighed 40 pounds and was 43 inches long.
Scott, who is having the monster trout mounted by a taxidermist, is getting an official weight on the fish for the Hall of Fame.
Jim Janssen, of Voyagaire Lodge and Houseboats in Crane Lake, has no doubt the fish will set a new world record. He held the scale when Scott weighed the fish after returning to Crane Lake.
“It is just awesomely grotesque,” said Janssen. “It’s a monster.”
Bill Congdon of Crane Lake has fished for lake trout in the same area where Scott caught fish. “I have never heard of anybody catching a fish like that,” said Congdon. “There have been some 20-pounders caught there, but something that big, never.”
An epic battle
The 65-year-old Scott, who owns Scott’s Peaceful Valley Resort on Crane Lake, said he was fishing in 55 to 60 feet of water when he snagged the huge trout. His bait — a shiner minnow — was about a foot off the bottom.
The fish stayed near the bottom for at least half an hour. Scott got the trout to mid-water depth and slowly worked it closer to the surface for the next 15 minutes. “I had to stay focused,” said Scott. “I knew he had shoulders. When he was pulling so solid, there was some weight behind it.”
As Scott brought the fish into shallower waters, he thought at one point he had nearly lost the trout. “When it came up, the fish rolled and hit the ice. I thought the line might break or I got too much slack in the line and he would spit the hook out, but he was still on the line.”
Scott got his first glimpse of the fish as it swam beneath his hole. “I saw his eye staring up at me through the hole and I knew then I had a monster trout on the line,” said Scott.
Scott was waiting for the right opportunity. The fish swam by the hole again and on the third pass, Scott saw its head and the mouth was partly open. He rammed a gaff hook into the fish’s mouth, let go of the line and pulled with both hands on the three-foot gaff.
“I just stood back and pulled and the fish came out of the hole like a cork out of a wine bottle,” said Scott.
After landing the fish, Scott said he shouted and did a dance on the ice. Anglers nearby heard the commotion and came to investigate.
“When they saw the fish, they said, “Holy crap,’” said Scott. They snapped photos of Scott with his trophy.
Scott said he’s had big fish on the line before, but has never landed a freshwater fish like this, ever.
“I had a couple of big fish on the line on Thompson Lake that gave me a run for my money,” he said, “but they spit the hook before I could land them.”
Scott has been fishing trout since he was in high school, but resumed in earnest since he retired from the Navy. For the last decade, he said he’s been fishing for trout primarily at Lac La Croix, David and Thompson lakes.
Congdon said Scott is just a really good trout fisherman. Janssen agreed. “He understands what the fish is doing under the lake and he knows how to navigate the fish to his hole.”
Scott considers himself an old-school angler. He typically will leave before daybreak on a fishing excursion and goes fishing regardless of temperature or weather conditions. “The trout don’t care if it’s blowing or snowing,” he declares.
He doesn’t bring a fish shelter or tow sled. “If you’re going to ice fish, you’ve got to be out on the ice,” he said.
Scott compared the experience of landing the trout to Quint pursuing the great white shark in the film “Jaws.”
“I didn’t need a bigger boat,” he joked, “ but I told Bill Congdon I might need a bigger gunny sack to bring trout back.”
Scott already has a place of honor reserved for the big trout in his home. It will be next to a wooden plaque he received from his great-grandfather, who chiseled the motto: “Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you lived in it.”
Was there any temptation to release the monster trout back into the waters where it was spawned?
Scott doesn’t hesitate. After battling the fish for an hour, alone and with his bare hands working the taut fishing line in temperatures just above seven degrees Fahrenheit, Scott said it never entered his mind. “Releasing that fish was not part of my trout vocabulary,” he concluded.