ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- Anyone who regularly fishes lakes that feature muskies or big northern pike in them has probably at least heard of one of the big game fish grabbing hold of a hooked walleye, crappie or bluegill and not wanting to let go.
Lakeville, Minn.’s Jon Kuznia has had that happen himself with northerns while walleye fishing.
“Generally, right at the end when you’re bringing it in, they’ll shake and they’re gone,” he said.
That’s why Kuznia was so shocked about landing a 50-inch muskie through the ice near Alexandria on Jan. 16. Not only because the muskie didn’t let go, but because of what it grabbed onto in the first place.
Kuznia bought a place on Lake Ida in Douglas County two years ago where he spends almost all of his weekends. Ida is just northwest of Lake Charley, a much smaller body of water where Kuznia has a permanent ice house that he likes to fish out of.
Kuznia started fishing with his neighbors, Ben Saarion and Ben’s father, Carl, over 16 feet of water at about 7 a.m. on Jan. 16.
"We couldn’t believe it was happening. I just said, ‘Let’s get the transducer out of it and get it back in the water."
- Jon Kuznia
Carl rarely fishes, Kuznia said, and the sunfish were providing a fast bite that morning. Every once in a while, a northern would take a swipe at the hooked sunfish as it was getting brought up to the hole.
“You could see them. As soon as that sunfish was coming out of the hole, it’s just lightning fast,” he said. “They’d take two, three passes at it.”
Kuznia eventually landed a 27-inch northern. The combination of the sunfish bite and the northerns being active made for plenty of activity, but the group never expected to see what came next.
It was not long into the morning when the Saarion’s Vexilar sonar unit they were using to mark fish was dragged from the floor of the house and into the hole Ben was fishing in.
A fish had grabbed onto the Vexilar’s transducer that was sitting a few inches below the ice. They looked down the hole to see a huge fish suspended not far below and still hanging on. Ben grabbed the cable and started to pull. The fish’s head slid up through the hole and Kuznia quickly grabbed it and pulled it onto the floor. The group was shocked to see it was a muskie.
“We couldn’t believe it was happening,” Kuznia said. “I just said, ‘Let’s get the transducer out of it and get it back in the water.’”
Lake Miltona, about five miles north of Lake Charley, is one of three lakes within the Glenwood Department of Natural Resources’ work area that is stocked with muskies. Alexandria 22-year-old Casey Hammerback caught a 48-inch muskie while fishing in the summer of 2019 on Lake Ida. This was another case where the fish was never actually hooked after it grabbed hold of a smaller northern pike on the line and wouldn’t let go.
Ida is not stocked with muskies, but a channel connects the lake with Miltona on the northeast corner of Ida. Glenwood DNR fisheries supervisor Dean Beck, who is now retired, was not surprised to see that muskie caught on Lake Ida, saying the fish likely made its way through the channel from Lake Miltona.
Lake Charley has never been stocked with muskies either, and the muskie caught this winter likely made the longer trip from Lake Miltona, into Lake Ida and through a channel on the southeast corner of Ida that connects the lake to Charley.
Kuznia said they were fortunate that the holes they were fishing through in the house were the size that they were. He has often fished through 10-inch diameter holes, but recently bought a new auger with a 9-inch cut.
“I said if I would have used my 10-inch auger, your Vexilar would be gone,” Kuznia said. “We used the nine inch, and the (fish) just sat there. He pulled it in, and it came right into the hole. Once the head got in that hole, I said, ‘Holy cow!’ I just reached down and grabbed it by the back of its gills and pulled it right out.”
The muskie still wouldn’t let go of the transducer when it was pulled into the ice house.
“I set it on the floor and it was honestly a minute and a half before that thing let go,” Kuznia said. “I kind of tickled its mouth a little bit hoping it would open up, and it wouldn’t.”
The muskie eventually flopped once and spit the unit out. The guys did a quick measurement and snapped some photos before getting it back into the water.
“I put it in head first and grabbed it by the back of the tail like you would a big walleye,” Kuznia said. “I was going to go back and forth a little bit to get water on the gills. The minute I pulled back on it, it just launched and was gone. We started looking at the pictures we took. It was just crazy. To see a monster like that come out of the ice is just cool.”
Kuznia was grateful that someone like Carl who doesn’t fish often was able to experience such an exciting and rare event in the fish house. It was the first muskie landed for any of the guys that day and one they will remember and laugh about for a long time.
“For people who don’t think Vexilars help you land a big fish, you’re wrong,” Kuznia said.