The fish was so big, Brandon Graddick claims to have lost control of his bodily functions the first time he saw it.
"It jumped one time. When he jumped and I saw him, I (defecated). I literally did," Graddick said.
The Iowa City, Iowa, truck driver might have been exaggerating about his reaction to seeing his fish of a lifetime, but there is no need to exaggerate about the fish itself.
Graddick landed a 52-pound, 57-inch muskellunge on Wednesday, Aug. 26, from Straight Lake in Becker County near Osage, Minn., while on a family vacation. It had a 25-inch girth.
Graddick kept the whopper, which died while in possession. It appears to be near the Minnesota record for a non-released muskie and its measurements were within fractions of the state's catch-and-release mark.
The state record muskie weighed 54 pounds and was 56 inches long, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It was caught in Lake Winnibigoshish in 1957. The catch-and-release record was a 57 1/4-inch fish with a 25 1/4-inch girth caught in 2019 in Lake Vermilion.
Graddick and others believe if he had been able to weigh it on a certified scale immediately, it might've broken the record for a non-released muskie. Fish lose weight rapidly after they die.
"I was told it might've lost two pounds or more from the time I caught until we weighed it, which was probably close to four hours. That would've put it close to the record," Graddick said.
Oh, and here's one more interesting nugget: Straight Lake is not a natural muskie lake, has never officially been stocked with muskies and the DNR has never captured one while doing its netting surveys.
The DNR's acting area fisheries supervisor in nearby Park Rapids, Calub Shavlik, believes it's likely the fish was accidentally placed in Straight Lake from a muskie rearing pond located across Minnesota Highway 34 from the lake.
"That's a good-sized fish," Shavlik said. "It's probably 20-25 years old. It's thick and heavy with what you might call broad shoulders. That's a sign of a really big fish. If it was near 25 years old, it was probably reaching its longevity for a muskie."
Cyrus Gust, owner of Breezy Point Resort where Graddick was staying with his family, said he knows of a handful of muskies caught in Straight Lake over the years, but nothing approaching one like Graddick's.
"It was a huge fish. I'd never seen anything like it before," Gust said. "And it came from a lake the DNR doesn't even list as having muskies. It's a pretty crazy story."
Graddick, who's been vacationing at Breezy Point a couple of times a year for the past decade, had plans to go fishing the morning of the big day but got sidetracked when his family wanted to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park.
He ended up boating out on the lake about 3 p.m. He went alone when his future son-in-law decided to stay at the cabin because of rainy weather.
Graddick went to one of his go-to spots and began trolling a small crankbait in 15-20 feet for northern pike, which along with crappies is one of his favorite species. Fishing had actually been slow in previous days.
"It wasn't 20 minutes when he hit and when it hit the pole really bent hard. I thought, 'What the hell?' because it felt heavy and I didn't feel any movement," Graddick said. "It's a weedy lake, but I've fished there enough to know to stay out of the weeds. Then all of the sudden there was one big head shake and the line started going like crazy. I thought, 'This is big.'"
The fish hit a 2 1/2-inch long Booyah Bait lure that Graddick said he "grabbed out of the bargain bin at Wal-Mart."
The fight was on. With 15-pound test line with a 20-pound leader it was a doozy. Graddick followed the fish as it swam toward deeper water, a lucky break because if the fish had gone toward shallower water and weeds it would've made the battle even tougher.
When the fish showed itself for the first time by jumping, that's when Graddick claims he lost control.
"I was already shaking because I knew the fish was big. When I saw it, that just made it worse," he said.
It took about 30 minutes to get the muskie to the side of the boat, by which time the fish was pretty worn out. Graddick's problems weren't over yet, though. He didn't have a big enough net to scoop it from the water.
"So I have this huge fish in the water, I'm by myself and I have 15-pound test line. How the hell am I going to get this thing in the boat?" Graddick said. "I ain't going to stick my hand in its mouth to lift it up, not with all those teeth. That was not happening."
Graddick had two smaller nets in the boat. He grabbed one and put the fish's head in it. The other was a telescoping style net and Graddick, with his fishing pole in one hand and a net in the other, struggled to extend the second net's handle.
When he was able to get the second net extended, Graddick scooped the fish's tail end into it. He dropped the rod and hoisted the muskie into the boat by grabbing the hoops of each net.
Graddick wanted to show his family the massive catch so he called and told them to wait on the dock at the resort, about a 15-minute boat ride away. The nearly five-foot long fish didn't come close to fitting in his livewell, so Graddick put the muskie's head in the water and zipped back to Breezy Point.
"My whole family, the look on their faces when they saw the fish was like, 'Whoa.' Their jaws dropped," Graddick said.
By this time, Graddick said, he didn't think the muskie was going to live. So he made the decision to get the fish weighed to see just how big it was. After trying for some time unsuccessfully to find a certified scale that would make the fish's weight official in case it was a record, Graddick brought the muskie to Delaney's Outdoors in Park Rapids. Using a hook scale used to weigh deer, the fish measured 52 pounds.
"One guy told me, 'There's not too many people in this part of the country who can say they've caught a muskie that big,'" Graddick said.
The fish will be mounted by a taxidermist in Bemidji.
Keeping the fish was legal but Graddick said he's already caught some grief from anglers chastising him for keeping the trophy muskie, which are usually released alive back into the lake. He said he struggled with keeping the fish, but once the muskie looked like it wasn't going to survive he made the decision and will live with it.
Graddick said he's comforted that some people have told him muskies aren't supposed to be in Straight Lake anyway, and that the DNR says the fish was likely near the end of its natural lifespan.
"I did try to keep him alive, but I wanted to show my family the fish. If people want to give me crap about it, then it is what it is. It's a once in a lifetime fish," Graddick said.