MILLE LACS, Minn. — A Minnesota man rushing to sneak in a final fishing expedition before the freeze on one of the state’s largest lakes has officially broken a 64-year-old state record.
Nolan Sprengeler of Plymouth landed a muskie on Lake Mille Lacs the night of Nov. 22 that tipped the scales at 55 pounds, 14.8 ounces. The previous Minnesota record of 54 pounds was set in 1957 on Lake Winnibigoshish.
On Dec. 6, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources certified Sprengeler's catch as the new weigh-based state record.
"I didn’t realize how giant this fish was until I pulled it out of the net and immediately called (his friend) Kevin Kray over to assist with the buddy pictures," the 27-year-old Sprengeler wrote in a Facebook post. "It measured an incredible 57.75” in length with a 29” girth. The next hour or so was spent trying to get her to release. Eventually we realized this was not going to happen and made the decision to bring it to a certified scale and crush the Minnesota State Record."
The catch almost didn't happen. Nolan said setting the Minnesota catch-and-release record has been a goal of his and a handful of fishing friends for the last several years, and added that he fishes Mille Lacs almost exclusively in the fall. On Nov. 22 they met at the big lake about 3:30 p.m. and found their usual landings were iced over, and were unable to put the boat in at others as the water level on Mille Lacs is unusually low.
Knowing it would likely be their last outing of the season, Sprengeler and his buddies returned to their favorite landing, chopped enough ice to float the boat, and then carefully broke through to reach open water. It was 18 degrees, and their fishing rods were icing up to the point they couldn't be used.
Nolan said he was on his last useable rod at about 9 p.m. when the muskie hit. He reeled it in, and his friend Kevin did a great job on the net and they hauled the fish into the boat. "I didn't think it was that big," he recalled with a chuckle.
That changed when Sprengeler tried to pick the fish up and couldn't. Figuring he was just cold, he asked Kevin for help and the two held it for pictures. When they put it back down on the measuring board they recognized that it was a record fish.
Sprengeler said the muskie was hooked deep, and after working for an hour to revive the fish they realized it wasn't going to survive, meaning a record in the catch-and-release category was out the window. Nolan decided he would keep the fish for a mount after getting it measured and weighed for the overall state record.
That sounded easier than it actually was. Getting off the lake was harder than getting on, and after chopping and ramming their way through ice to reach the landing they had to find a place to weigh the fish. Every meat market and tackle shop they called only had scales that went up to 30 pounds. Finally Kevin called the UPS store in Golden Valley, and the guy who answered said he absolutely could weigh it on his scale.
Sprengeler chuckled as he described putting the giant muskie on a tote cover and walking it through the crowded UPS store to the scale, where it weighed in at nearly 56 pounds. He says UPS operator-owner Randy Holst was nothing short of amazing, creating an official document that was signed by Nolan and his friends, and even notarized.
The next stop was the DNR fisheries office in Shakopee to fill out state paperwork before Nolan drove five hours to Lax Reproductions in Conover, Wisconsin, considered the gold standard in fish taxidermy. Owner Rick Lax also creates molds so replicas can be reproduced.
Sprengeler, whose life revolves around the outdoors, said catching what ended up being the state record was the pinnacle of his fishing career due to the unusual back story and effort that went into it. He said the catch-and-release record remains a goal that he, Kevin and their other fishing partner, Zack Skogland, will pursue.
"It's more than a hobby," he admitted. "It's my life's driving passion."
The official world record recognized by most fishing organizations is Louis Spray’s 69-pound, 11-ounce muskie that was caught in 1949 on the Chippewa Flowage in northwestern Wisconsin.