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One fish stands fins and gills above the rest

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Updated: January 29, 2012 8:13AM

Ryan Stochl landed a muskie big enough
to spook his 3-year-old on Oct. 30 — and
eventually to earn Fish of the Year honors and inspire thoughts about records.

On seeing the 503/4-inch muskie with a girth of 23 inches Stochl caught from the Chain O’Lakes, district fisheries biologist Frank Jakubicek estimated her weight at 37.33 pounds from a conversion table.

He then quipped, ‘‘The Chain’s going to hold the state record shortly!’’

Stochl’s muskie was in that range. Matt Carmean caught the Illinois record — 38.5 pounds — on April 20, 2002, from the Kaskaskia River below the Lake Shelbyville dam. His muskie was also 503/4 inches.

‘‘I knew it would be close,’’ said Stochl, a substitute teacher and stay-at-home dad from Fox Lake. ‘‘I didn’t think it was worth the risk, but I did think about [getting it certified]. You know how fishing goes. They are not much different than politicians.’’

Because the fish deserved documenting, he put it in the 60-inch live well on his Tuffy boat. He then called his wife, Amanda, who was running errands with their son, Lincoln. They met at a dock. She took wonderful photos. Stochl hoped to have their son in the photos, but the big fish spooked him.

That’s a FOTY.

Stochl, who got hooked on muskie fishing 14 years ago on a three-day trip to Hayward, Wis., was fishing a sucker on a quick-strike rig at a fall spot — ‘‘Call it the Fox Chain. I like to give the whole Chain love,’’ he said — when he caught her.

‘‘She didn’t fight all that bad,’’ Stochl said. ‘‘I was mostly trying to keep the boat steady in the wind. When she turned to the side, she was so chubby that she wasn’t that strong. Then she turned and took me all the way around the boat.’’

He was able to turn off the trolling motor, get her around it, then start the trolling motor again to maintain control of the boat. His next problem came when she neared another rod in back.

‘‘Mano-to-mano, I got her turned,’’ he said. ‘‘I had the net next to me. She did one head shake, like she was going to do another run, then slammed into the net, half in and half out. I dropped my rod and put both hands on the net and started screaming.’’

Stochl, a member of the South of the Border chapter of Muskies Inc., hoped somebody would bear witness. But it was such a crummy weather day that no one was out, so he called his wife and took photos before releasing the fish.

‘‘It was definitely good that he was a Muskies Inc. member and put it back,’’ said chapter president Lenny Szulc, a Muskies Inc. Hall of Famer. ‘‘I have been busting my butt for 20 years, and we have probably dumped a half-million dollars of fish into the Chain.’’

Decades of butt-busting have paid off with some big muskies. Szulc said he thinks Stochl’s is from a Couderay strain stocking years ago. Recent stockings have been Leech Lake strain.

Stray cast

Twitter is to the outdoors what briars are to rabbit hunting. Mull that over before reaching conclusions.

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