Eric Bakke from Princeton, and his fishing partner Jon Blood were doing what they do when it comes to fishing: fishing for trophy muskies on Mille Lacs Lake. The season had been open only eight days when Bakke got the bite of a lifetime on June 11.
They were trolling large crankbaits in search of a post spawn monster, and they got one of the bites they were looking for. Bakke said, “We had side-imaged the fish earlier (on the depthfinder) and were coming back on her to see if she would bite.” After working the area over they got the giant to finally bite.
Bakke did not get a good look at the fish at first, but Blood did, and knew it was big. After battling the fish to the boat, Blood had the task of getting the monster in the net. Even smaller muskies can notoriously get away when trying to land them, and the bigger they are, the harder it can be. But Bakke said, “Blood netted the fish flawlessly – nothin but net.”
After a huge sigh of relief and high fives all around, Bakke looked over the side and saw the fish in its entirety for the first time and thought, “Wow, this is a really good one!” He then went to pull the fish out of the net to get a measurement. “I didn’t get a feel for how really big the fish was until I started pulling her out of the net, and trying to get her over the side. I kept having to lift higher and higher for her to clear the side of the boat.”
Once on the measuring (bump) board, Bakke’s job was to make sure the nose of the fish was up against the stop. Blood was handling the tail portion of the fish when Bakke asked him how long it was. Blood responded 58 1/4 inches!
Bakke said their goal has always been to catch one longer than the bump board. Granted, the standard muskie bump board is 60 inches long! Bakke acknowledged how hard it is to catch – or even get near – a fish of that proportions. He said, “Finding a five foot needle in a 132,000 acre haystack – or to even get close to one – is never an easy task.”
Knowing the previous record was 57 1/4 inches that had been tied twice in recent years on Lake Vermilion. They snapped the necessary photos to submit the fish for the catch and release record.
There is also a video circulating of the release of the magnificent fish. According to Blood, they were able to measure, photograph and get the fish back in the water in less than a minute.
Bakke told the DNR, “To be able to target and catch fish of this caliber has been one of the great passions of my life.” Bakke, Blood and some various other fishing friends have made many many trips to Mille Lacs in the past years in search of “a queen.” Since the season had only been open for eight days, it was their third day of fishing when they caught the record.Bakke said it was more about the search and the experience of fishing on a world class fishery like Mille Lacs. “Knowing that there are just not that many out there – many, many days are going to be fishless – but when you do get the bite, it’s probably going to be a good one.”According to LinkedIn, by day Bakke is a Lead Professor at Hennepin Technical College for the Plastics Engineering Technology Department and moonlights at Supernatural Big Baits, which happens to be the muskie lure he caught the giant fish on.
Bakke and Blood did a YouTube interview with Ben Olson of Thorne Bros Custom Rod and Tackle about the catch and release of this giant fish. Bakke, being the humble person he is, told Olson, “I’d like to say thank you to all of the people who have caught that fish over the past 20-plus years, took care of her and put her back, she is still out there for all of you to go try to catch again.”
Bakke told the DNR that he’s been fortunate to be able to learn from, and fish with, some great anglers, and that joining Muskies Incorporated helped him understand the importance of handling and releasing these big fish with care and purpose.
Bakke has previously been very active in Muskies, Inc. and continues to be a big proponent of the group. They are the largest organization in the world dedicated to the conservation of muskies. It was formed in 1966 by a fellow named Gil Hamm. The group was officially formed to concentrate on the “continual improvement of the resource through rearing and stocking efforts, and sound conservation practices.”
Bakke is a member of the Twin Cities Chapter, which is the first chapter that was formed. Currently there are over 6,000 members and 50 chapters throughout the country.
Bakke is well known in the muskie circles and was also praised on social media for releasing the fish saying, “In order to catch more and bigger fish you have to put them back.” He then quoted the phrase legendary late muskie angler and outdoor writer Jack Burns coined decades ago: “Let them go, let them grow.” And went on to say, “This record should and will be broken in the next year or two if we all make the choice to keep all those big fish alive and swimming for the next person to experience and catch a fish of their lifetime.”
This news all comes on the heels of the new state record weight for muskies that was broken last year on Nov. 22 on Mille Lacs by Plymouth angler Nolan Sprengler with a 57 3/4 inch long muskie that had a girth of 29 inches and officially weighed out at 55 pounds and 14 ounces.
That fish broke the 64 year old previous record of 54 pounds from Lake Winnibigoshish in 1957.
So now, Mille Lacs lake holds both Minnesota state records for muskies. Some would say, “rightly so,” as hardcore muskie anglers from around the nation have predicted Mille Lacs would produce a giant of these proportions for decades – and now, that prediction has become a reality.
In 2019, the Minnesota DNR announced in a press release that they had “landed the largest muskie they had ever seen” when they captured (and released) a 61 1/2 inch muskie while electrofishing for walleyes on the big lake. According to the biologists, based on the length and girth measurements it would contend with the world record caught in 1949 that weighed 67 pounds eight ounces from Lac Court Oreilles, Wisconsin. (It should be noted that that record is highly contested along with many of the 60 pound class muskies from that era in Wisconsin.)
So giants do exist as Mille Lacs Lake continues to impress the muskie world. Currently, the lake is managed as a “low density, trophy population” by the DNR, and the trophy portion is definitely working.
According to the DNR to qualify for a catch and release record the angler must have “at least one good photograph of the fish displayed alongside a measuring stick, ruler or tape that clearly shows the length, and a good photo of the angler with the fish.”
The DNR’s catch and release program is for flathead catfish, lake sturgeon, muskie and northern pike.