Sarah Terry holds the Kentucky 47-pound state record muskellunge she caught.
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — When 14-year-old Sarah Terry of Mount Sterling, Ky., landed a Kentucky-record 47-pound muskellunge recently, it drew considerable interest from seasoned fishermen and younger anglers alike.
The fish was 471/2 inches long and had a girth of 281/2 inches.
Sarah was fishing with her stepfather, Scott Salchi; her mother, Mary; and her 7-year-old sister, Carli, at Cave Run Lake, where Salchi works as a fishing guide.
She used a technique many other musky anglers have found effective — making a figure 8 with the bait as it approaches the boat, enticing the fish to strike.
When biologists checked the tag on the fish, they discovered it was 14 years old, same age as the angler. It had been released from Minor Creek Fish Hatchery on Cave Run.
Sarah used a Double Cowgirl inline spinner that she had won not long before at a Muskies Inc. fundraiser. She was eager to try it out, so her stepfather took her fishing.
Musky fishing was the rage at Tennessee lakes such as Woods, Dale Hollow and Norris in the 1970s and early ’80s, before most of the fish there were caught. Today it is thriving in Kentucky.
The Trinity Trail for musky fishing is an outgrowth of interest on a regional level, like Muskies Inc. on a national scale. The Trinity is an offshoot of Fishers of Men, a Christian circuit that focuses on bass.
Since there’s very little natural reproduction at Cave Run, Green River or Buckhorn lakes — locations of muskies in Kentucky — stocking them is necessary.
Cave Run and Green River each get 2,400 a year, while Buckhorn receives 400, according to Dr. Gene Smith, a Hazard, Ky., veterinarian and musky enthusiast.
When he entered vet school at Auburn University, Smith was one of 32 successful applicants among 550. He even towed a fishing boat to college.
“It wasn’t much of a boat, because I couldn’t afford much of a boat,” he said, “but it did what I needed it to do. It was fiberglass with an old beat-up Mercury engine that I could hardly keep running.
“It was a steer stick: You sat in the front of it to steer it. But I guess I had as much fun with it as you could have for the amount of time spent.”
With that boat, he explored West Point, Eufaula, Seminole, Lake Martin, Logan Martin and Harden lakes near Auburn on breaks from his studies. Through the years, he has also become acquainted with Guntersville, Pickwick, Wheeler, Wilson, Nickajack and Chickamauga.
He frequently drives from Hazard to fish for walleyes at Dale Hollow. Only now he makes casts from a modern Triton boat with many amenities. His wife, an avid hunter and angler, competes on the Trinity tour. He can’t fish it himself, since he’s the executive director.
While muskies make for exciting fishing, raising them is expensive.
“The cost of raising muskies was about $1 an inch as of two years ago,” Smith said. “We can’t stock any that are smaller than about 12 inches. If you stock them at 8 or 9 inches, the largemouth bass will eat them all. You have to raise them to 12 or 14 inches before stocking.”
Smaller muskies are stocked in the river systems where they won’t have to compete with the big largemouths, he added.
“If you’re looking at stocking 2,400 muskies in a lake times $14 apiece, you can see what the cost is,” Smith pointed out. “It’s an immense cost to stock these fish, so it’s very impractical for people to eat them. The survival rate is not real high for them to get to a trophy size, so it’s very damaging to take these fish out before they have a chance to reach their growth potential.”
Clyde Hill Jr., a guide who fished for muskies at Woods Reservoir, remembers the fish’s popularity there. A few are still caught there and at Dale Hollow, he said.
“There are a lot more people fishing now than before,” Hill said, “so you have to work a lot harder for them.”
The variety of lures has apparently better educated fish in awareness about what to bite.
“Fish aren’t as dumb as people think,” said Hill, who caught a 29-inch musky three years ago.
Concerns that muskies eat smaller fish such as crappies are basically unfounded, Dr. Smith said.
“Muskies don’t eat crappies,” he said. “Stomach contents have shown they prefer shad and suckers, fish that have no spines in places like their dorsal fins. And I guess that’s natural selection since it’s much safer for them. Because they’re not stocked in high enough numbers, they will never reach a population density to where they could endanger crappies, even if they did eat them.”
One factor helping all of the fishing in Kentucky, Gene said, is the reclamation efforts by the coal-mining operations of eastern Kentucky.
“Reclamation has finally taken hold,” he said. “Everything they’ve planted has finally gotten a stable root system. Siltation has dropped way off. It was really bad during the ’70s and ’80s, but we’re doing a lot better.”