Wisconsin Musky is a trophy fish even when it’s fake: NPR

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Northwoods Fishing Guide Colin Crawford holds a musky replica of Lax Reproductions he won in a Musk League in 2019.

Courtesy of Colin Crawford


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Northwoods Fishing Guide Colin Crawford holds a musky replica of Lax Reproductions he won in a Musk League in 2019.

Courtesy of Colin Crawford

Imagine catching a trophy fish and celebrating with a mount of your big catch on the wall, but only after releasing the fish into the lake.

It’s now happening in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, an area in the north-central state with over 3,200 lakes, streams and rivers., as anglers turn to replica trophy cups to celebrate the hanging of the famous muskellunge, a freshwater predator that can grow up to 5 feet tall and weigh up to 70 lbs.

The muskellunge, more commonly known as the musk, is the fish of the state of Wisconsin and is known as a freshwater equivalent of the barracuda. It is sometimes called “the fish with 10,000 throwsbecause it’s so elusive.

Northwoods fishing guide Ken Jackson describes the adventure as “hours of boredom followed by seconds of panic”.

“It’s a challenge because it’s a tough fish to catch,” says Jackson. “They’re very unpredictable. And basically your job as a guide is to prepare people for what might happen.”

To protect the state’s muskellunge population from decline, such as the Great Lakes Muskellunge disappeared in Green Bay over 30 years ago through commercial fishing, and to maintain the ecosystem of the thousands of lakes in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, some fishermen practice capture and release. Fishing guide Colin Crawford explains the protocol.

“In the mid-90s, a 35- to 36-inch fish in this body of water was a good fish. But thanks to Muskies Inc. [a non-profit group founded in 1966 made up of musky anglers] and catch and release and big fish education, you know we have 50 inch class fish in this chain, “ Crawford said.

Crawford steers his 20-foot tiller fishing boat in the water – continually throwing its bait and rewinding it. He and his fishing partner were unable to catch a muskellunge on this recent August evening, but they are part of a Monday night muskellunge league, and by the end of the night, 18 more have caught and released muskellunge.

This is one of the many musk leagues in the area, much like your average darts league or a bowling league, but for catching muskellunge. Leagues are sponsored by stores or bars or hardware stores. After fishing, fishermen traditionally meet at a local pub to socialize and record their catch.


Lax Taxidermy brothers Chris Lax (left) and Rick Lax (right) in the showroom with dozens of musky lines.

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Lax Taxidermy brothers Chris Lax (left) and Rick Lax (right) in the showroom with dozens of musky lines.

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“It’s like riding a model”

Whoever gets the most points at the end of the league receives a gift certificate for a fake musky replica at Lax Reproductions. It’s a taxidermy store turned into reproductions that can create realistic big-catch trophies.

“We can do anything,” says Rick Lax, who took over Lax Reproductions from his father in 2003, referring to poses, patterns and styles of musky reproductions. The company began to switch to replicas in the 90s after collecting hundreds of true muskellunge mussels.

Lax has a combined studio and showroom in Conover, Wisconsin. About 30 musky replicas hang in the exhibition hall in a variety of poses: uncovered teeth, chasing a school of perch, facing left or right.

Here’s how it works: You catch a fish. You take a picture. If you can, you measure the length and girth of the fish and then release it back into the lake. The company uses the photo and measurements to build your fish trophy, using two-piece polymer plastic molds from muskellunge caught in the past.

The fisherman can choose if he wants the trophy to reproduce the appearance of the muskellunge in the photo or if he wants another pose. Trophies can be mounted directly on the wall, sit on a driftwood plinth or plaque, or even balanced on a pedestal. People display their replicas anywhere from coats to men’s caves.

Lax is one of the few places across the country to do this work, and the company claims to have the largest supply of sizes and molds in the world. It takes six to eight months for people to have their replica shipped once it is ordered.

“It’s like putting a model together; a model airplane, a model train, we put them together, we put everything, all the parts together. And then we do the art of putting all the coloring in there to make it look more like the photo, ”Lax says.

Lax injects foam into the model fish so that it does not crack. And the painting tThe replica brings the trophy to life. Lax does his airbrush in the corner of his studio.

“We have different colors here. We have red, yellow, brown and white. Don’t use a lot of different colors, but we do a lot of shading. Yellow and red, and the next thing you know , you have all the undertones of a fish. “


Rick Lax holds up a musky head mold next to a musky reproduction in his showroom.

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Rick Lax holds up a musky head mold next to a musky reproduction in his showroom.

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“Every time you watch it, you come to relive that day”

Lax then sprays a body finish, so the replicas sparkle like a fish out of water.

For many, it’s like buying a work of art – with a prized 50-inch replica costing $ 800. “It’s a big investment. But after fishing for muskellunge for 10, 20 years you finally catch this one, it’s probably a small price to pay for all the money you spent trying to catch it. to catch.”

Jim Stewart of Rollie & Helens, a Northwoods fishing supply store that bills itself as “the biggest musk store in the world,” says people can spend between $ 200 and $ 2,000 to gear up to hook a muskellunge .

Returning to the Monday Night Musk League fishing, fishing guide Colin Crawford shares how he won the tie for Biggest Musk in a league competition in 2019.

“We was on Cisco Lake, I believe, on the Cisco chain of lakes and we were just fishing a weed edge and throwing in a big black jellyfish, and two cranks, she hit, and I put the hook and it ‘was it, 45 and a quarter inch and that’s what ties for winning the league that season in 2019. “

The prize in this league was a full-priced artificial replica of this fish from Lax Reproductions.

“Every time you watch it, you come to relive that day,” Crawford says.

Ultimately, the aftershocks can commemorate what some see as an epic struggle to catch a muskellunge while helping to preserve the ecosystem for future anglers.


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