Steven Paul knew it was a big musky. In fact, he had hunted it for at least three months since it first followed his bait, and he’d even given it a nickname. And on March 2, he knew where he could find the fish he called the “Bossman.”
“The day before had been very warm and a huge storm cell moved through producing crazy weather and a bunch of rain,” Paul recounted. “On Thursday, we went from 70 degrees to 50 degrees and a huge cold front moved in. I remembered watching videos by [musky fishing pros] Joe Bucher and Bob Mehsikomer in which they said if you want to catch a big one in a cold front, it will be buried in deep weeds and if there are rocks with the weeds it will be better. A light bulb went off in my head, and I knew where the fish would be.”
Paul positioned his boat over what he called a pre-spawn spot on Melton Hill Reservoir — a big sand and weed flat near deep water, that most importantly features a 12-foot deep trench that’s full of rocks and weeds. He cast a GlideRaider to the spot, counted it down so he could work it just above the weeds, and the rest is history.
Paul, of Alcoa, Tennessee, ended up catching the largest musky in the state’s history, a 51 3/8-inch fish that weighed 43 pounds 14 ounces and carried a 23 1/2-inch girth. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the fish will be certified as the new state record “once the paperwork is certified in TWRA’s Nashville office.”
A third generation musky angler who spends the month of July each year on Ontario’s Eagle Lake with his father, longtime musky hunter Dr. Stephen Feaster, Paul is no stranger to big muskies. He said his big Tennessee fish is not close to his personal best, and maintains he had no intention of keeping it.
“I’ve landed big fish, I’ve handled big fish,” Paul said. “But I had no idea it was over 40 pounds. The state record never crossed my mind. I measured it in the water and saw it was 51 inches. When I saw it was in trouble I was going through everything I can to get this fish revived. Finally the fish just kicked its tail and it rolled over and that was it. It was dead.”
Paul continued: “The fight was just extreme. It hunkered down and I had to fight this fish vertically. It went deep and I was fighting it like a grouper. We moved the boat over the top of it and finally it came up.” His friend, Dylan Gano, netted the musky. “It looked pretty good. I popped the plug and dropped the measurement on it and said ‘It’s a 51’. We took pictures, and when we put it in the water it took off for about a foot and a half, and went belly up.
“So we brought it in the boat and I called my dad and I said ‘It’s dead’,” he continued. “I can’t leave it floating, so I decided to take it home. My intention was to call a fisheries biologist to have him look at it, but when I saw it in the boat I realized it had a huge, immense stomach. I put the scales up and it came in at 45 pounds. My wife just bought the scale for me for Christmas, and I recalibrated the scale. We probably weighed it 12 times and it kept coming in at high 44 pounds.”
Paul called TWRA Fisheries Technician Paul Shaw, who was unable to find certified scales near the area where the fish was caught. Shaw then contacted Reservoirs Fisheries Biologist John Hammonds and Regional Fisheries Coordinator Bart Carter, who met Paul to weigh and verify the new pending state record fish. Paul said the fish wasn’t officially weighed until about five hours after it was caught, during which time it expelled a shad and fecal matter.
The former Tennessee state record weighed 42 pounds 8 ounces, and was caught by Kyle F. Edwards from Norris Reservoir on April 27, 1983.
During his three-month hunt for the fish, Paul said he found it using three spots — the flat where it was caught, a rock structure and a vertical structure. One time, the musky followed his bait in a figure-8 for 18 laps. “We have really big fish in Tennessee, but we don’t have numbers,” Paul said. “Once I get on a big fish, I stay on it.”
Paul said his choice of the GlideRaider matched the conditions perfectly. “I knew a glider was the only bait I could work subsurface and work it fast and slow. I needed the depth, too, because in that circumstance the fish would be holding deep. The GlideRaider is big, it moves water, has a nice wobble, and I let it sink and then did the glide presensation deep,” he explained.
For the record, he was using a 7-foot-6 extra-heavy St. Croix Legend Tournament rod, an Abu Garcia 6501 C-3 reel, and 80-pound test PowerPro line. The GlideRaider was painted in the orange-bellied perch color.
Paul, 35, calls himself a “fishing guitar player. I’m the opposite of Joe Bucher. I’m a professional guitar player and part-time fisherman, while he’s a pro fisherman and part-time guitar player.”