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Oklahoma man lands potential new Minnesota state record whitefish

Apr 12, 2019 07:31AM ● By Editor
Billy King of Pryor, Okla., landed a pending new Minnesota state record whitefish Saturday, April 6, while fishing Lake of the Woods near Warroad, Minn. The fish, which was confirmed as a lake whitefish Monday morning by DNR Fisheries staff in Baudette, Minn., weighed 13.57 pounds on a certified scale and measured 29.5 inches long. Photo courtesy of Sara Thompson/ SJT Marketing

By Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald - April 9, 2019

Billy King noodles for catfish down in Oklahoma, so he's used to pulling creatures from the murky depths, but the first-time ice fisherman didn't know what to think about the silvery behemoth with big scales he pulled from a hole in the ice Saturday night, April 6, on Lake of the Woods near Springsteel north of Warroad, Minn.

It didn't look anything like the walleyes, perch, pike and tullibees King and his fishing partners had been catching throughout the day, he recalls.

"I had no idea what it was," King, of Pryor, Okla., said Monday in a phone interview. "Being from Oklahoma, it looked like a white carp to me."

King had landed a pending new Minnesota state record lake whitefish, a species that while native, is not exactly common along the south shore of Lake of the Woods. The big whitefish weighed 13.57 pounds on a certified scale and measured 29½ inches long.

The existing state record lake whitefish, caught March 21, 1999, on Leech Lake near Walker, Minn., weighed 12 pounds, 4 ounces and measured 28½ inches, records from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources show.

From noodling to ice

A moulding superintendent at American Castings in Pryor, King says he made the trip to northern Minnesota at the invitation of Dave Erickson of Motley, Minn., whom he met several years ago on a business trip.

They've fished together on the Gulf of Mexico and attended other business outings since that initial meeting.

A couple of years ago, King invited Erickson to come down and try "noodling" for catfish. A popular technique in the South, noodling involves sticking bare hands into underwater holes and waiting for a catfish—and hopefully nothing toothier or poisonous—to bite down.

Erickson accepted the offer and reciprocated by inviting King to go ice fishing.

"I said sure," King said. "I love fishing, so that's how I ended up (going) up there ice fishing."

Fishing with Lyle Erickson, a Springsteel resident—and no relation to Dave Erickson—King says they had good luck Saturday, catching several walleyes, perch, tullibees and even a 39½-inch northern pike.

They were fishing a popular spot known as "the sandbar" in about 18 feet of water.

Saturday night at sunset, King says he'd just caught an 18½-inch walleye on a Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon when he hooked the whitefish.

"I rebaited, dropped straight back down and—boom!—that monster hit it," King said.

The whitefish was too big to fit through the hole, King says, so he got down on his knees to reach down and grab the fish behind the gill plates to land it.

"It put up a pretty good fight," he said. "I would not have guessed that it was that size. I just thought it was another good walleye. It pulled a little drag, and I just had 6-pound test line."

Fishing nearby, Lyle Erickson walked over for a closer look and said he thought the fish was a whitefish but had never seen one that big, King recalls.

"Dave was catching walleyes, and he didn't even get off his bucket," King said. "He said, 'meh, if it's a whitefish, we'll smoke it later; don't worry about it.'"

To read more of this story and related outdoors reporting, follow this link to the Grand Forks Herald.
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