Hakeem Najeeullah caught this muskie ice fishing with friends Wednesday off the Cleveland shoreline. (Mike Durkalec, Cleveland Metroparks)
Hakeem Najeeullah caught a rare 42-inch muskie Wednesday while ice fishing the Cleveland shoreline of Lake Erie for the first time.
Najeeullah was jigging a small spoon, hoping to catch a yellow perch or steelhead off the boat ramps at Gordon Park. His fish finder showed what he thought was a group fish on the bottom of the harbor, about 24 feet down. He got a bite and set the hook on something heavy, which turned out to be the muskie — a 20-pound female likely getting ready to spawn.
Muskies, the largest members of the pike family, are native to the Great Lakes and have low reproductive rates.
While you can find muskies plenty of spots on the Great Lakes
, including Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River that feeds Lake Erie and the Buffalo harbor and Niagara River, the fish are rare in the central basin of Lake Erie, said Cleveland Metroparks aquatic biologist Mike Durkalek, who was out fishing Gordon Park at the same time.
“Thre are guys who fish their whole lives on Lake Erie and never catch a muskie,” said Durkalec, who would encourage anyone who caught a muskie like that to release it back in the water.
About a dozen men came with sleds and augers, to drill 6-inch holes in the 14-inch thick ice and see what they could catch. There were ice shanties and plenty of camaraderie.
See the Facebook Live video below for video of the ice fishing — and the muskie.
Overfishing and destruction of shallow areas where muskies like to spawn have hurt the fish population, Durkalec said.
“Muskies have notoriously high fidelity to spawning areas and are long lived, so once eliminated they can take a long time to recolonize,” Durkalec said.
Durkalec, who writes a weekly fishing report for the Metroparks
, receives news of a handful of muskie catches each season. But the largest muskie he’s ever heard of around here was a 41-inch fish caught and released from the rocks at Edgewater Park a few years ago.
He thinks water quality and habitat improvements are responsible for the muskie comeback. The Metroparks, for example, decided to allow aquatic weeds to recolonize the far east end of East 55th Street Marina specifically to maintain some spawning habitat for fish like muskies.
Najeeullah almost caught another muskie Wednesday, but it broke his line.
Given the abundance of gizzard shad, perch, and other forage species of fish in the area, Durkalec believes the muskie could have been transient, swimming across the lake and stopping by Cleveland to capitalize on a good feeding opportunity.
Najeeullah plans to have the muskie mounted.