Dave Hickman’s been fishing Curlew Lake for nearly half a century, and this past weekend, he caught a tiger musky that went 50.5 inches and is the new pending state record for the hybrids.
The Pasco angler caught the huge fish at 6:30 on Saturday morning, in the last hours of his family’s annual trip to the North-central Washington getaway lake.
It rang up 37 pounds, 14 ounces on the certified scale at Anderson’s Grocery in the nearby town of Republic, and, after keeping it on ice over the weekend, his catch was checked out on Monday by a state fisheries biologist in the Tri-Cities.
All that’s needed now for Hickman’s name and fish to replace the 31.25-pounder listed as the current state record tiger musky is sign-off by WDFW honchoes in Olympia.
In the meanwhile, after a hot tip from that still-smoky-smelling sockeye angler Rob Phillips, we spoke with the union plumber-pipefitter about his fantastic catch.
Hickman says he’s been fishing for the pike-muskellunge crosses since they were first planted in Curlew, and armed with intel from TV shows, he puts in his time at the lake during his family’s annual nine-day vacation there.
In past years he’s landed as few as one and as many as 11, but on this trip, Curlew was a little more curmudgeonly than usual.
It wasn’t until the eighth day of fishing mornings and evenings that Hickman hooked one, a 36-incher, that was followed by one perhaps as large as his pending record but lost at the boat after a five-minute battle.
On Saturday morning, with camp breaking set to begin at 8 a.m., Hickman hit the water early and had to settle on an area he might not otherwise have fished had he had more time to motor around the lake.
“I wasn’t confident in this spot,” he recalls.
But he did have his confidence lure back on.
The others in his tackle box — a 9-inch Slug-Go, a large Mepps spinner, etc. — hadn’t been performing.
“I don’t use big ol’ musky lures. I use 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits,” Hickman says.
Yes, that’s more of a bass-sized lure, and its drawn derision in the past from a fellow tiger tackler, but he’s found that when outfitted with a new blade and paired with steel leader and 50-pound braid, those smaller spinnerbaits can work for big muskies.
He says he’s caught tigers in the high 30s and as large as 46 inches at Newman, Evergreen and Tapps
This particular 1/2-ounce spinnerbait was white, and it got bit around 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
After he wrestled the big fish into his Crestliner by himself, his first shaky measurement turned up 49 inches, which is just short of the minimum size for retention, but a second pegged it around that mark, 50 inches.
Slipping it into his, ahem, rather large livewell — “It’s pretty big,” Hickman confirms — he headed for a dock and some trout anglers for help with further measurements.
The next taping yielded 50 1/8 inches, then 50 1/4.
He knew then that he might have caught a fish that could top the one hauled in way back September 2001.
“I was pretty confident it was legal. I figured a 50-incher could be a record,” Hickman says.
He waited awhile for Black Beach Resort to open its doors for pics and to learn what to do next for the records process, and then he ran over to Republic to put it on an official scale.
Packing the musky on ice, and gathering up camp, the Hickmans returned to Tri-Cities and the happy angler tried to get ahold of WDFW officials to confirm his feat. On Monday, he finally connected with Paul Hoffarth who took pics and forwarded paperwork to records coordinator Bruce Baker in Olympia.
Though it’s not quite official yet, Bruce Bolding, WDFW’s warmwater fisheries manager, is beaming this morning.
“It’s a really nice-looking fish,” he says. “No splits in the tail or anything.”
Asked how old Hickman’s musky might be, Bolding said anywhere from 7 to 10 years old, and that a coded wire tag implanted in the fish as a fingerling could reveal its age.
WDFW only releases a small number of young tigers into seven select lakes around the state, tagging them in different places of their body each year.
Curlew appears to be where muskies grow the largest. Bolding says he’s only heard of two other fish he believes were legitimate 50-inchers, and both of them came from there, including Chris Gades’ 2011 giant, which was released.
“That 50-inch length is difficult to attain in Washington state,” Bolding says.
Pointing to cooler water temperatures, a shorter growing season and food availability, he says they tend to plateau the length a musky can grow.
But grow big tigers is exactly what the Evergreen State appears to do.
“Of the top 13 fish of 2013, Washington has eight,” Bolding says, referring to the Muskies, Inc.’s ‘Lunge Log. “That’s pretty good. Of the top 10 fly-caught muskies, eight are from Washington.”
Only a fish from Lake St. Claire, that shallow mini Great Lake on the Michigan-Ontario border, yielded a longer one last year, a 49-incher, Bolding says.
When official, Hickman’s fish will be the second new record caught in 2014 by a Tri-Cities angler. The other was John Grubenhoff’s 20.32-pound walleye.
Ironically, Hickman almost didn’t land the largest musky of the family fishing trip.
His son, 18, caught a roughly 45-incher on Thursday night while the duo were fishing for trout with PowerBait and a marshmallow, and 8-pound test.
“I’m kinda proud of that. That’s kinda cool,” he says.
True that, but Hickman also has reason to be proud about his own catch, the soon-to-be new Washington record tiger musky, which he plans to have mounted.