BURNSVILLE, W.Va. — Joe Wilfong’s plans to go musky fishing last Sunday were definitely last minute. The Burnsville native had a buddy visiting from South Dakota who begged him to go fishing. Wilfong was tired after a night of work and couldn’t even find all of his fishing gear, including a net. But not wanting to be a poor host, he agreed to go.
The two longtime friends shared a lot of laughs about the old days as they cast back and forth along their float on the Little Kanawha River in Braxton County. They managed to raise four fish and his buddy lost a pretty good one. Otherwise, it wasn’t a very productive fishing day until they reached the last stretch of the trip.
“I said if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen right here,” Wilfong explained. “It wound up being my last cast and I saw a mouth come wide open and missed it.”
Wilfong could tell from the jaws it was a good sized fish, so he cast back toward the fish and saw the swirl of water coming toward his bait.
“I did a figure eight and on the second turn it just smoked it,” Wilfong said. “Now I got this fish hooked, didn’t have a net, didn’t have anything to grab it with. I gave Frankie the pole and I grabbed it by the tail and it started thrashing around.”
The two managed to get the giant fish to the bank where they corralled the beast in some shallow water. A man who lived on the bank above them came out to have a look at the commotion.
“He said, ‘Man I think that thing may be 30 inches’,” laughed Wilfong. “I said, I think he’s a little better than that.”
Wilfong’s fish dwarfed a four foot fold out measuring stick. He called his uncle to bring a tape measure, still not believing he had a potential state record. The tape revealed a length of 53 3/8ths inches, letting Wilfong know there was a chance. He soon called a buddy who showed up with a catfish net to at least give him some relief in the water to hold the fish and got on the phone with the DNR.
Biologists were understandably skeptical as his buddy tried to describe the measurement, but Wilfong got on the phone and
convinced them he was an experienced angler and knew a trophy fish when he saw it.
“They said it would be about two hours,” said Wilfong. “I told them I had already been in the water for two hours so come on.”
Biologists arrived and were elated to see the big fish still alive. The official measurements revealed the official length was 53.5 inches, which bested the old record by three-quarters of an inch. The weight of the fish was 34.58 pound, well short of the standing record for weight. With the measurements done and the pictures taken, Wilfong turned him loose.
“It swam away just fine,” he proudly proclaimed. “He was so old he had black teeth. He was so old he didn’t have very many teeth in his mouth, but the ones he did have they were very big.”
Wilfong said he’s been fishing all of his life to catch a musky of that size and thanks to his efforts to release it alive, others will have a chance to fish for it as well.