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Bemidji angler catches state-record eelpout

Aaron Guthrie of Bemidji hoists the 19.54-pound eelpout he caught Friday on Lake of the Woods. The fish is heavier than the current Minnesota record and will be recognized as the state-record fish once the paperwork is completed. Photo?

Lake of the Woods, 4:30 a.m. and a hook baited with three fat head minnows could only mean one thing - eelpout fishing.

Aaron Guthrie of Bemidji tests his skills against the eelpout whenever the opportunity presents itself and last Friday morning he was in his fish house on Lake of the Woods when his rattle reel sounded.

A few minutes later Guthrie had the fish wriggling on the floor of his fish house. Later he would discover that his catch would weigh 19.54 pounds, setting a new state record.

"The eelpout is a gorgeous fish," Guthrie said. "The ling cod is one of the ugliest fish in the world but they are so tasty. And the eelpout is a freshwater ling cod. Why wouldn't you fish for them?"

Guthrie and his fishing companions had caught some walleyes and eelpout during last week's trip to Lake of the Woods. About 3 a.m. they landed an eelpout and at 4:30 a.m. the rattle reel sounded again.

"I was resting when the fish hit but wanted to get to the reel as fast as I could before it could tangle with the other lines," Guthrie said.

When Guthrie set the hook, the resistance told him that a pout was on the other end.

"And I knew it had some shoulders," Guthrie added.

Despite the weight Guthrie was able to raise the fish from its haunt 34 feet below the surface. When it neared the hole, however, problems arose.

"I tried about 10 times to get its head up the 10-inch hole," Guthrie said. "My uncle (Rollie Jones of Osseo) was lying in bed watching me and I told him that I needed help. When I finally got the fish's head through the hole, Rollie put his thumb into the mouth to lip it and the eelpout immediately clamped onto it. And Rollie was able to pull the fish out."

Guthrie had caught large eelpout before but this one was special.

"It wouldn't fit in our bucket or in my live-well sock so I had to put it outside," Guthrie said. "On our little hand scale the fish weighed 19 pounds but it was alive and wiggling so much it was hard to get an accurate weight."

A few hours later Guthrie texted a friend and recounted the catch and the eelpout's weight. His friend did a bit of research and found out that the state record fish was 19.3 pounds and was caught at Lake of the Woods in 2001.

"When I learned that, the wheels started turning in my head," Guthrie said. "So we packed camp, thawed the fish and headed for the DNR Fisheries office in Baudette."

DNR assistant area fisheries supervisor Dennis Topp was at the office when Guthrie arrived. The next stop was Lake of the Woods Foods which had a certified scale.

The eelpout officially weighed 19.54 pounds and broke the previous state record by .24 pounds.

"It's a gorgeous fish," Topp said.

Guthrie's eelpout, which will be mounted, was 36 inches long, had a 24-inch girth and was swimming in the mud 34 feet below the ice. It was fooled by three fat head minnows that were clumped onto a glow-red Northland Eye Dropper spoon.

Guthrie is in the process of submitting the necessary paperwork to have his fish officially recognized as the state record. Because the eelpout was weighed on a certified scale, he has at least two witnesses and the fish was verified by DNR officials, the process is only a formality.

"I'm very happy," Guthrie said. "Catching a record fish is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

"But you never know," he added. "I'm going back to Lake of the Woods in a couple of days and any time you fish that lake there is the possibility for catching a trophy fish. It could be a pike, it could be a walleye or it could be an eelpout. You just never know what could happen."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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