David Bergman of Hendersonville, North Carolina has dreamed of catching a musky ever since his childhood days growing up in Tom’s Creek, New Jersey. After making a fateful decision to swap his steel leader for monofilament during a drift on the French Broad River in western North Carolina on March 18th, Bergman’s dreams became reality when he tied into a trophy muskellunge that was estimated to stretch between 56 and 59 inches and weigh 40 to 45 pounds.
Bergman, who works as a fishing expert in Asheville’s Field and Stream store and directs a summer program to teach fishing to kids at Camp Blue Star, arrived at the river at about 9:30 that Saturday morning. Shortly thereafter, he began his descent downstream in a trolling motor-powered canoe towards the run he intended to fish. On the first pass, he heaved a large swimbait on a 1-ounce jig head that was connected to his 30-pound braided mainline by a section of steel leader — due to a musky’s toothy inclination.
“I noticed the water was really clear and low,” said Bergman. “I was thinking I needed to switch over to a hard monofilament leader in case I was spooking them. So, I tied on a 40-pound (monofilament) leader.”
After completing the run, Bergman motored upstream for another pass. He made a cast about 30 feet in front of him into a large hole, laced with tree roots running from the shoreline.
“It hit the water and as soon as I started reeling, she slammed it,” said Bergman. “The reel was screaming. I had been fighting her for about 5 minutes and she ran me under the boat twice. I was trying to lean over and stick my rod in the water so the line didn’t get caught on the scratches on the bottom of the boat. All of a sudden, I heard another canoeist say, ‘Whoa! Got a big one on there, huh?’”
Offering to lend a hand, the fellow fisherman pushed Bergman’s canoe to the nearest shoreline as the struggling fish vied for the opposite direction. As Bergman pulled the fish close to the canoe, it calmed for a moment before thrashing. That’s when he realized his greatest fear and made a bold move.
“I saw that the monofilament had gotten stuck in her teeth,” he said. “I knew I had to do something right then or it was game over.”
Leaning from his canoe, Bergman grabbed the fish by the head and pulled it towards him. Now in shallow water, he stepped out and secured the fish with his other hand before picking it up and into the 13-foot-long canoe that served as the guide by which the 4 foot, 8-inch to 4 foot, 11-inch measurement is derived.
“I didn’t have a ruler or a scale,” said Bergman. “I just wanted to catch a musky. I didn’t think I was ever going to hook into anything like this.”
After a few quick pictures, Bergman revived his catch and watched it scurry back in the direction of the hole where it was hooked.
Although stocked in the French Broad by the NCWRC, musky numbers are sparse and fish of this caliber are extremely rare in North Carolina. Had it been weighed on certified scales and examined by a fisheries biologist, it would have been a contender to topple the state record of 41 pounds and 8 ounces, caught from Lake Adger by Richard Dodd in 2001.