Neal Osteen of Hendersonville wasn’t exactly surprised when he landed a monstrous, 51 inch muskie from the French Broad River on March 8, but was still overjoyed at landing his best muskie to date.

A member of the WNC Muskie Club as well as a part-time guide, Osteen said that catching the huge fish, which he estimated – based on a length-to-girth calculation – could have rivaled the state record, is a testament to the great, though relatively unknown muskie fishery found in the French Broad.

“I’ve caught hundreds of muskie from this river,” said Osteen (828-974-1486). “Muskie get very little publicity, but they’re here in catchable numbers and trophy sizes for those who know how to fish for them.”

Osteen was upstream of the Rosman/Brevard area in Henderson County when he caught the big female fish, which he described as sporting a few “love bites” in advance of the spawning season. He managed to get the fish to follow his bait three different times and finally got her to bite when he changed to a soft-plastic bait. Using an 8 ½-foot, heavy baitcasting outfit with 60-pound braid and a 100-pound fluorocarbon leader, Osteen said it frequently takes a really big bait to get a trophy muskie to commit.

“She followed a Glide bait back to the boat twice, and I tried to get her to bite by running a Figure 8 right in front of her,” said Osteen. “Then, she followed again on a smaller crankbait. Finally I went to a Bulldawg, a big, plastic muskie bait made by Muskie Innovations, and started ripping it to the boat. She hit it on the second cast.”

Fishing by himself in a specially outfitted aluminum john boat outfitted with a 40-horsepower jet-drive outboard, Osteen targets muskies on the French Broad in the upper reaches between Brevard and the Asheville airport. Though the area is littered with rocky shoals, it’s the deep, slow pools that hold muskie.

“I’ve fished up north in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but I believe the fishery right here in the Pisgah Forest area rivals any muskie fishery in the world,” he said.

The North Carolina record muskellunge is a 41-pound, 8-ounce monster, caught in 2001 from nearby Lake Adger by Richard W. Dodd. Osteen released his fish without getting an official weight, saying he would never kill any muskie, even if it meant getting his name in the record books.