Close, but no cigar.

That could describe the big muskie Ryan Getz of Bismarck caught Saturday, Feb. 24, while ice fishing on New Johns Lake in Burleigh County.

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The muskie, which hit a herring set below a tip-up, measured 51 inches and weighed 41 pounds, 5 ounces and would have set a new North Dakota state record if it had been a hybrid muskie.

Instead, genetic tests revealed the big fish was a pure-strain muskie, said Scott Gangl, Fisheries Management Section leader for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.

New Johns Lake has both pure and hybrid muskies.

"We suspected it was a pure muskie because it was full of eggs," Gangl said. "Until we got the test results, we didn't want to start speculating. It was a fantastic fish nonetheless."

Getz's fish ranks among the top three pure-strain muskies ever reported to the Game and Fish Department's Whopper Club database for fish caught and kept.

Cory Bosch of Mandan, N.D., caught the state record muskie, which weighed 46 pounds, 8 ounces and measured 54 inches, July 3, 2007, also on New Johns Lake.

The No. 2 muskie, caught by Bill Wald of Washburn, N.D., on July 20, 2003, weighed 46 pounds and measured 53 inches, again on New Johns.

There's not a separate record category, but Getz's muskie is the largest officially reported as being caught through the ice in North Dakota. Had the fish been a hybrid muskie, it would have beaten a record that has stood since June 6, 1975, when Marvin Lee of Rolette, N.D., pulled a 44.8-inch, 40-pound tiger muskie from Gravel Lake in Rolette County.

Part of the Garrison Diversion Unit, 676.4-acre New Johns Lake now has produced the three largest pure strain muskies reported in North Dakota. Gangl says he doesn't think it's any particular forage that makes the muskies in New Johns grow so large.

"We stock them in low density," he said. "There are people that target them, but I think it's just longevity."

Gangl said he's been in contact with the taxidermist mounting Getz's fish about taking the otolith out of the muskie when the head is skinned. Biologists can determine a fish's age by cutting a cross-section of the otolith-an ear bone-and counting the rings under a microscope, similar to how foresters age trees.

It's just a guess, but Gangl speculates the muskie was in the teens in terms of age.

"It would have been a state record 15 years ago," Gangl said of a fish that size. "The only bigger muskies that have been caught and reported to us were the last two state records."

Sturgeon tourney benefits kids' event

Speaking of big fish, an annual spring sturgeon tournament on the Rainy River near Baudette, Minn., raised more than $2,600 last weekend for the Lake of the Woods Take a Kid Fishing program, according to Sportsman's Lodge, which puts on the catch-and-release event.

This year's tournament, held May 4-5, was the 12th annual.

The tournament is limited to 60 boats and filled to capacity again this year, as 169 anglers competed for more than $9,000 in cash and prizes.

The tournament focuses on a 1.2-mile stretch of the Rainy River near the lodge. Jack Waldo of Bovey, Minn., landed big fish honors on day one with a 63½-inch sturgeon with a 22-inch girth. Big fish honors on day two went to Tony Klaers, Bemidji, with a 63-inch sturgeon that had a paunchy 26¾-inch girth. Based on length-girth estimates from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, those two fish weighed about 60 pounds and 67 pounds, respectively.

Next year's tournament, set for May 3-4, 2019, also is filled to capacity, according to Sportsman's Lodge, proof once again of sturgeon fishing's growing popularity among anglers across the region.

A limited harvest season for anglers purchasing a special sturgeon tag closed Monday, May 7 on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River and now is open for catch-and-release fishing through Tuesday, May 15.