Fellows Lake gives another giant muskellunge – on a fly rod

They call muskellunge a 1,000 cast fish.

Well, Overland Park, Kansas fly fisherman Brad Kellerman beat those odds last week.

On his 150th throw at Fellows Lake, north of Springfield, Kellerman snagged a monster muskellunge and successfully landed it before snapping a few shots and letting it go.

Brad Kellerman with the 50-inch muskellunge he caught two years ago at Fellows Lake - on a fly rod.

It wasn’t big enough to surpass Missouri’s record muskellunge, a 41-pound, 2-ounce fish that measured 49.5 inches long, caught in 1981 at the Lake of the Ozarks. But give it a year or two to grow and it might, Kellerman thinks.

“I originally thought it was 30 to 35 pounds, but actually it wasn’t as thick as your typical 50-inch muskellunge,” Kellerman said. “This one was probably in his upper twenties, maybe 30 pounds.”

He and his fishing buddy David Pitt worked quickly to unhook and release the big muskellunge, so they didn’t actually weigh the fish. But Kellerman said it was still “the fish of his life”, and only the second muskellunge he had ever caught on the fly.

He caught a 34 in Fellows Lake last year and heard rumors of much bigger muskellunges in the lake from the folks who run the Fellows Lake marina.

This is the huge hand-tied muskie fly by Brad Kellerman that mimics a large crappie.

Kellerman, fly fishing manager at the Orvis Fly Fishing store in Leawood, Kansas, said he and Pitt launched their boat at Fellows in very windy conditions and quickly realized the north side of the north arm of the lake was too windy to launch.

They drove to the motor on the south side of the North Arm of the lake, found a fishy looking cove, and started casting.

Kellerman used a 15-inch black-and-white fly that he tied in his hand to mimic a large crappie, which muskies like to catch with their long, sharp teeth.

“We were casting 10 to 15 minutes when all of a sudden I hear ‘Oh shit, look at that thing!’ “Kellerman recalled his buddy screaming. “My buddy is one gang away from doing a figure 8 with his fly when this massive fish appears. This fish is a giant.”

Muskies often wait until the last second to strike a lure, so anglers drag their figure-8 shaped lures alongside the boat to entice a strike. This one did not fall into the trap and disappeared into the blue-green water.

Fellows Lake is about six miles north of Springfield and is a primary source of drinking water for Springfield.

“I had just gotten to mine to do a figure 8 as well, knowing there was fish in the area,” Kellerman said. “I suddenly felt a dead weight and hooked it just below the boat. It came and gave a big nod and it was gone.”

Using a 10-weight fly rod with a 40-pound test monofilament leader, Kellerman said he could feel the big fish struggling and shaking his head, trying to dislodge the hook.

“It’s a strong fish. They can spit the hook out with their amazing head jerks in minutes,” he said. “My heart skips a second with every shake of my head.”

The fight only lasted about two minutes, although the fish ran deep when he first saw the net.

Kellerman finally managed to get the fish’s head into the net, but a good 20 inches of it was hanging off the other end. The net was too small.

They pulled it aboard, unhooked the fly, took a few pictures, then let the beast fall back into the water. They thought it might become a Missouri record-breaking muskie on a fly rod, but Kellerman said he’d rather drop it and get bigger.

“It’s not up to me to bring a fish of a lifetime to shore and kill it to maybe get my name in a book,” he said.

MDC first stocked Fellows Lake with muskellunge in 1996.

In 2012, an angler caught a 51.5 inch muskellunge which was longer than the current record fish but not as heavy. There are rumors of a 54-inch fish hanging out near the marina, where fishing is not permitted due to boat traffic.

Dave Woods, a fisheries biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the agency began stocking muskellunge in Fellows Lake in 1996 to provide new fishing opportunities for area anglers. Muskies are also found in Lake Pomme de Terre and Lake of the Ozarks.

A severe drought in late 2012 caused Fellows Lake levels to drop and also caused the lake to warm up, both bad situations for muskellunges.

“Based on our sampling that we do every year there, we think there’s been quite a bit of large fish kill at Fellows,” Woods said. “I’m very surprised to see this 50 inch muskellunge this guy caught.”

He said a 50-inch muskellunge at Fellows Lake is likely about 16 years old and could live another year or two. Cold-water muskellunges in northern lakes can live much longer and thus have a chance to grow much larger.

“Fellows Lake is about as far south as muskies can tolerate it,” Woods said.

Could Lake Fellows produce a world record fish? Doubtful.

The current world record muskellunge was caught at Lake Court Ears, Hayward, Wisconsin, and weighed 67 pounds 8 ounces. This is a record that has stood since 1949.

Contact outdoor reporter/columnist Wes Johnson at [email protected]; or call him at 417-836-1243.

Previous A 50 pound spatula on a fly rod
Next Utah-based fly rod company looking for innovation