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Dan Weil thought he had a fish on when he checked his fishing rod propped on the bank at Deadman’s Reservoir the night of Sept. 2. Turns out, he was wrong.

“His line was tangled up with mine,” said his fishing buddy, Leo Cantin.

So Cantin started reeling in his line. About 40 minutes later, he landed what looks to be the next state record tiger muskie — a 50-inch-long, 38.12-pound sharp-toothed beast.

It will take a little while for the paperwork to clear Fish, Wildlife and Parks before things are official, but things look promising.

“(Warden) Justin Hawkaluk looked at it, so I’m guessing it’s just a formality at this point,” said Mike Ruggles, an FWP fisheries biologist in Billings.

Here’s the other odd thing about the situation. Weil just happens to be the current holder of the state tiger muskie record, a fish he caught at Deadman’s on July 6, 2011, that weighed 31.3 pounds and measured 49 inches. It was Cantin who netted Weil’s record fish.

“He was a little grumped about it,” Cantin said. “Then he said we’ll switch off every other year.”

Big fish lake

Deadman’s Reservoir, located on the border between Wheatland and Golden Valley counties in central Montana, has nurtured some big tiger muskies. The fish are a sterile hybrid produced when a northern pike is crossed with a muskellunge. The hybrids, like their parents, can grow large very quickly. The world record, caught way back in 1919, weighed 51.3 pounds and was caught on a lake on the Wisconsin-Michigan border.

Ruggles said his fisheries crew caught a tiger muskie this spring during sampling surveys that was bigger than the one Cantin landed, but only by about one pound. So Weil’s chance to upend his friend’s record is possible.

The tiger muskies were planted in Deadman’s from 1996 through 1998, and again in October of 2010 and 2011. FWP crews released the fish to control the populations of carp and suckers, which were outcompeting sport fish like kokanee and rainbow trout, Ruggles said.

The most recent plantings were funded in part by Billings angling groups, including the Montana PikeMasters, Walleyes Unlimited, Walleyes Forever and the Magic City Fly Fishers, Ruggles said. The tiger muskies have also been planted in Lake Elmo and Lake Josephine in Billings.

Night fishing

Cantin said he’s been visiting Deadman’s to fish about once or twice a month, with no action.

“It’s been dead out there since June,” said the Two Dot-area rancher. “The muskies weren’t biting at all. I think it just got too warm for them.”

He was fishing with Weil and his wife, Cheryl, using smelt for bait when the big tiger muskie gulped it down. Cantin’s 20-pound-test line was attached to a steel leader to keep the toothy fish from sawing through the line.

Maybe the cooler temperatures and darkness of night prompted Cantin’s tiger muskie to go on the prowl for a little snack. It was about 11 p.m. when it inhaled the bait. As Cantin reeled in the biggest fish of his life, Weil ran to retrieve the landing net and then shouted out tips on how to bring in the big half-breed.

“Dan was a pretty good coach,” Cantin said, shouting out advice like: “Don’t pull him, don’t pull him!”

And Weil resisted the urge to knock the fish off the line and preserve his state record, Cantin joked.

He plans to have the fish mounted, since he figures he’ll never catch a larger fish. But that doesn’t mean he won’t try.

“We know there’s a bigger one,” he said. “So I’ll have to go down and catch him … no, it’s Dan’s turn.”

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.