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MUSKIES---Believe it or Not

I’ve heard stories, seen pictures and I’ve even seen the dusty stuffed trophies mounted on the wall. But then again I’ve heard stories about Big Foot, seen pictures of UFOs and when I was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I saw a stuffed and mounted Jackalope hanging on a restaurant wall. Bottomline? I’m not 100% convinced that muskies really exist.

Fishing was one of the original draws to the Thousand Islands. Muskellunges—or muskies as they are commonly referred to--are the king of the fresh water sport fish. And the St. Lawrence River seems to produce whoppers.

It was fishing that drew Gary’s great Uncle Otis from his home in Rochester to the Thousand Islands. For years he stayed at Hub House where it was advertised you could “fish from your room.” Eventually, Otis bought the point of land on Grenell directly across from Hub Island so he could fish to his heart’s content. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the only reason our family is on Grenell today is because of muskies.

There are plenty of newspaper clippings about Uncle Otis’ catches, but there are no stuffed muskies. The cottage was far too small for such a big trophy fish, or so I’m told. Otis supposedly donated his stuffed muskies to various hotels and restaurants in the area. All were torn down decades ago. So I’m left wondering if such muskies ever existed.

It doesn’t help that Otis’ daughter, Olivia, wrote a fish tale about catching a muskie that was eventually in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. I’ve been on the river since 1975 and I’ve never seen a muskie. I want to believe, but that “Or Not” keeps needling me.

In 2011 we entered our boat in the Alex Bay’s antique boat show. We were stern to stern with a beautiful boat called “Muskie” owned by Jeff Garnsey. Jeff’s boat had fabulous displays of muskies so appealing that he won an award for his displays. I shared my skepticism with him. At least now, I can say that I know someone “who says” he caught a muskie.

Jeff is more than just a muskie angler. He’s in charge of the Muskie Hall of Fame upstairs from the Thousand Island Museum on James Street in Clayton. He told me they have so many to display they have to rotate the collection. Did I mention I’d seen a stuffed jackalope? I know there is no such thing as a jackalope, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a jackalope museum somewhere.

Other Grenellians have chastised me for my skepticism and remind me that one of the most famous muskie fisherman of all time had Grenell roots. No, it wasn’t Uncle Otis. It was the son of George Pabst who used to own the cottage next door a hundred years ago. Howath Pabst at one time held the world record for catching the largest muskie and had a lifetime total of 1,228 muskie catches.

No wonder I’ve never seen a muskie. Howath caught them all!

By 1980, muskies were seriously overfished. Thank goodness, Save the River stepped-in and introduced a nifty catch-and-release program. Fill out a Muskellunge Release Affidavit and Save the River will send you a lovely muskie limited edition print created and signed by local artist, Michael Ringer. Started in 1987, Save the River’s catch-and-release program has given away more than a 1000 prints. Ringer has produced and donated several different editions. What a wonderful memento and far easier to dust than those wall-mounted stuffed fish.

Thanks to the catch-and-release program, anglers have a new ethic. Fewer muskies are being taken out of the river. But, it’s also true that fewer muskies are coming into the river. Muskies have lost breeding habitats in the decades since Uncle Otis stopped fishing. Dr. John Farrell, Director of the Muskellunge Research Program, leads the cooperative research effort at locating and protecting muskellunge spawning and nursery habitat and improving management to protect the species. And it’s a pretty special species. Besides being at the top of the food chain in the St. Lawrence River, Farrell says that, “The unique Great Lakes muskellunge genetic strain consistently produces some of the largest muskies caught anywhere.”

Farrell spends most of his summers at the Thousand Islands Biological Station on Governor’s Island. Farrell studies all fish but is it’s clear that muskies are a special breed of fish:

“It’s large size, unmatched aesthetic appearance, and secretive nature make the muskellunge one of the most revered and sought after freshwater game fish. Its value goes well beyond the fishery and into the historical and present appeal of maritime communities of the River.”

In 2005, muskies took another hit from VHS. No not the video tape. VHS stands for Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia. Biologists estimate that the St. Lawrence River lost half of its muskie population to VHS. But the worst is over and the muskie population seems to be on the rebound.

Perhaps with all these efforts—the catch and release program, the restoration of breeding habitat, and the tireless efforts of Dr. Farrell and his Ontario counterpart , John M. Casselman, of the Glenora Fisheries Station—I might actually see a muskie some day.

What can YOU do to help the odds of me seeing a muskie some day?

  1. If you are an angler, it’s simple. Catch and release! But there’s a right way and wrong way to do that. Find out more at: Catch and Release guide:
  2. If you live along the shores of the St. Lawrence, make sure you are doing all you can to insure a good habitat. Check here for the Fish Fact Sheet
  3. Want to understand why the muskie is the history of the area? Go to the Muskie Hall of Fame and find out! Thousand Islands Museum, Clayton.
  4. Support Save the River. They are helping protect the river for you AND the muskies …….if they really do exist!

By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island

Lynn McElfresh presents two articles this month.  This is the third of several articles she will present this winter in partnership with Save the River. Click here To see all of Lynn’s contributions to TI Life.

More on Muskies:  Chasing the World Record Muskie… by Rich Clark – January, 2012;  The MacNair Forty-Acre Muskie, by Susan W. Smith – February 2009;  Pisces Redux: Muskies, by Paul Malo – January, 2008

Editor's Note:  A link to this video was sent to us after this article was published It refers to the reference above "The MacNair Forty-Acre Muskie" article.  Enjoy!


  • Julie Cashaback 55 inch muskie. Photo STR

    Julie Cashaback 55 inch muskie. Photo STR

  • Andrew Wagar 49 inch muskie.  Photo STR

    Andrew Wagar 49 inch muskie. Photo STR

  • Jeff Garnsey on right with 52 inch catch which weighed 35 pounds. Caught fall 2012. Photo STR

    Jeff Garnsey on right with 52 inch catch which weighed 35 pounds. Caught fall 2012. Photo STR

  • Jeff Garnsey’s boat

    Jeff Garnsey’s boat "Muskie." Photo STR


Posted in: Places, Nature, Sports
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Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 10:54 PM Tuesday, January 15, 2013
U funny! Me (since 1938) also never see, 'Muskie'. See 'things' on walls...No see live.

Great article. Thanks!

Thanks to evryone working to improve the St Lawrence River- in all ways!
Janet Staples
Comment by: Janet Staples ( )
Left at: 2:06 PM Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Great Article ! Great photos too -

Thanks for the education and for helping to keep this great fish around for another few more hundred years
Rob Dickover
Comment by: Rob Dickover ( )
Left at: 6:01 PM Thursday, January 17, 2013
Do you know how to tell if a fisherman is lying?
When they tell you they caught a Muskie.

Seriously, since 1958 I still haven't seen one in a real person's hands on the St. Lawrence. Lots of pictures. Lots of stories. But no real flesh. Muskies and the Abominal Snowman are two sides of the same coin.

Of course I havn't seen a walleye until two years ago either.

Fish On!

Matt beck
Comment by: Matt beck ( )
Left at: 10:01 AM Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Word has it that rob is becoming the blind bay walleye guru
Rob Dickover
Comment by: Rob Dickover ( )
Left at: 7:59 AM Thursday, January 24, 2013
There is only one guru in Blind Bay and he is Matt aka The Walleye Man.
Meg Meyer
Comment by: Meg Meyer ( )
Left at: 3:58 PM Friday, January 25, 2013
I've never seen a live one (born in 1961 - spent all summer at 7 Isles until 1983. But, we did have a dead one wash up on our point. I don't know how much it weighed (it was really ripe - no one would touch it), but it was well over 50" long (50" with the 'curve' it was stuck in). It was the largest fish I have ever seen.
Dave Whitford
Comment by: Dave Whitford ( )
Left at: 9:39 AM Saturday, January 26, 2013
I caught one, Lynn, trolling from a rowboat in the deep channel between Murray and Picton islands during the summer I was fourteen. It would've been a nice catch for a pike, but it was a musky and an inch less than the legal minimum then of 30 inches long. I'd been reading up in the Louis A. Wehle fishing literature that Genesse Beer used to distribute in the 1950s, and knew the difference. So I threw the fish back into the channel. Boyohboy, was I ever disappointed!
Cheryl Meagher
Comment by: Cheryl Meagher ( )
Left at: 10:46 AM Saturday, January 26, 2013
A couple of summers ago a boy caught a muskie off the dock at Island Shadows mobile home park, Cape Vincent!! She was released, of course. Her mate swam bback to find her in our marina. What a sight! None of us will forget!
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 1:16 PM Saturday, January 26, 2013
More, more, more!!! Great stories!

I HAVE seen a Muskie now that you all remind me of circumstances as to when/how-: certainly dead ones floating. And, yes, with the curve of rigor mortis, I suppose. Too, my grandfather's only relative came to Axeman Island (Lake Fleet group) in the forties and caught one. He based at the island. I suppose it was brought to the island and I saw it. But do not remember such.

Too, my cousin, Geri Ritson, caught one. She a great fisher woman! Maybe was 1960's and was immature, some. I didn't see that one, however, but heard much about it (was away from the island at the time)

I used to come to the river Falls (season) when Bill Danforth would so, so graciously invite so many of us to Jolly Island (Lake Fleet group, despite being a U S island...)for fishing, more...which became tennis some and then for some became golf and now when we grandly and gloriously meet is for touring, lunching, a LITTLE tennis and much reminiscing.

At one time we hired fishing guides. Fished the L. Ontario fishery especially off Pulaski, NY, etc., there. Salmon, Lake Trout, etc. Did catch (and release, many) the BIG salmon there. We trolling back and forth just beyond the inlet, parallel-to-shore, along with, certainly, thirty (30) other (boats) all w. down and out-riggers active w., say, ten to fifteen lines a boat! Oye! And...Yoikes!

I watched a solid 8 to 10 lbs. fish slam into the bow- topside- of an adjacent group's skiff in its standard, "Off-Pulaski in September, October, etc., High Energy Leap"! Somewhat continous show.

A guide we hired (in the St. Lawrence), 'Muskie Ferg', I believe it was- he got fish. And we had a special member- Allen H. Stowe, (aka, Muskie Tuff)(Stowe)(now, but prior to catch had been just, "Tuffy" Stowe).

Needless to say, a life long this string of island's fisherman, myself, Tommy Beadel, others- were skunked but our 'guest'- an always vociferous and inclusive of all others one... went home with a St Lawrence River icon- at least picture of such (which fish altered his name as above).
Comment by: scottbrown ( )
Left at: 8:44 PM Monday, January 28, 2013
two of the finest legonds in fishing the st lawerance are clay fergason and the late joe garnsy two of the greatest river rats you would ever wanna meet
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 3:44 PM Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Didn't remember, Clay was, 'Muskie Ferg's, first name or what was full ('sur') name. Thank you. I didn't know second gentleman, but EVERY river rat does know Garnsey name, I think. No?

Sounds wonderful.

Would be looking for them, maybe at Foxy's (or the Nash), say?
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 4:00 PM Tuesday, January 29, 2013
P.S. Too, meant to say- the, 'Nash' (International House...) might fill several pages of this magazine- stories. We had family drawn to this, er, river bastion. Me, I wasn't always sure, maybe...when I did make rare visits that in the/a far dark corner, away from the door tghere, someone slumped over his/her wine maybe had already passed from this earthly presence since the last round.

There ought perhaps to be a bronze tablet, plaque, you think?
Bill Stallan
Comment by: Bill Stallan ( )
Left at: 3:12 PM Sunday, February 3, 2013
Just to add a little Canadiana to this article and to give credit to the true World Record Holder for Muskie's; take a look at this YouTube Video which features Doug Jeffries of NewsWatch Sports. This shows the 65 lb'er that Sal Rotelo guided onto his guest's rod, while fishing in November 2011, in the 40 Acres, just west of Gananoque:
I send this to people to 'lure' them to the 1000 Islands!
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 3:42 PM Sunday, February 3, 2013
Thanks for your comment Bill, today, I posted the link at the end of the story. Note, it was actually dated in Nov. 2008, and I wrote about the "fish" in our February 2009 issue.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 9:59 PM Monday, February 4, 2013
Ditto- thanks for story and link to news story. Marvelous/Marvelous! Catch and release- so correct an action for us all except the occasional eating (but likely not a trophy fish...) We, as a boy- as boys, look out from the north west side of the island as toward late summer some boats would swing down into those waters that run between Hay, Tremont, Huckleberry, Leek, etc., and string of Lake Fleet Group islands; both running up to the wide waters (Jolly, Punts, Wyoming, Troughton, Sugar, etc.) and troll. Not only forty acres for muskie, apparently. Don't know if any ever were caught in that run but it was worked- IS being worked right now on a raw, white-capped, wet and cold early come fall day (in my mind's eye). We looking, watching, for the white flag. Did see, forward. We knew what we were watching for...and I'd race to get my brother.
Comment by: Mike
Left at: 1:41 PM Wednesday, February 6, 2013
What a great fish! I remember my father catching a 32 incher one day off the cement dock at Calumet Island Marina in the 60's... we ate muskie steaks for 3 days! Great article!!
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 3:00 PM Thursday, February 7, 2013
Right off the dock! Wow. You now, of course, neighbor to muskie and river research org. on 'Little Calumet'...can't remember other name (of that island...) Hope to visit there. We all should and support the research, I think.
Comment by: Kim ( )
Left at: 2:20 PM Thursday, February 21, 2013
My grandfather, Harold Ferguson, was a muskie fisherman in Clayton. He was also a fishing guide. There still hangs a large stuffed muskie at O'Briens that he caught many years ago in the St. Lawrence.
Marsha Garnsey Pendola
Comment by: Marsha Garnsey Pendola ( )
Left at: 5:06 PM Sunday, March 3, 2013
I was reading through some of the comments from Scott Brown And Jack Patterson and noticed that they commented about my uncle Joe Garnsey and The Garnsey's. I'ts just nice to see that people are still talking about them. They were alot of fun, and loved fishing. Believe in the Muskie to all the sceptics. they are real!!! I have listened to the stories as a young girl growing up when my grandpa Roland Garnsey told us about gettin em in the boat. I fished on the River back in 1978 only a couple times, but never caught one myself, caught alot of everything else, and had a shore dinner. Wonderful!! Grandpa always gave us hope that we would eventually catch one. Hopefully I will have time to have Jeff Garnsey take us out this summer and introduce my son & husband to the St Lawrence, and maybe catch & release one, Can't wait. Again, Thanks for the nice comments!!!!
Andrew Wagar
Comment by: Andrew Wagar ( )
Left at: 7:39 PM Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Amazed that my photo was included in this article! My 2nd Muskie and to date my personal best! I've caught a few and am thankful whenever I have one boat side. Still as exciting to have a friend pull one out right beside me! I spent over 70 hrs on the water before I caught my first one! Still remember it to this day. Never forget it, but yet all my muskies have held a certain spot or memory. I faithfully fish the Larry every year with the same 4 people...casting or trolling. With the help of my chapter, Gananoque & 1000 Island Muskies Canada, I continue to improve and hone my passion for this elusive apex predator! Feel free to contact me if you want some info on our chapter, or one closer to you. Let's go fishing! Tight lines!
Many through my chapter much larger than mine!