CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- How many people would catch the fish of a lifetime and release it, knowing full well it might have been a state record?
Ask Luke King, who did exactly that.
On April 15, King landed a muskellunge he hastily and conservatively measured at 53 inches in length, slightly longer than the current West Virginia record of 52.7 inches. Moments later he released his hold on the muskie's tail and watched her swim away.
"I never dreamed I'd catch anything like that," King said. "But there was no question I was going to release her."
Since he began muskie fishing four years ago, King has caught more than 250 of them, and has released all but a handful.
Last year, the 19-year-old from Burnsville caught a whopping 83 legal-sized muskies, including several in the 45- to 50-inch range.
The first few months of this year had been a bit slower. King had fewer opportunities to go fishing, and by the time April 15 rolled around he had caught just 12.
And for most of that day his total remained right there. He and his fishing partner, Jake McLaughlin, spent a fruitless afternoon on the Little Kanawha River, casting their lures toward submerged logs in one of the river's deep pools.
After they finished with the pool, King and McLaughlin guided their boat into a shallow area. What they saw there made their eyes grow wide.
"We had found a spawning riffle," King said. "We were expecting to find pre-spawn fish, but instead we found muskies that were already paired up to spawn."
Most of the fish were more interested in their mating rituals than in the 10-inch Red October pink tube jig King cast in front of them.
"They didn't want to eat," he said. "Most of them didn't even want to look at [the lure]."
Female muskies are almost always larger than males, and King said a couple of the females he and McLaughlin saw were much larger.
"We saw one female that must have been 50 inches, and she was accompanied by a male that looked to be about 30 inches," King said.
One pair in particular grabbed the anglers' attention - a male in the 45- to 49-inch range, accompanied by a female several inches larger.
"I cast to the female, and she followed the lure back toward the boat," King recalled. "She didn't take, though. She just hovered there under the boat. I made some figure-of-eights with the lure, but she stayed down there. Then I dropped the lure down and started jigging it right in front of her face."