Many muskellunge anglers go their entire lives without catching a 50-inch fish. Troy Radcliff caught three in little more than a month.
"It's been a great season so far, that's for sure," Radcliff said as he described the three catches, all of which took place between April 8 and May 11. "I've talked to some long-time muskie fishermen, and they tell me it's unusual to catch one 50-incher a year in West Virginia, let alone two."
Radcliff's first two 50-inchers came from Stonewall Jackson Lake. The last one came from eastern Kentucky's Cave Run Lake. All three were released unharmed.
The muskie-fishing gods must be smiling on Radcliff, who grew up in Nicholas County fishing mainly for trout. He had never even cast a lure at a muskie until two years ago, when he moved to Weston to work for a forest products company.
"There's a ton of good muskie fishing in the Weston area, so I took it up," Radcliff said. "I fish a lot at Stonewall Jackson, Stonecoal and Burnsville lakes, and in the West Fork and Buckhannon rivers."
He believes - and evidence would seem to back him up - that muskie fishing in general is significantly better this year than it was in 2011.
"I've caught 25 so far this year," he said. "I think the warm winter helped. I was able to fish right through the winter, from January 1 up to now."
The fish Radcliff caught this year stayed fairly ordinary in size until April 8, when he decided to squeeze in a couple of hours' worth of fishing after work.
"I loaded my johnboat and flew to [Stonewall Jackson Lake]," he recalled. "I fished around some timber structure I usually fish, but didn't raise anything. I went down the edge of another stand of structure, working a 6-inch gliding jerkbait. It came up and hit the bait just when I got it to the boat."
Radcliff knew immediately that the fish would surpass the 50-inch mark.
"It was the first 50-incher I'd ever seen, but I could tell it was in that size class," he said. "I didn't have the net ready, so I had to wear the fish down before I could attempt to land it. I was pretty much shaking when I finally got the fish into the boat."
Radcliff got out his tape and measured the monster muskie.
"It was 52 inches long and had a 22-inch girth. It was only 7/10 of 1 inch short of the state length record, but that wasn't important. I wanted to get it back into the water, so I set the camera's timer, got a quick photo and released the fish."
Less than a month later, Radcliff found himself smack in the middle of an almost identical scenario.