That did it. The muskie inhaled the lure and nonchalantly turned to rejoin her mate. King set the hook.
"She took off down river, and peeled 50 yards of line off the reel in just a few seconds. I've never had a muskie pull that hard," he said.
Fortunately for King, he had come prepared to do battle with just such a leviathan. The 8-foot, extra-heavy action rod helped him tire the fish quickly, and the 80-pound-test braided monofilament ensured a more-than-adequate connection between angler and fish.
"We used the trolling motor to help close the distance to the fish," King said. "The fight probably lasted five or six minutes, tops. Jake netted her for me."
As the net's meshes closed around the huge muskie, the lure fell out of her jaw. Instinctively, King reached for the fish's tail to make sure it wouldn't flop out of the net.
"I couldn't get my hand around the base of the tail," he said. "It was too big."
When King finally lifted the big female from the net, he noticed eggs coming out of her vent.
"She was spewing eggs," he said. "We wanted to get her back into the water as quickly as we could so all her remaining eggs could be turned into little muskies."
The fish was too long to lie out on a flat surface for measurement, so King and McLaughlin held her in the water and stretched out the tape.
"Her body was slightly bent, but she still measured 53 inches, and that was without a tail squeeze," King said.
When fish are measured for recordkeeping, Division of Natural Resources officials allow anglers to squeeze the lobes of the fish's tail together. Jeff Hansbarger, a DNR district fish biologist and muskie researcher, said a tail squeeze can add as many as 2 inches to a large muskie's length.
"There's a good chance [King's] fish would have gone 54 or 55 inches," Hansbarger said.
The current length record, held by a fish caught in 2004 from Stonecoal Lake, is 52.7 inches, so King's fish probably would have eclipsed that mark rather handily.
King and McLaughlin also measured the big muskie's girth at 24 1/4 inches. Using a weight-estimation formula based on length and girth, King calculated the fish's weight at 45 pounds - huge, but well short of the state record of 493/4 pounds, set in 1997 by another Stonecoal Lake muskie.
"There was no question about releasing my fish, though," King said. "I try to release all of them. I had caught a 50-incher before, and released that one too. But boy, I never dreamed of catching something like this latest one."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or call 304-348-1231.