Sea Monsters! The 10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in Minnesota

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: October 31, 2022
© Fabien Monteil/Shutterstock.com
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Nicknamed “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”, you can imagine Minnesota has some amazing trophy-sized fish! Minnesotans love heading “up North” to their cabins to go fishing. They enjoy fishing on the North Shore, along Lake Superior, or casting a line in any one of the 10,000+ lakes. Fishing along the Mississippi River is also popular with several record-breaking fish being pulled from the Mississippi. There are 60 different fish species that Minnesota keeps records for. Some of the most popular catches being northern pike (northerns), muskellunge (muskie), flathead catfish and lake sturgeon. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest catches. Here are the 10 biggest trophy fish ever caught in Minnesota.

#10 Chinook Salmon: 33 pounds 4 ounces

A fisherman with a Chinook Salmon caught in Canada. They typically measure about 3 feet long and 30 pounds in weight.
Chinook salmon typically measure about 3 feet long and 30 pounds in weight.

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When you think of salmon you may picture a mass migration of salmon swimming upstream during spawning season. Some salmon have adapted to different ecosystems. There are salmon that are landlocked and others, like those in Minnesota, that spend most of their lives in Lake Superior. They swim up streams and tributaries during spawning where there life cycle ends and they die. Chinook salmon are the largest of the salmon found in Minnesota with most not growing much bigger than 10 pounds, however there are exceptions.

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There is actually a tie for the biggest Chinook salmon caught in Minnesota at 33 pounds 4 ounces. On September 23, 1989 one was caught on the Poplar River which feeds into Lake Superior just south of Lutsen, MN. Less than a month later, on October 12, 1989 another 33 pound 4 ounce Chinook was caught, this time from Lake Superior. Those records stand today as the biggest Chinook salmon in Minnesota.

#9 Muskellunge (Muskie), Tiger: 34 pounds 12 ounces

Musky or Muskellunge
The muskellunge is a fish with a long body and sharp teeth

©iStock.com/FedBul

Muskellunge, or muskie for short, are a common fish in Minnesota waters. They are a long slender fish that have rounded dorsal fins and sharp pointed teeth. The tiger muskie is a hybrid of northern pike and true muskies. You tell the difference by the darker stripes of the tiger muskie similar to the pattern on a tiger.

The biggest tiger muskie ever caught in Minnesota was a 34 pound 12 ounce fish from Lake Elmo. This is about 15 minutes east of downtown St. Paul. The record was set on July 7, 1999 and has been unchallenged for more than 20 years.

#8 Freshwater Drum: 35 pounds 3 ounces, 36 inches

Freshwater drum are large freshwater fish
Freshwater drum are large freshwater fish which prefer sandy lake bottoms

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One of the fish commonly found in the Mississippi River is the freshwater drum, sometimes called a sheepshead. They prefer sandy or muddy bottomed rivers and lakes so dropping your line deeper can help locate them. One of the most interesting reputations of the freshwater drum is the unique grunting noise the males make. Anglers report that if you are holding one when they are grunting it feels like a phone on vibrate! Females must find it attractive because freshwater drum populations are stable and thriving in Minnesota.

For the state record freshwater drum, a 35 pound 3 ounce drum was pulled from the Mississippi River near Winona, MN. The record was set on October 5, 1999. To get an idea of the total size, this drum measured in at 36 inches long…that’s as long as a yard stick! Pretty good-sized catch.

#7 Channel Catfish: 38 pounds, 44 inches

largest fish in Minnesota - Channel catfish
Channel catfish are the smallest catfish species but they still grow big enough to warrent a place on this list

©Ryan Somma / Creative Commons

While you won’t find blue catfish in Minnesota there are plenty of places to catch flatheads and channel cats. Channel cats are the smaller of the three common catfish in the US but they can still get to be 40 pounds or more. The largest one in Minnesota was 38 pounds and measured 44 inches long. This record dates back almost 50 years to February 16, 1975. All three catfish are characterized by their whisker-like barbels around their face, similar to that of a cat.

#6 Bigmouth Buffalo: 41 pounds 11 ounces, 38 inches

Bigmouth Buffalo Fish
Bigmouth buffalo are the longest-lived freshwater fish.

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There are three kinds of buffalo fish tracked in Minnesota, smallmouth, bigmouth and black buffalo. They are similar in shape to carp but have a long dorsal fin that goes almost all the way to their tail fin. Bigmouth and smallmouth look similar except for their mouths. Smallmouth buffalo mouths are tilted down more like a vacuum cleaner snout.

In Minnesota the biggest bigmouth was pulled from the Mississippi River (Pool 4) in Goodhue county. It weighed 41 pounds 11 ounces and was 38 inches long. We are only half way through our list and already talking about sea monsters more than 3 feet long and 40 pounds!

#5 Northern Pike: 45 pounds 12 ounces

Pike
Pike are large predatory fish which are often described as the freshwater equivalent to the great white shark

Northern pikes, sometimes called “northerns” or “pikes” are a popular fish in Minnesota. A new catch-and-release record program has been implemented to insure that northerns are given a chance to grow into trophy sized fish in the future. Northerns look a lot like muskie with long narrow bodies and a turned up bottom lip. Unlike the muskie that seems to be discerning in what it takes a bite at, northerns are relatively easy to catch. But catching a trophy-sized one is a challenge.

The biggest northern pike ever caught in Minnesota was 45 pounds 12 ounces. If you thought the 1975 record had been around a long time rhen think again as this record has held since May 16, 1929! The northern was caught on Basswood Lake which is on the far (far!) north border of Minnesota with half in the US and half in Canada.

#4 Common Carp: 55 pounds 5 ounces

carp
Angler holding a big Common Carp. Freshwater fishing and trophy fish. Close up.

©iStock.com/HenrikNorway

Carp are what you might call a bulky fish, with a large body and wide girth. On Clearwater Lake near St. Cloud, MN the biggest common carp was 55 pounds 5 ounces (we’ve broken the 50 pound mark!). This one was measured at 42 inches long caught back on July 10, 1952. Here is wher you get a picture of how big these fish are, the length was 42 inches and its girth was 31 inches around. Common carp can be identified by two thicker barbels that dangle off the side of their mouth, almost like a fancy mustache.

#3 Muskellunge (Muskie): 55 pounds 14 ounces, 57 ¾ inches

tiger muskellunge
The biggest muskie in Minnesota was 55 pounds and 14 ounces

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The saying goes that muskie are “The fish of a ten thousand casts.” They are considered an elusive fish that can be hard to locate and to catch. Even when using a variety of baits like Bucktails or Glide Baits you may go home fishless after a long day on the water. However, when you do catch one it is worth the excitement.

The biggest muskie in Minnesota was 55 pounds 14 ounces, caught on Mille Lacs Lake. This is a recent record taking  place on November 22, 2021. Nolan Sprengeler was out on Mille Lacs with friends for an afternoon fishing trip that they thought they would wrap up at sunset but around 9pm he hooked this trophy fish and was able to pull it toward the boat where his friend netted it. Althoungh often muskie are catch-and-release, these anglers tried to revive the fish to return it to the water but the fish did not respond. So they took it in to get a certified weight by the DNR. The 55 pound 14 ounce fish beat the old 64-year record of 54 pounds.

#2 Flathead Catfish: 70 pounds

largest trophy fish in Minnesota - Flathead Catfish are the second largest fish in the state
Flathead catfish can reach 100 pounds, but the largest in Minnesota weihted 70 pounds

©slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

 Of the three most common catfish in the US flatheads are bigger than channel catfish but a bit smaller than blue catfish. As their name implies their heads are a tad flatter in shape but the more obvious differences are their darker molted coloring and their tail fin which is not forked like that of blue and channel catfish.

Flatheads can get to be more than 100 pounds, but the biggest trophy flathead in Minnesota was a 70 pounder caught on St. Croix River which borders Wisconsin. The record was set back in 1970. On August 2, 2017 a catch-and-release record was set, (with catch-and-release records being kept separate) for a 52 ½ inch long flathead that was estimated to weigh 70 to 80 pounds!

#1 Lake Sturgeon: 94 pounds 4 ounces, 70 inches long

the largest trophy fish in Minnesota is the lake sturgeon
Lake sturgeon fishing is both popular and extremely rewarding — lake sturgeon can measure up to 6.5 feet!

©Fabien Monteil/Shutterstock.com

The biggest trophy fish ever caught in Minnesota was a lake stugeon weighing 94 pounds 4 ounces! On September 5, 1994 on the Kettle River, in northern Minnesota about half way between Lake Mille Lacs and Lake Superior, an enormous lake sturgeon was caught and reeled in. It just missed hitting the 100 pound mark weighing in at 94 pounds 4 ounces! Can you imagine trying to get a 94 pound into your boat? It also measured 70 inches long (that is 5.8 feet!) and had a girth of 26 ½ inches around.

Lake sturgeon are easy to identify with shield-like bony plates along their back and a torpedo-shaped body. The largest lake sturgeon on record in the world was a 168 pounder caught on Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada.

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The Featured Image

man holding sturgeon fish
Lake sturgeon fishing is both popular and extremely rewarding — lake sturgeon can measure up to 6.5 feet!
© Fabien Monteil/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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Sources
  1. Minnesota State, Available here: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/staterecords.html
  2. Foz 9 News, Available here: https://www.fox9.com/news/minnesota-dnr-certifies-55-pound-muskie-caught-on-mille-lacs-lake-as-new-record
  3. Texas Government, Available here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/sucker/#:~:text=Ictiobus%20is%20Greek%20for%20%22bull,fashion%2C%20but%20rather%20straight%20ahead.