Incredible But True: An Angler’s Bloody Battle With A Huge Muskie!

On Saturday, Aug. 20, 2005, Russell Crawford left his home in Sykesville, Md., to go fishing in nearby Piney Run Reservoir. While walking the shoreline alone and casting a spinnerbait, he did catch some bass, just as he has on many of his previous trips to Piney Run (Crawford has fished the reservoir hundreds of times over the past 20 years).

However, August 20 would turn out to be a truly incredible, horrifying adventure, as an unfortunate mishap would thrust Crawford into a bloody struggle with a huge, hooked fish. It left him with serious injuries and a truly remarkable fishing story to tell for years to come.

Crawford was fishing a spinnerbait, his “search bait,” and “tipping the grass and letting it drop into holes.” Then, the bait stopped, and Crawford thought he was snagged. Suddenly, “the snag moved.”

Fish Has Impressive Power
At first, Crawford wasn’t able to gain any line — this was no bass, and whatever he hooked possessed impressive power. Eventually, the fish turned, and Crawford was able to pick up some line and work it a little closer to shore. But before long, the fish would take off again, peeling line off the reel.

This give-and-take was repeated several times, with Crawford tightening the drag as the fish was worked closer to shore — to the point where its back was sticking out of the shallow water — and loosening the drag whenever the fish blasted off again. Crawford was just hoping to get a good look at the big fish before it was lost.

Finally, after about 25 minutes, the fish was coaxed in close enough that Crawford could identify it: a huge tiger muskie that he said was, “almost frighteningly big.” Appearing to tire, the fish rolled and lay nearly belly up along the bank. Crawford positioned himself at water’s edge, then reached down to carefully grab and control the fish. It was, Crawford would say in hindsight, “a mistake.”

As Russell Crawford was about to lift this tiger muskie from the water, a trailer hook got embedded in Crawford’s left forearm, resulting in a bloody, desperate struggle between Crawford and the fish.

The big fish thrashed violently, sending a trailer hook on the spinnerbait deep into the flesh of Crawford’s left forearm. Crawford was now hooked to a spinnerbait that was also firmly embedded in nearly four feet of angry muskie! He couldn’t pull away from the fish, and every move the muskie made worsened the excruciating pain in his bloody forearm. Crawford was in a very difficult and dangerous situation.

Hand, Fingers Bitten
Dropping to his knees into the water, Crawford attempted to gain some control by reaching from under the fish into its gills with his right hand. Unfortunately, his arm slipped through the gills, sending his hand through the fish’s throat and into its mouth, where his hand and fingers were bitten several times by the toothy fish. In great pain, with a hook deep in his left forearm, with blood flowing from his left arm and fingers on his right hand, and while on his knees, Crawford somehow managed to drag the thrashing fish up on the bank.

During the struggle, fingers on his left hand were either bitten or cut on the fish’s gill plate (Crawford can’t remember). He was desperately trying to support the muskie to take the pressure off the hook in his arm. Whenever the fish would shake its head, searing pain would shoot through Crawford’s arm and blood would fly.

Lying on the bank, with his legs over the fish attempting to hold it down, Crawford used his bloody right hand to reach into his vest and pull out a pair of pliers. By now, the spinnerbait’s trailer hook was so deep into his arm that he was unable to remove it with the pliers. However, despite injured fingers that made it nearly impossible to use the pliers, Crawford somehow managed to unhook the spinnerbait from the muskie.

Nearly exhausted, Crawford dragged the fish farther up the bank to a picnic table; Crawford remembered thinking that the fish was nearly as long as the bench. He also noticed yet another injury, as his left ankle was bleeding heavily, although he wasn’t sure what had caused that injury. With painful, bleeding fingers, Crawford got his cell phone out of his vest, and managed to dial the police. He could sense their disbelief as he tried to explain what was happening to him.

Help Arrives
Crawford could hear the ambulance sirens, but he wasn’t near a road where the ambulance could get to him. Eventually, a boat carrying paramedics and Piney Run State Park employees, motored up to his location. As the paramedics rushed to assist him, Crawford’s fingers were bleeding worse, but the pain in his arm was the most excruciating. Crawford was put in the boat, and a life preserver was placed around the still-living fish so it could be handled and it too was put in the boat.

When the boat arrived back at the Piney Run State Park ramp, Crawford’s fingers, leg, and arm, with the spinnerbait still in it, were bandaged and Crawford was loaded into an ambulance. His fish was stashed in a cooler at the park office, where it would spend the night. With his blood pressure and other vitals closely monitored along the way, Crawford arrived at Carroll County General Hospital at about 8 p.m.

Ordeal Finally Ends
It took nearly four hours for the doctor to clean and tend to all of Crawford’s injuries, including the spinnerbait, which was so deep that it had to be carefully cut out with a scalpel. Crawford received no stitches, as the doctor determined it would be best to allow the wounds to drain, significantly reducing the chances of infection. His ordeal finally over, Crawford was discharged and allowed to go home at midnight.

Sunday afternoon, after Crawford had taken time to gather himself, collect his thoughts, and assess the extent of his injuries and discomfort, especially in his black-and-blue and extremely swollen left forearm, Crawford picked up the frozen fish at Piney Run and took it to Old Reisterstown Bait & Tackle in Reisterstown, Md. It stretched the tape to 47 inches and weighed in at 28 pounds, 6 ounces, making it the largest tiger muskie ever caught in Piney Run, and the second biggest fish caught overall at the reservoir (a 29-pound striped bass is the reservoir record). Doug Geis at Old Reisterstown Bait & Tackle is convinced the muskie had been considerably heavier before it was frozen.

A Hard-Earned Trophy
The magnificent muskie will be mounted, providing Crawford with a hard-earned trophy that will forever remind him of the most memorable catch of his life.

Crawford the day after his muskie ordeal, with bandages covering wounds to his left forearm, fingers and lower leg.

Crawford has the spinnerbait that caught the muskie, but yet created such a terrible predicament for him. His favorite spinnerbait is a Strike King; he downsizes the blades, and, adds a trailer hook for short-striking bass. Or he builds his own titanium spinnerbaits in natural colors (silver and blue, gray and black), featuring a No. 4 willow leaf blade, with a trailer hook and a silver, blue and black skirt. The tackle he was using when he hooked up with the monster muskie included a Shimano Calais baitcasting reel, 7-1/2-foot medium-action rod, and 12-pound-test Stren Sensation.

Crawford’s extraordinary experience should remind us that for all the fun and excitement that fishing has to offer, safety must always be priority one. Danger and serious injuries can occur in a flash, so always be careful when handling hooked fish.

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