When Kevin Rodenbaugh and a friend recently hauled in a 45-inch muskie that weighed up to 40 pounds, it caught a lot of people by surprise: Though the catch wasn't a record, the location was unexpected.
That's because it was caught in the Schuylkill in Norristown, not a pristine waterway in rural Pennsylvania. Muskellunge, often shortened to muskies or musky, have sometimes been found in that range in other areas, such as the Youghiogheny River or Lake Arthur in Butler County. Set in 1924, the state record for a muskie has proved hard to beat: 54 pounds, 3 ounces at Conneaut Lake in Crawford County.
Rodenbaugh, 20, of King of Prussia, said many people thought his Facebook post of a picture of him with the fish was a fake.
"As soon as I showed it to my mom, my mom asked me that exact same question," Rodenbaugh told Schuylkill River Greenways NHA, a nonprofit conservation organization. The group posted Rodenbaugh's video of the catch on its site.
Rodenbaugh recounted that on July 17 he and a friend were fishing on the Schuylkill — he won't disclose exactly where — when they spotted what they thought was a two-foot-long muskie. They had light poles at the time, not being prepared for such a large fish. But Rodenbaugh thought the opportunity was too good to pass up and put a big spinner on his line without a leader.
Then the muskie bit.
"He was jumping out of the water. … It took like 15 minutes to get him in," Rodenbaugh said.
Finally, the pair wrested the fish in, but Rodenbaugh had a finger sliced open when he reached under the fish's gill. He took off his shirt and used it to stop the bleeding.
"That's actually the first muskie I've ever caught," he told Schuylkill River Greenways NHA.
The fish came in at 45 inches long and weighed from 30 to 40 pounds. The muskie is present in the Schuylkill, but not normally associated with that size in recent years. A Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission interactive map of common fish location does not note muskie in that stretch. But a group, Muskies Inc Chapter 50, did stock the fish in the sarea in 2016.
Rodenbaugh sent the photo to Schuylkill River Greenways NHA, which shared it on Facebook Aug. 3 — that's why the catch is just getting known in the area. The photo had about 219,000 views as of Wednesday, the organization reported.
Rodenbaugh said he was shocked at how popular the photo became. He said he has fished in the same area on the Schuylkill for about three or four years and once caught a 58-pound catfish.
Schuylkill River Greenways NHA said the water quality in the river has improved greatly in the last 20 years — thanks in large part to conservation groups.
"Working together, these organizations have funded millions of dollars toward projects and programs that directly and positively impact water quality, and these investments have paid off. The Schuylkill River is now healthy enough to support a robust recreational industry, including kayaking, boating, and fishing," said Schuylkill River Greenways NHA executive director Elaine Paul Schaefer. Schaefer's organization is managed by the nonprofit Schuylkill River Greenway Association.
The organization oversees the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund, which provides grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations for projects that improve the quality of water in the watershed to focus on major sources of pollution. Last year, the fund awarded $364,193 and has distributed $3.3 million – and leveraged $5 million more – for river restoration projects.
Also a big help: closing of industries along the river, as well as grants for other environmental organizations dedicated to not only the Schuylkill, but also that of the Delaware River watershed. The Schuylkill feeds into the Delaware.
So what did Rodenbaugh do with the fish?