There are more important things to one local fishing enthusiast than setting records on his catch - like conservation of a species. A popular local session guitarist caught a behemoth, 55-inch musky on Watts Bar Lake in Spring City, 120 miles east of Nashville. He would have had to kill it in order to enter it into state record books.
Steven Paul, however, merely contented himself with measuring his latest catch and snapping some selfies. He opted to be selfless and released the musky back to its freedom.
Paul has set several records. In 2017, he caught the state record muskellunge - a 51 3/8 incher on Melton Hill Reservoir. It weighed 43 pounds, 14 ounces.
That seemed to be enough for Paul as he said: “I just chose not to claim it because I already have the record. And I did not want to kill the fish just to get it entered into the books.”
Paul caught his bigger, likely record-setting musky last month in the Clinch River flowage that runs into Watts Bar in a depth of about 6 feet. He said: "It was caught on a Joe Bucher glide raider (lure), exactly the same bait I caught the state record on.”
The 36-year-old Paul also says he is a strict catch-and-release fisherman. He would not have set the state record with his 2017 musky catch had it not expired when he tried to release it. Since the fish was already dead at that time, and there’s nothing he could do about its fate, Paul took it to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency where biologists made the confirmation that it was the largest ever caught in the state.
Paul was even sad to share that he believed the fish’s 20-minute struggle land it might have done it in.
It’s a good thing that Paul is also not the lone gentle soul when it comes to conservation. Travis Heiberg, of Oak Ridge, also caught a musky larger than Paul's record fish in June on Melton Hill. It measured 52 inches, but Heiberg also refused to kill the fish in order to have it be confirmed as a state record. Heiberg opted to do the bigger thing and released it, making Paul's record to still stand.
Paul also started a guide service for muskellunge anglers at tennesseemuskyfishing.com after setting the state record in 2017. He elaborated on the process and dynamics of fishing and catching such “giants.”
"The reason that 55-incher is interesting is because you really don't expect a fish to be in the 55-inch class until you go into the extremes in Canada or on some of the premier waters in Wisconsin or Minnesota.”
He added: “Your goal as a musky fisherman when you start off is to get what we call a 'legal,' which is a 30 (inches). There are people who fish forever and their goal is just to catch that first 40-incher. That is a pure trophy fish anywhere you go. Most guys probably won't ever catch a 50. Then the class it takes to eclipse that 55-inch mark is insane."