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CLEAR LAKE | Attention, muskie hunters.

A 49.3-inch female muskellenge netted by state fisheries biologists was recently released back into Clear Lake.

Better hurry up and grab the fishing pole, though. 

At age 15, the old girl's getting pretty long in the tooth.

"From our other years of collecting this data, I would say pushing out there to that 15-16 years old (age range) is what we see about nearing the lifespan of what we see in Clear Lake," said Scott Grummer, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist. 

The more than 4-foot-long fish was the largest of the 312 muskellunge, or muskies, netted this month during the annual walleye spawn in Clear Lake.

The Iowa DNR's primary focus of the spawn is to collect walleye eggs for state stocking efforts, but biologists also measure muskies and walleyes caught in the gillnets. 

Each animal is scanned for an electronic chip. Those that don't have one get one.

The chips allow biologists to track each fish's growth, which is how staff knew they'd caught the 49.3-inch muskie a few times before.

Hatched in 2002 at the state hatchery in Spirit Lake, the fish spent her first winter at another state hatchery in Lake Rathbun near Centerville and was released into Clear Lake in May 2003. 

Back then, she would've been about a foot long. 

Biologists didn't see her again until April 11, 2007, which isn't surprising considering fish don't get caught in the Iowa DNR's gillnets until they're about 26 inches long. 

Then age 5, she was 42 inches long.

She'd grown to 44 inches by April 20, 2008, when she got snagged in the state's gillnets for the second time.

The fish managed to avoid the nets every spring until April 11, when she once again got lodged in gillnets set up for the walleye spawn.

The Clear Lake muskie's third recapture — and large size — prompted the Iowa DNR to post her picture on their Facebook page with a caption, "Hello, old friend."

At 49.3 inches, she's reached a size that's getting close to the 52-inch state record muskie caught in 2000 on Big Spirit Lake. 

“Of course, everyone would love to catch a fish that big,” said Jason Anderson, of Crazy Minnow Bait and Tackle Co. in Clear Lake. “That’s getting up to the size of muskies they’re catching in Minnesota and Canada."

Over the years, a big muskie caught on Clear Lake has generally been in the mid 40-inch range, although anglers do catch bigger specimens, Anderson said.

He credited restoration and water-quality improvement efforts by groups such as the CLEAR Project with creating good habitat for muskie and other fish.

“There’s a lot of forage, a lot of different species of fish that are thriving in Clear Lake now,” Anderson said.

Biologists get a scientific picture of the lake health through data taken during the annual fish spawn. 

"It gives us a really good chance to get a look at the fish populations," Grummer said. 

He said the 2017 data is still being analyzed, but preliminary numbers indicate fish are doing well in Clear Lake.

"We have a good muskie population, good size structure," said Grummer, of the Iowa DNR's Clear Lake office. "So, that shows the stockings that we put in are surviving well and growing well."

Clear Lake is stocked with muskie every other year. 

Baby walleyes, or fry, are released annually.

About 16 million walleye fry collected during spawns at Clear Lake, Lake Rathbun and the Iowa Great Lakes chain earlier this month will be released in the next week or two.

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