Justin Hrach of Donora Pulls 'Fish of a Lifetime' From Mon

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
5 July 2011
By Bob Frye

Justin Hrach is first and foremost a bass fisherman.

That's not to say he doesn't catch other species. He does, given that he loves being on the water.

But he doesn't catch many fish like the one he pulled from the Monessen pool of the Monongahela River recently.

No one does.

The 28-year-old Donora man was fishing with his girlfriend, Melissa Asper, near the Monongahela Bridge, tossing a crankbait around what he had identified as an underwater hump, when he hooked into a fish.

From the weight of the fish, he thought he might have a big catfish. It turned out to be something else: a 53-inch musky with a 26-inch girth.

"I'll tell you it was the fish of a lifetime," Hrach said. "People specifically target muskies and maybe never get one that big."

That he pulled a musky from that section of river is not unusual, said Rick Lorson, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat

Commission's Area 8 fisheries manager based in Somerset. The commission stocked the area with muskies and tiger muskies throughout the 1990s and into 2005, quit for a few years, then resumed doing so last year after surveying musky anglers about where they wanted to fish.

It's not unheard of for anglers to pull muskies from the Monongahela. Commission waterways conservation officer Scott Opfer said anglers get more than a few from the Grays Landing pool.

Hrach said he has even encountered muskies in the Monessen area before, given that he's often there looking for smallmouths.

But a fish that large is without doubt a rare find, Lorson said.

"We put a lot of muskies in there through our stocking program, so they had the opportunity to grow. But you don't hear of many fish that big," Lorson said. "That's an impressive animal."

He estimated the fish would have weighed between 40 and 45 pounds.

Landing it took a while. Hrach -- who was fishing with 12-pound-test line -- fought it for about 38 minutes before getting it to the boat. It was hooked in the corner of the mouth, which accounted for its being unable to shear off his line with its teeth, he said.

"(Melissa) was almost afraid to net it. She said it looked kind of prehistoric," Hrach said.

The monster fish is still in the river. Hrach plans to get a replica mount made of it, but he never considered keeping it, he said.

"That fish is probably as old as I am," he said. "So, no, I only kept it out of the water for a few minutes to get a couple of measurements, then we released it back into the water. Maybe someone else will catch it someday."

Bob Frye can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.