King of the Hill:
Steven Paul lands state record musky on Melton Hill Lake
WhenSteven Paul set out on Melton Hill Lake last Thursday, he wasn’t expecting much.The weather was less than optimal, given the storm front that had swept through East Tennessee the night before, and the beast he was after — the muskellunge, also known as the musky — is a temperamental apex predator that’s difficult to land in perfect conditions. When he reeled in the 43-pound, 14-ounce behemoth he’d nicknamed “Boss Man,” he was as surprised as everyone else has been excited about the catch, which stands to be certified as the new state record.“It was just an unreal fight; when I got done, I felt like I had been doing pull-ups,” Paul told The Daily Times on Monday. “I knew the state record was 53 to 54 inches long, and after 25 minutes, I got him into the boat. He was only 51 inches, and then he died on me; because of the ethos of stewardship and catch-and-release, I thought, ‘This is not good.’ So I called my dad, who suggested giving it to a fishery biologist so they can research it “I had some scales on the boat, and it came up 44 pounds and 8 ounces dry, after expelling fecal matter and blood, and I was in shock. I recalibrated the scales and did it again, and then I did it again.”A quick call to a friend, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Paul Shaw, impressed upon him the urgency to have it officially registered.“He was like, ‘It’s gonna be a great boost for the state, man, it’s gonna be a state record,’” Paul said.Shaw, according to a TWRA press release, contacted Reservoirs Fisheries Biologist John Hammonds and Regional Fisheries Coordinator Bart Carter, who met Paul in Dandridge about three hours later to weigh and verify the new pending state record fish. The official measurements after several hours out of the lake: 51 3/8 inches long, 23 ½ inches around and weighing 43 pounds and 14 ounces, previously besting the 42-pound, 8-ounce musky caught by fisherman Kyle F. Edwards in April 1983 at Norris Reservoir.A West Virginia native, Paul moved to Blount County more than a decade ago, where he fronted the local rock band After Elvis before marrying Jodie Mills Paul, the former manager of the old Thirsty Turtle Pub, where Windy City Grille now sits. The pair moved to Nashville, where Paul continues to work as a session guitarist, and when he’s not in the studio, he can often be found on the water, he said.“If I’m not playing guitar in Nashville, I’m on my boat at sunup; it’s just my escape from the grind,” he said. “I don’t share a lot of it; I don’t post fish pictures on Facebook or anything like that, but my family has been going to Northern Ontario to musky fish for 30 years. Ever since last week, it feels like I’ve had my personal hobby blow up on me!”Paul is exclusively a musky fisherman, he added, describing the sport as more akin to hunting than angling.
“Your lures are 12- to 14-inches long, and so you’re throwing out this massive bait,” he said. “It’s intensive, and it’s hundreds of hours of no fish, because you just don’t see them. It’s like a fishing meditation for me; I’m not listening to the radio or drinking beer, I’m just doing this. It’s my happy place.”
Last Thursday, Paul was accompanied by a fishing buddy, Dylan Gano; they were hunting for “Boss Man” after Paul first spotted the fish back in December.
“I had moved it multiple times, and I knew some of the places it hung out at, so we just rolled the dice,” he said. “I had seen it come up before, because these fish are so unafraid of boats. They’ll follow your bait to the boat and just look at it, so I knew it was substantial, and from early December to now, I had been working locations that I knew this fish was using.”
Once the paperwork is certified in TWRA’s Nashville office, the fish will be certified as the new state record. Already, Paul is fielding calls from reel companies and others seeking to capitalize on his success, which was described as a “fish of a lifetime” by the TWRA. Not that Paul is looking for widespread acclaim; given the musky proficiency that runs in his family, he’s content to take the story back home with him, he said.
“It’s about family for us. It’s about having the story to talk about over Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, because this is not the biggest fish anybody in my family has caught,” he said. “My dad caught a 55-incher in Northern Ontario, and my brother landed a 56-incher. Now, I feel like I can finally sit at the adult’s table at Thanksgiving.”