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Open wide! Norman Cartier of Chatham, Ont., displays the 50-inch muskellunge he caught Tuesday in a lake in southwestern Ontario. ((Alice Cartier))

If Norman Cartier is still shaken, one has to wonder how the mighty muskie he caught Tuesday is feeling.

The 52-year-old, laid-off construction worker from Chatham, Ont., was trolling on Lake St. Clair in southwestern Ontario, clear blue skies above him.

Below him, the water was just four metres deep. Cartier, an experienced fisherman, decided his eight-pound pole needed a small lure, just "half the size" of his little finger, a bit of worm, and a 3/4-ounce weight.

He dropped it over the edge of his five-metre long aluminum boat and waited, with his fishing buddy Alice, who is also his wife, at his side.

Less than 10 minutes later, he said, he hooked "the fish of my dreams."

"Boom! It hit me hard," he said.

"And all of a sudden I said 'Honey, there's something on this'."

'We looked eye to eye, fish to fisherman'

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Cartier calls the muskie he caught 'the fish of my dreams' and estimates it weighed about 52 pounds. He couldn't weigh it precisely because his 50-pound scale bottomed out when he tried to weigh the catch. ((Alice Cartier))

The "something" was a 50-inch long muskellunge, commonly known as a muskie, the largest member of the pike family and a fish common to Ontario lakes.

Cartier thinks his fish weighs about 52 pounds but can't be sure. He said his 50-pound scale "bottomed out" when he tried to weigh his catch.

Cartier, who is five feet, four inches tall and weighs just 130 pounds, began the giant task of reeling his fish in.

"It was like The Old Man and the Sea," he said, referring to the popular Ernest Hemingway novel about a Cuban fisherman's epic struggle to reel in a giant marlin.

"We looked eye to eye, fish to fisherman, " Cartier said, his voice shaking with emotion. "And in my mind and his mind, we said 'Let's get it on.' So, we got it on."

It took half an hour to get the fish in the boat.

"When I brought him in, I says 'Honey, get the camera, take as many pictures as you want because I got to get him back in the water. He's not going to die on me'."

Alice took 20 pictures before Norman released the muskie "Bob Izumi-style," holding it by the tail with its head upstream and moving it gently forwards and backwards to get air into the gills.

Norman moved the fish back and forth for 10 minutes, desperately worried the fish would go "belly up" if he released him quickly.

"Then all of a sudden, those big gills opened up," he said. "He gave me a good flop, and then he got away from my hand, and he gladly swam away."

"I said, 'Have a good day, big fella.' And he probably said 'You have a good day, because I think I wanted you to catch me because you were going to let me go.' I think he really thought that!"

"I was a man of my honour. I let the big fella go, and he survived for another day."

Muskies typically measure between 28 and 54 inches, according to Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources.