On the evening of January 13, 2022, New Hampshire angler Ryan Ashley caught a lunker cusk while ice fishing at Lake Winnipesaukee that put his name in the record books. The cusk, which is also known as burbot, weighed 12 pounds, 8.48 ounces. It was nearly three feet long and has already been certified by New Hampshire Fish and Game as a new state record. Ashley caught the impressive specimen while fishing with his cousin Paul Tasker, Jr. at what they call “Paradise’s spot.”
Paul Paradise was a family friend who passed away two years ago. Ashley says his grandfather, who was the first New Hampshire Fish and Game chief, died when Ashley was young. So Paradise, who was Ashley’s grandfather’s best friend, taught him how to hunt, trap, and fish. “He pretty much introduced me to outdoors,” Ashley tells F&S. “It was an emotional moment to get a state record out of his spot. I wish I could have seen his face. I know he would’ve been smiling ear-to-ear.”
Ashley says he hooked into the record fish at about 9 p.m. on the 13th. He was using a 28-inch HT Enterprises Fast Stix Extreme DX Ice Spinning Combo spooled with 6-pound-test line. He’d caught two or three smaller cusk before something big took his A.J.’s Custom Tackle Swimstick. “It was just like boom, it’s on,” recalls Ashley. The fish immediately started taking out the drag and Ashley worried it would spool him. Eventually, he was able to stop the fish and slowly begin pumping it in. All in all, Ashley says the fight took about 15 minutes. And when he finally brought the cusk through the ice fishing hole, Ashley says he immediately knew it had the potential to be a new state record. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “I never would’ve thought I’d catch [the state record]. When I picked the fish up with two hands by the head, both my hands easily fit inside its mouth.”
Ashley and his friends regularly target cusk on New Hampshire’s lakes. Ashley says the cod-like fish is the “poor man’s lobster” and makes for some of the best eating around. He typically uses the fish’s white, flaky flesh for chowder. But Ashley won’t be eating his 35-inch-long state record. He plans to get it mounted and donate the rest of the fish’s remains to New Hampshire Fish and Game to be analyzed by agency biologists.
Ashley is a dedicated ice fisherman, and despite catching a record-sized fish, he kept fishing with Tasker Jr. for a couple more hours that night. He says that one of the best parts of the whole experience was catching the record fish at the same spot where he’d learned how to fish—and where he’d taken his two-year-old daughter to catch her first rainbow trout. His next goal as an angler is to catch a 20-plus-pound lake trout. “Ice fishing is what I do,” he says. “I started doing it when I was three years old, and I don’t think I’m ever going to stop.”