Record makers

Catch and release records catch on
catch and release fishing records
Photo: Kris Millgate

I’m not a record holder, but I interview record holders on TV. It’s true. I’ve shot stories with Idaho’s brown trout record holder and Idaho’s hybrid rainbow trout record holder. Fine fisherman and woman. I’ve even spent time with the taxidermist turning those trout into art. The common outcome here is harvest. Those trophy trout saw their last hook the day they made the record books.

And those record books? Look closely at your own states running tab. Many of the lunkers in the lineup will never be surpassed because so many of our nation’s fisheries don’t function as they once did pre-dam, pre-pressure. That’s the harsh reality displayed on fishing record books from coast to coast.

Keep reading. I found a bright spot. Catch and release records. From Connecticut to Colorado and Wisconsin to Texas, anglers are getting recognized for catching trophies and releasing them back into the water rather than putting them on the wall. Idaho is the newest state to offer catch and release records. Its program started January 1.

“The primary interest behind our catch and release program is to generate more interest in fishing,” says Martin Koenig, Idaho Department of Fish and Game sportfishing program coordinator. “Traditionally, to get a record, you always had to kill the fish. While that is a legitimate way to measure, not all anglers after trophy fish want to harvest.”

Two months in and Idaho’s program already has 20 new record makers as of March 1. Much of Idaho is still on ice so just imagine how fast the records will roll once the weather warms.

Tom McLeod of Grangeville, Idaho didn’t wait for warm. He set Idaho’s first catch and release record January 9 with a 14-and-¾-inch yellow perch caught while ice fishing with his kids at Cascade Lake.

Catch and Release Records - Tom McCleod - Yellow Perch
Photo: Erin Grinde

“When I first heard about it at the beginning of the year, I thought it was a good opportunity to get your name in the record books even for a few days,” Mcleod says. “Good reason to get out and fish and what I caught is big for perch in general. I’m from Michigan and in Michigan 14-inch to 15-inch perch would probably get mounted.”

McLeod’s record held for almost a month. Tia Wiese trumped his record maker with a 16-inch record breaker February 7. McLeod also set the steelhead catch and release record with 33 inches of fin measured in the water and released the day Wiese took his perch record from him. The steelhead record is significant for more than being a first.

“Catch and release opened our record books to species that have been closed to harvest for a long time,” says Koenig. “Sturgeon, bull trout, salmon and steelhead haven’t been harvested for decades. Those records are stale. Catch and release records put new life into the state fish program and generate excitement in the fishing community.”

Fisheries changed when anglers starting putting back. The records books are changing too. Change is good. Now I’m interviewing catch and release record holders like McLeod. He only has a photo to show me rather than the actual fish, but his fish tale is just as exciting to listen to. I make sure I ask specific questions like any good angler, I mean journalist, should. I know just where to go and what to throw. Maybe I’ll make the record book too if only for a day. Over dinner, my son told me he wants to skip the warm escape for spring break so he can stay in Idaho to fish. I’m in. So is my camera and a measuring tape.