Folks are buzzing about the new state record brown trout, and it’s obviously an impressive fish. Words and photos made the front page of The Idaho Statesman and there’s been lots of discussion on the Internet.
There’s another story that hasn’t made the press. It’s not about the big one that got away, but the big one that got let go.
Mike Baker of Kuna caught and released what was possibly a new state record largemouth bass last summer. He sent me a photo of it for the “whopper” in the fishing report, which you will see in Thursday’s Idaho Outdoors.
The current record largemouth is 10 pounds, 15 ounces caught from Anderson Lake in North Idaho by Mrs. M.W. Taylor. That’s all the information Idaho Department of Fish and Game lists. Normally there is more information, including length and girth.
Which adds intrigue to Baker’s fish. It was 24 inches long and had a girth of 19.5 inches. He caught it from an irrigation reservoir on private land in Payette County, which he declined to mention by name.
Baker said he used a formula from Field and Stream magazine to estimate its weight, and cross-referenced it with other weight calculators. Using the length and girth measurements with different formulas, they all estimated the weight between 10 and 11 pounds.
He and his brother, Brian, were fishing from a canoe and Mike hooked the fish on 6-pound test line. He said it fought like crazy, jumped six or seven times, and at one point swam under the canoe and nearly capsized it.
Baker saw the story about the new record brown trout and wondered if that could have been his photo on the front page of the paper.
“I thought about that, but I thought ‘oh well, no big thing,’” he said Monday.
I asked if he regretted releasing it, and he said no.
“It gave me the best fight of my life,” Baker said. “Neither of us even talked about keeping it. It didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
I didn’t talk to Wes Case, who caught the state record brown trout from Ashton Reservoir last week. But from what I heard and read, he’s a stand-up guy who decided to keep what is probably the fish of a lifetime.
It got me thinking. What would I do in that situation? I like to think I would follow Baker’s lead, but if I was staring at some huge fish that I just landed, would I feel differently?
I am a strong proponent of catch and release. I think it’s the best way to conserve our fisheries and have the chance to catch an occasional lunker. But I am not opposed to occasionally killing fish, either.
There’s the argument that big fish should be let go so its genes can carry on to the next generation, but by the time a fish grows large enough to break records, it has spawned multiple times. It’s likely at the tail end of its life, so why not bonk it on the head and put it on the wall?
On the other hand, I think it’s noble and generous to let a big fish go, especially if you know you probably won’t catch another one like it in your lifetime.
I don’t think there’s a right answer here. The question is more of a Rorschach test than a litmus test.
What would you do?