Two anglers released a bull trout earlier this month that almost certainly would have broken Oregon’s state bull trout record and may have been big enough for a new world record.
Ryan Mejaski and Joe Wilhite were fishing on the Deschutes arm of Lake Billy Chinook when Mejaski cast his lure into a group of jumping kokanee. He declined to tell the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) which lure he was using, but whatever it was, it sank into about five feet of water before something grabbed it and took off.
His medium-lightweight rod snapped in half, but the pair moved the boat and worked the fish on six-pound test line until, after about ten minutes, they got the bull trout on the boat.
The giant fish measured 33.5 inches in length with a 26-inch girth, and it maxed out Wihite’s fishing net scale at 25 pounds.
If the pair’s measurements are accurate, the fish would have broken Oregon’s state record and had a chance at the world record. Mejaski told the ODFW the fish was likely heavier, maybe as heavy as 30 pounds.
The current state record bull trout was caught in 1989 also from Lake Billy Chinook and weighed 23 pounds, 2 ounces. The world record was caught in Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho, and still holds from 1949. It tipped the scales at 32 pounds.
The world will never know for sure whether Mejaski’s fish deserves to be in the record books. After landing it, measuring it, and taking some pictures, the pair returned the giant to the water.
“I’m a little bummed out we didn’t keep it so we could get the official record, but it was the right thing to do at the time. We really didn’t think about keeping it, we were so excited,” Mejaski said. “Every fisherman that we saw and showed photos of the fish said that they have never seen a bull trout that big. People were happy about us letting it go, but it would be really cool to have a record fish.”
Bull trout are federally listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act. Their historic range encompassed many waters throughout the northwestern U.S., but their populations have declined in many locations, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
However, the population in Lake Billy Chinook is healthy enough that the ODFW can allow anglers to target and harvest a small number, according to Deschutes District Fish Biologist Jerry George.
“During our bull trout spawning ground surveys, we’ve seen an uptick in numbers in recent years. That has to do with an abundance of kokanee as a food source and lots of clean, cold water from the Metolius River and its tributaries that provide for excellent spawning and rearing habitat,” George said.
George estimated that Mejaski’s fish was about 15 years old. The maximum age for the species is unknown, but ages up to 24 years have been recorded, meaning the giant trout could keep growing and spawning for another decade.
Mejaski said he’ll probably pay a taxidermist to create a replica of the fish he caught, but the experience will be bittersweet.
“Looking at it on my wall every day might be too painful,” he added.
Feature image via ODFW.