By anyone’s standards, the fish landed May 4 by Fairplay’s Matt Smiley at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah was the catch of a lifetime.
It was also one for the record books, as the Utah Division of Wildlife declared the fish a state record for lake trout at 48 inches, 52.97 pounds. The fish was caught on a large jig.
“It started with a really light bite,” Smiley said. “He got the bait and sort of came up toward the boat initially, so I didn’t feel much and thought it was a smaller fish. I set the hook and the fish just went to the bottom and stayed there. I told my buddy that that I thought I had something pretty special.”
The state-record fish, which is estimated to be very close to 50 years old, was content early in the fight to settle for a stalemate; and a stalemate is precisely what ensued.
“I didn’t even try to move him and he just stayed on bottom,” Smiley said. “I knew he was still there because he would give little head wiggle now and then,” Smiley said. “But he wasn’t budging and I didn’t want to force the issue.”
After almost 45 minutes, the fish decided to fight in earnest.
“I started to put a little more pressure on him and he came off the bottom,” Smiley said. “He started making his moves and the rod tip was bending fifteen or twenty inches at a time. That was the scary part because I figured if I was going to lose him it would be during that portion of the fight.”
Things began progressing pretty quickly at that point, so Smiley’s partner grabbed the net and prepared to help land the four-foot-long monster.
“Even though I knew it was a big fish, I was still a little shocked to see him when he surfaced,” Smiley recalled.
Smiley, 40, is a lifelong Colorado resident and an avid fisherman. As soon as the fish was safely aboard the boat, his thoughts turned to releasing the state record trophy back into the water unharmed.
“I mean, how could I keep a fish that is probably ten years older than I am,” Smiley said with a chuckle. “A fish that old would be no good to eat, anyway.”
Wisely, however, with tape and scales sitting conveniently by, the two decided to quickly measure, weigh and snap a picture of the mammoth lake trout before returning it to its home.
Smiley showed the photo to Department of Wildlife officials, and since he had a witness, they accepted that as adequate evidence and declared the fish to be the new official state record for lake trout.
Smiley has since been contacted by more than a half dozen television and print media outlets, and is happy to tell the story, and tell it again. Even though he is probably getting to the point where he can anticipate each question asked by interviewers, he patiently fields each inquiry politely and enthusiastically.
“It has been amazing all of the people who have contacted me since May 4,” Smiley said. “I don’t mind at all, sharing the experience with others.”