Vermont offers trophy fish of a different size

Over the past month, two all-tackle world records for trout have been broken, with the new records awaiting only official confirmation. A new world record rainbow trout was caught on Sept. 5 in Saskatchewan, Canada. The trout weighed a whopping 48 pounds. (Just pause and consider that weight for a moment. It’s about 5 pounds heavier than the largest king salmon I have ever caught in Alaska, and about six times bigger than the average weight of my kids at birth.)
Less than a week later, a 41-pound, 7-ounce brown trout was caught closer to Vermont on the Manistee River, a famous trout water that flows through the state of Michigan into Lake Michigan. The brown trout eclipsed (by 1 pound, 3 ounces) the previous all-tackle world record, which had been taken 17 years earlier in Arkansas’ Little Red River.
I’m a bit ambivalent about the first of these records. The rainbow trout, caught by Sean Konrad in Lake Diefenbaker, was a stocked fish, genetically altered to be a triploid — meaning it had three complete sets of chromosomes rather than two. Triploids are not capable of reproducing, and thus all of their energy goes into tremendously fast growth (rather than into reproduction: producing eggs and spawning). As a result, they can get really big, as Sean has proven for us.
However, triploids do not occur naturally in the wild. And, in fact, the previous world record was caught two years earlier in the same lake from the same stock by Sean’s twin brother. So to count this artificially altered fish as a “world-record rainbow” seems a bit distorted. Perhaps we should count it as a world record, but in a different category: triploid rainbows.
Now when I say I’m ambivalent, what I mean is that I’m ambivalent about the status of the fish as world-record ’bow. I’m by no means ambivalent about the fish itself, and about how impressive it is, and how much work and skill it would have taken to hook and land. I’d love to catch a fish like that. I’d especially love to hook one on a fly rod, while wading in a river. It’s the thrill of the catch, and of the fight, that I crave, and not the record status.
Tom Healy’s 41-pound-plus brown trout caught in the Manistee River, by contrast, is a legitimate record breaker. It is more than a pound bigger than the previous world record, and more than five pounds bigger than the previous Michigan state record. According to one report from a fisheries official in Michigan, it is the largest anadromous fish ever caught in the Lake Michigan system. (An anadromous fish is one capable of living in salt water or fresh, typically — like salmon and a small number of trout — living to maturity in the ocean and then spawning up fresh water. However, the term is also used of Great Lakes fish that spawn up tributaries.)
In any case, I dream about catching fish like that, anadromous or not.
Which is why I like fall fishing. Not that Vermont has trout anything close to that size. But the big trout that we do have — especially the brown trout — get very active in the fall. In the low waters from a dry 2009 September, browns have almost certainly been holding up in deep water, stacking up near the mouths of small rivers and streams, waiting to start their annual spawning run.
Waiting for what? Waiting for some rain to raise (and cool) the water in the small rivers in which they spawn, so that they can move upstream more easily. That rain has finally hit, and the brown trout are active. Last fall at this time, I hooked the biggest fish I’ve ever hooked in Vermont. And lost it about three seconds later after one tremendous leap out of the water. (The trout took one tremendous leap and spit my hook. Then I took one tremendous leap of anguish. So I guess that counts as two leaps.)
A 5-pound brown is very possible in many rivers in Addison County. Some rarer fish closer to 10 pounds are not out of the question. It won’t break any world records. But it’ll feel very nice on the end of my line.

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