For several excruciating seconds the monster kokanee salmon thrashed about behind the boat.
Realizing the normal 14-inch kokanee net wasn’t going to cut it, Captain Scott Carey frantically tried to free the bigger net that is normally reserved for mackinaw. He had been waiting to catch a record-breaker for 22 years, and by the looks of it, this one would go down in Tahoe history.
But first he needed to net the beast, and the fish was now dangerously close to crossing another line and freeing itself.
“You let a fish like that flop around on the surface and he’s going to be gone,” Carey said. “He’s going to wink at you and you’ll never see him again.”
Carey pulled the mackinaw net loose and lurched toward the fish. He thrust the net out as far as possible, nearly falling in the water. His net found fish, however, and he pulled.
“He flipped it onto the deck and our breath was taken away by how huge this kokanee was,” first mate Scott Hoffman said. “Captain Scott Carey has worked half his life for a day like this.”
At 2:10 p.m. on Saturday, July 20, the Tahoe Sports Fishing crew and angler Bill Brush of Nevada City, Calif., hauled in a new California and Nevada kokanee record at 5 pounds and 2 ounces. The catch broke a record that stood for 40 years, almost to the day. On July 31, 1973, Dick Bournique pulled a 4-pound, 13-ounce kokanee out of Lake Tahoe. It was a record that some said would never be broken.
Jack Martin, a fishing guide who has fished Lake Tahoe for nearly 60 years, didn’t think he would ever see the day that record was broken.
“The kokanee salmon record will never be broken,” he said in a 2000 fishing guide article. “Over the years, they have actually changed their spawning habits and they’ve had some major losses due to the controlled water flow out of Taylor Creek. A couple years ago they didn’t have enough water in the creek and a lot of the kokanee eggs dried up.”
The new record flies in the face of Martin’s realistic theory, however, and Carey thinks it’s because this particular fish skipped the normal three-year spawning cycle. He guesses the fish is 5 years old, but the department of fish and game still needs to take samples to determine the exact age.
The kokanee was reeled in off Baldwin Beach with a double whammy lure and corn. It rang in at 5.10 pounds on a digital scale right after it was hauled on deck. About 15 minutes later, another scaled called it 5.8 pounds. The crew knew that weight would drop quickly, however, as the fish continued to lose moisture and blood. They needed to find a certified scale quickly.
Hoffman packed the fish in ice and started making phone calls. He called every wildlife department he could think of, but they were all closed for the weekend. He even went so far as to call the police station where it was suggested he could just take a picture of the fish with whoever caught it.
He was about to give up, but decided to make one final call to Overland Meat & Seafood Company. Miraculously, the market had a certified scale and the Tahoe Sports Fishing crew rushed the kokanee in by 3:30 p.m.
The fish officially weighed in at 5 pounds, 2 ounces, beating the 40-year-old record by 5 ounces. Five pounds hardly sounds like a show-stopper, but the average kokanee weighs less than a pound and is usually 14 inches long. This monster measured 24.75 inches.
“Everyone on the boat besides the captain and I thought it was an ordinary fish,” Hoffman said. “Scott Carey has been looking for the record-breaking mackinaw, also known as lake trout, for over 22 years. Little did he know that he was targeting the wrong record-breaker this whole time.”
Carey is still going after that elusive mackinaw, but now he already has one for the fishing ages.
“We thought we had something special a couple weeks ago when we got a 19-inch kokanee, until we saw this 24-and-three-quarter-inch kokanee thrash his head out of the water,” Hoffman said. “Absolutely incredible is all I got to say.”
Carey and Hoffman had the fish certified with the fish and game department on Monday.