Setting the record straight on record fish

Angling records are there to be broken: they are not written in stone, but some do seem to be made from silly putty, hand moulded and remoulded.

Fly-caught Muskeg River bull trout. Nice fish

Fly-caught Muskeg River bull trout. Nice fish

Angling records are there to be broken: they are not written in stone, but some do seem to be made from silly putty, hand moulded and remoulded.

Starting in 1988, and for about a decade, I worked along with the Alberta Fish and Game Association and Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife Division to co-ordinate, rationalize, document and tidy up the keeping of what are variously called the Alberta Angling or Sportfishing Records. It was a decade of fascinating work that gave me a magazine article each year.

The first efforts resulted in the removal, for the first time ever from the records, of a fish that had long rankled many anglers, particularly a surprisingly large number of perch fans. In 1976, a 14 year old lad caught a three-pound, 10-ounce fish in Sylvan Lake and immediately cooked and ate it. Eventually, through a series of after the fact investigations of highly circumstantial evidence and prodded by some adults, someone determined that that the fish “must have been a perch” and the new Alberta record perch at that.

Such a silly putty process does not produce credible records, particularly for the hard core perch fishermen, who asserted, flatly, that “there are no three pound perch in Alberta.”

So, in 1988, fish and wildlife decided that the fish was more likely a walleye, and it is just not good enough for the establishment of provincial records that someone says they think they ate a record something or other, and restored the previous Alberta record perch to its rightful place. Today, 23 years later, the Alberta record perch is two pounds, 15.5 ounces.

Perch straightened out, I asked the other record-keepers to consider what should be done with the questionable provincial record bull trout. Everyone agreed to look into it and I announced in an article that if, within a year, nobody produced some solid evidence as to the exact weight, length and girth of the standing record bull trout, the previous record fish would be restored.

The questioned record should never have been established in the first place, having been moulded from silly putty further softened by hot air when, in 1970, a wildlife officer heard about a bull trout that beat the then Alberta record bull trout by a full 11 pounds!

I examined all the documentation available, which was all pure hearsay, not to mention fish tales. People remembered that Mike Danyluk had caught what they believed to be a bull trout in the Muskeg River in 1947, and they heard it weighed around 25 pounds. But when the “new” Alberta record was created, 23 years after the fact, it asserted as gospel that the bull trout was taken where alleged in 1947, and that it weighed a suspiciously exact and totally undocumented 25 pounds, 14 ounces.

If records are to have any credibility, all facts must be verified: date, place taken in Alberta, weight (on a government certified scale), dimensions, species verification, colour pictures if possible, and that the catch was legally taken by sportfishing methods. The burden of proof is more stringent when a record is sought nearly a quarter century after the fact, if, indeed, “facts” they were.

To give some perspective: the world record bull trout taken just two years later than the alleged Danyluk Alberta record, came, not from a small river, but from huge Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho, and weighed an even 32 pounds.

Some alleged verification of the Danyluk bull did come in, but it was just more of the old, vague, hearsay stories with no hard evidence, so the record was expunged and replaced by the previous record holder.

Current Alberta record bull trout is 17 pounds, 15 ounces, taken in 1985 from Lower Kananaskis Lake, much more in keeping with the weights of Alberta’s biggest bulls. This one will probably stand at least until the province-wide zero limit on bull trout is lifted.

But maybe not. The AFGA is preparing a new edition of its records book and, as part of the politics of that widely-based organization, here comes yet another claim from the Hinton area for the Alberta record bull trout record for Mike Danyluk’s alleged 25-pounds, 14-ounces Muskeg River catch back in 1947. I have not seen it, but I am reliably informed that the application is supported by an 82-year-old who claims to have been present when Danyluk caught his fish, in other words, back when he was 18. Anglers’ memories can play tricks with sizes, weights, etc. in 10 minutes, never mind 64 years.

I remember, several years ago, having a few days of fast fly fishing for very large bulls on the Muskeg, but nothing much bigger than six pounds, as I recall.

Now, I am told, illegal native fishing on the Muskeg has all but wiped out one of our last great bull trout fisheries, and our politically-correct governments did and do nothing about it. But that is another story . . .

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.