An Arkansas fishing mark that had held for nearly 33 years finally fell last weekend when a Kansas angler making an annual trek with friends to the White River pulled in a cutthroat trout weighing 10 pounds, 2 ounces. The catch was certified by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s chief of fisheries today.
Mike Bowers of Abilene, Kansas, who said he has fished these waters for longer than the record had held and who makes two or three trips to Arkansas’s northern trout streams each year, caught the 26-inch-long trout on a No. 15 baitholder hook with salmon eggs in the Norfork Tailwater (North Fork of the White River). He landed it in front of Gene’s Trout Fishing Resort. At first, he and his fishing partner, Jack Wickersham, thought Bowers had a brown trout on the line before pulling it in and noting the distinctive cutthroat marks. Onlookers at Gene’s sensed it was something special, and the scale on the dock indicated as much.
“Several of them said, ‘That’s a new state record.’ Those guys all started taking pictures and I didn’t know a one of them,” Bowers said. “Guys were coming down to the dock from out of their cabins or floating over there to see it.”
The previous record from the White River was 9 pounds, 9 ounces, set Oct. 6, 1985.
“To be honest, it didn’t fight real hard,” Bowers said. “It was a much older fish, the biologist said, and it was docile. We drifted downstream with it naturally, had the drag out about 70-80 percent, I’d feel the drag and I’d pull it back in.”
The trout was caught during a minimum flow period on the river, about 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29. Bowers and Wickersham docked immediately to weigh the fish and, knowing it was likely a record-breaker, headed to Mountain Home for official weigh-in with Arkansas Game and Fish Commission fisheries biologists. Christy Graham, the AGFC’s trout management program supervisor, certified the weight.
Graham says the cutthroat was confirmed to be one raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Norfork National Fish Hatchery and stocked in either 2008 or 2011 – she said there was no way to confirm which of those years exactly.
“It was missing an adipose fin, which is a sign of a fish we stocked,” Graham said. “It's great to see that fish we stocked as recently as 7-10 years ago have reached state-record size. We've heard lots of reports from anglers about big (20-plus inches) cutthroat trout being caught on Norfork Tailwater, and this new record confirms that it is an exceptional fishery.”
Graham said that at some point, state records for all four species of trout (rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook) have come from the Norfork Tailwater. The AGFC’s current cutthroat trout minimum length limit on the Norfork Tailwater of 24 inches (one fish per day) took effect Jan. 1 of this year, and should help protect and grow larger fish.
Bowers said he plans to have the record fish mounted by a taxidermist with a natural bed mount to resemble the bottom of the Norfork Tailwater. He said he and the 29 other friends from coast-to-coast that were making a long weekend of fishing out of Gene’s Resort for the 18th straight year pride themselves on turning most of their catch back to the river. He hooked the fish in the mouth and said a pair of forceps could have removed the hook and it could have been released. However, the age of the fish and the stress it seemed to have endured that afternoon, Bowers said, made this one a keeper that many people can marvel at forever. “Surely that’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” he said. “It’s a beautiful fish.”