Three records highlight a fishtastic year for angler awards
Written by Grand Rapids Press   
Friday, 25 February 2005 10:53
Mike Harvey knew he was into a big fish last summer when he hooked a hefty brown trout on the Grand River.

But what the 27-year-old angler from Marne didn't know was that it would prove to be the biggest brown trout reported in the DNR's 2004 Master Angler program.

The agency recently released the 2004 ranking of 1,302 entries for 52 species. The listings also are divided by those who kept their catch and those who released them.

"I paraded it around a bit," said Harvey, a truck driver for the Press. "But I didn't really know just how big it was until it was weighed 24 hours later at the taxidermist."

Turns out the big male brown weighed 28.5 pounds and measured 37 inches. It was well shy of the 34.62-pound state record, but was more than seven pounds heavier than the No. 2 brown trout for the year.

"That's big," said Jay Wesley, the DNR fisheries supervisor for southwest Michigan. "We don't hear about many Lake Michigan browns being that big anymore."

Wesley believes the fish had come upstream to spawn the previous fall and had never returned to Lake Michigan. Brown trout, unlike salmon, do not die after they spawn. He nixed any notion that the fish might have simply grown large in the river.

"We've done a lot of river and stream surveys," Wesley said. "We've seen them run 10 pounds and maybe 24 inches, feeding at a creek mouth, but we've never seen anything that big."

Harvey caught the fish last June while fishing the Grand River just below the Sixth Street dam. It was high water and he was fishing from a boat.

"It was kind of a freak accident. I stumbled across it," Harvey said. He'd been fishing with a fly rod and reel and alewife streamer.

He knew the fish was big once it hit. It charged downstream, ripping line off his reel. Harvey was unable to reel it in. So he opted instead to raise the anchor and drift down on the fish.

"As soon as I pulled the anchor, it ran almost straight down to the highway," Harvey said. "We idled down and kept on reeling and reeling and netted it in the Quarry Hole."

Harvey's big fish tale is one of many in 2004, a year when three state angling records were set. Anglers who make the Master Angler list have to submit proof of having caught a fish that either meets or exceeds certain minimum sizes ,

When the program began 29 years ago, there were only 19 species categories anglers could enter. Today 52 species are recorded. Anglers who make the list receive a Master Angler patch while the top five in any category also receive a certificate from the state. Those who set state records also get a certificate of verification.

Bradley Nietering of Nunica is one of those anglers. He was bow fishing on the Grand River last May when he shot the new record black buffalo, a fish that ran 33.25 pounds and measured 36.50 inches.

Robert Houser, of Pittsford, caught a record pumpkinseed while fishing in Baw Beese Lake in Hillsdale County. His fish ran 1.35 pounds and measured 11 inches. John Brockway, of Morley, also caught a record splake. It was 17.5 pounds and measured 34.5 inches. Brockway was spincasting on Big Bay De Noc in Delta County when he hooked the fish.

State records are set only by fish in the catch-and-keep category because a weight is needed to establish a record where catch-and-release entries only require a length to be listed.

Still, 2004 was the second year running where there were more entries in the catch-and-release category. There were 769 entries in 2004 compared to 533 in the catch-and-keep categories.

"That category was started in 1992," said Barb Dilts, the DNR staffer in charge of the program. "There were 64 catch-and-release entries that year and 1,051 catch-and-keep entries."

The peak was 1999, when 1,700 anglers entered the program.

Dilts does not know why fewer anglers are participating, but she suspects two budget-driven changes may be having an impact. The DNR now gives out a simple patch to successful anglers -- a one-patch-does-all affair. Gone are the days of the different multi-colored fish each year. Gone are the dates as well.

"We were mandated to cut costs wherever we could," said Dilts. "Those patches with a lot of color and different years all cost more and those costs add up."

Dilts said the Master Angler applications also are not as readily available as they were. They were once included in the annual fishing guide. Now they are not, although they are available at bait-and-tackle stores as well as on the web.

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