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The Top ‘Big Fish’ Stories Of 2023

From a 40-pound lake monster in Hayden Lake to a 75-year-old record vindicated by passionate bass fishing sleuths, big fish stories covered all manner of strange circumstances last year.

From a 40-pound lake monster in Hayden Lake to a 75-year-old record vindicated by passionate bass fishing sleuths, angler stories covered all manner of strange in 2023. Anglers from all over the state hoisted up some incredible benchmarks last year (and have pictures to show for it). 

In total, 2023 had 15 new state records, which included 6 certified-weight records, and 9 new catch-and-release records. Making the cut this year are the following angler trophy stories.

The Panhandle Pike

When Thomas Francis stepped up to the water’s shore on March 21, 2023, the furthest thing from his mind was becoming the next state-record Northern pike angler. Francis was planning on going after a Hayden Lake monster that day, but the 40.76-pound lake monster that eventually took the hook was beyond his wildest imagination.

hayden_lake_record_pike_2023

“Pike is what I go after all the time. I spend almost everyday fishing for pike. As soon as the ice is off and until it comes back,” Francis said.

There was still some ice on the lake when he showed up that day, so he couldn’t cast right up to the shore, only to the edge of the ice. 

“When my lure hit the water, I let it sink all the way to the bottom. As soon as my lure hit the bottom, I felt her hit. I fish with 80-pound test line, and she almost immediately started peeling drag, a lot of it,” Francis said.

When Francis finally landed her, he knew the fish was going to be a state-record — or at least a close contender. After visiting a few different places to find a certified scale, they finally received a certified weight of 40.76 pounds.

Read Thomas Francis’ full fish story, written by Fish and Game Regional Communications Manager TJ Ross, here. 

Mysterious Record Largemouth Bass Vindicated On 75th Anniversary

One of the most popular stories from 2023 spoke of a 75-year-old state record for a largemouth bass caught by a mysterious individual named “Mrs. W. M. Taylor.” You see, Idaho Fish and Game state records go way, way back, but the 10-pound, 15-ounce largemouth bass hauled out of Anderson Lake in Idaho’s panhandle sometime in the 1940s was a little murky, but thanks to a team of fishing sleuths and their podcast, the story of the record fish was recently vindicated. 

For decades, Mrs. Taylor’s record has bewildered Fish and Game staff and anglers alike. The fish had little information about its catch, including no mention of length or girth measurements or even a catch date, making it a bit dubious. Despite the mystery, the fish stayed atop the record list for decades. 

Largemouth bass

In November 2023, Fish and Game’s very own Sportfish Coordinator Martin Koenig was contacted by The Big Bass Podcast’s Ken Duke, whose show takes a deep dive into legendary fishing stories. Duke discovered that “Mrs. W. M. Taylor” was in fact her husband’s name, a dentist in Spokane, Washington, where the family lived. Listing the record using her married (husband’s) name may have been the tradition for that era, but it made rectifying the records a bit more difficult.

After some sleuthing through newspaper records and archives, Duke discovered the angler’s actual name was Mary Alice Hurt Taylor, who would have been 63 years old when she caught the big bass on Oct. 22, 1948 — nearly 75 years from today.

Fishing may not have been popular recreation for women of her day, which makes Mary’s story even more interesting. Mary Taylor wasn’t just a casual angler that happened to get lucky one fall day on Anderson Lake. In fact, she had a previous track record as a trophy bass angler. Only four years prior, she took 6th place in the 1944 Field & Stream contest with a 9-pound, 11-ounce largemouth bass caught on Oct. 21 from, you guessed it, the same lake.

Thanks to some clever fish record sleuthing, the plot holes in “Mrs.” Taylor’s once-convoluted fish tale were filled in, leading Idaho Fish and Game record keepers to update its entry for the state’s largest largemouth bass, caught on that legendary day by Mary Alice Taylor. 

To read Martin Koenig’s full story on this perplexing “who-caught-it?” case, check out this story.

Record steelhead from Clearwater River

One River, Three Records

Idaho’s Clearwater River is legendary in its own right as a salmon and steelhead mecca. In the month of October 2023 alone, the river lived up to its reputation and produced not one, but threestate records.

On Oct. 6, McCall angler Kyriacos Panayiotou waded out into the cool waters of the Clearwater hoping to hook one of the river’s famous monster steelhead. 

“The full floating spey line was at approximately 120 to 130 feet when the fly started to swing,” Panayiotou recalls. “At around 30 degrees, this beautiful wild steelhead buck boiled to the surface and grabbed the fly with authority. The vintage Hardy Perfect reel could do nothing in slowing down this fish — it’s something that I’ll never forget.”

The fish measured 41 inches long, a full 1.75 inches longer than the previous catch-and-release state record set in 2021. While Kyriacos Panayiotou had to let the huge wild steelhead go, he took home a new Idaho catch-and-release record and a lifetime memory. To read his full story, check out this article by Martin Koenig. 

2023-10-13-matt_hosking_coho_record_app2.jpg

Then on Oct. 13, Matt Hosking of Lewiston landed a 11.78-pound coho salmon, earning the top spot of the certified-weight state record list, edging out the previous record by a mere half ounce. The hook-jawed monster stretched out at 32.68 inches long. Read the full story here. 

A few weeks later on Oct. 28, Jase Groesbeck of Kamiah hooked into another big coho salmon. After measuring the fish at 31 inches, he released it back into the Clearwater River and took home a catch-and-release state record.

As if three new state records weren’t enough, Fish and Game also received applications for two more record steelhead from the Clearwater River last fall. Mark Mestaz of Boise and Brandon Kruger of Sioux Falls, Iowa, both landed (and released) steelhead over 40 inches.

Record coho salmon on Clearwater River by Jase Groesbeck 2023

Despite their impressive catches, their records were turned down because of insufficient evidence documenting their length. These records are getting hard to beat, and anglers need to remember to bring along a tape measure!

A Big Year for Yellowstone…Not That Yellowstone 

Back in 2016, Fish and Game separated out records for each of Idaho’s four subspecies of cutthroat trout: Bonneville, Yellowstone, Westslope and Lahontan. There have been many catch-and-release records, but a new certified-weight record for Yellowstone cutthroat trout has been lacking. 

While ice fishing on New Years Day on Henrys Lake, Spencer Smith of Chubbuck harvested a 2.88-pound Yellowstone cutthroat trout. He earned the first certified weight state record for Yellowstone cutthroat trout and earned extra bragging rights as the first record fish of 2023!

Honorable Mentions

Burbot

Gary Hardesty of Coeur d’Alene was night-fishing the Kootenai River on Feb. 11, hoping to find the elusive burbot. He landed a 16-inch burbot and beat the previous catch-and-release record of 14.3 inches set in 2022 by Laura Lambert. 

Tiger Trout

Adding to the fun, Jesse Barger of Mackay set a catch-and-release record tiger trout at 23.5 inches from Lehman Pond, only to be passed up by a 26-incher caught on the same day by Chandra Jensen of Moore. Sounds like a local rivalry is in store for 2024!

Non-Game

In the non-game categories, top catch-and-release records went to Akeley Fahnholz for landing a 14.13-inch peamouth (a native minnow species) from the Snake River, while Jon Urban of Eagle topped the list with a 6-inch redside shiner caught in the Boise River.

Robert Astin of Hayden set a new certified weight record for tench at 4.28 pounds from Hayden Lake using bowfishing (archery) equipment.

Checking Records in Real-Time

Catch-and-release records are no longer printed in the Idaho Fishing Seasons and Regulations booklets. Instead, the online rulebook will be accessible via a QR code which folks can scan (in the booklet) with their mobile phones that will direct them to Fish and Game’s up-to-date table of records. With anglers breaking records left and right, Fish and Game staff are working to keep state record information accessible and current.

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