The fish that holds Wyoming’s golden trout record is more than twice the size that species normally grows to and didn’t come with photos or written documentation. As of now, the record rests only on the word of a dead man.
In fact, even though it’s the official state record, that fish “might have never existed,” said Mark Smith, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s assistant fisheries management coordinator. The man claiming to have caught it “might have walked into an office in Pinedale and just reported something.”
Just A Big Fish Story?
On its fish records web page, Game and Fish lists the record for golden trout as an 11-pound, 4-ounce fish caught in 1948 by C.S. Reed from Cook Lake in Sublette County.
Cook Lake is in the Wind River Mountains near Pinedale, which is ideal golden trout habitat, but it seems incredible that it could have produced a fish of that size, Smith said.
In fact, golden trout anywhere near that size aren’t known to exist in Wyoming, he said. Typically, 3-4 pounds is considered a mighty impressive golden trout. And the biggest of that species he’s ever heard about were in about the 5-pound range.
What’s more, there’s simply no known tangible documentation of Reed’s record. No photo of him with the fish, no written record. There’s not even a reliable account of where his claim of catching such a monster golden trout came from.
Smith said the lack of documentation has so far not given rise to any other Wyoming golden trout angler stepping up and challenging Reed’s record.
As to how such a challenge might play out, “I don’t know, we’ve never really crossed that bridge,” Smith said.
Native To California
Golden trout aren’t native to Wyoming. They’re from the west side of the Sierra Mountains in California.
They’re thought to have been transplanted to Wyoming during the 1920s and 1930s, Smith said. At that time, transfer of fish and fish eggs between states was common.
Golden trout do best in isolated, high-mountain lakes where they don’t get much competition from other trout, Smith said. They’re one of the more timid species of trout. Aggressive species such as brook trout can out-compete them for food and territory.
They also will occasionally cross-breed with rainbow trout or cutthroats, he added.
That could explain the sheer size of the fish Reed claimed. It might have been a cross-breed that he mistook for a purebred golden trout, Smith said.
There are wild-bred populations of golden trout in some high-altitude lakes in Wyoming, such as those in the Wind River range, as well as the Bighorn Mountains and the Snowy Mountains, Smith said. Game and Fish also occasionally supplements the population with stock bred at its fish hatchery in Story.
Does Anybody Know?
Smith said not much is known about Reed, except that he was from Nebraska, “had political connections” and occasionally liked to go fishing in Wyoming.
And while Game and Fish maintains its fishing records lists because of public interest, personnel can’t dedicate much time to it, Smith said. So, it might not be a matter of Reed just making up a “big fish” story. It could be that the proper documentation just hasn’t been tracked down yet.
Such things have happened. It took serious sleuthing by a bass fishing podcaster and Idaho Fish and Game officials to finally recently verify that state’s largemouth bass record for a fish also caught in 1948.
“At one time I tried to figure out who the guy (Reed) was,” Smith said. “And I found some stuff related to his political engagement, but I’ve never seen anything related to him fishing or a photo of him with his fish – nothing in local newspapers or anything.
“Maybe somebody out there – a child, or grandchild, or great-grandchild – has something. Maybe a photo in an old family album of him with that fish.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.