For several excruciating seconds the monster kokanee salmon thrashed about behind the boat.
Captain Scott Carey frantically tried to free the bigger net, normally reserved for mackinaw. He could tell the normal 14-inch kokanee net wasn’t going to cut it this time. He had been waiting to catch a record-breaker for 22 years, and by the looks of it, this one would go down in Tahoe history.
But first he needed to net the beast, and the fish was now dangerously close to crossing another line and freeing itself.
Carey pulled the mackinaw net loose and lurched toward the fish. He thrust the net out as far as possible, nearly falling in the water. His net found fish, however, and he pulled.
“He flipped it onto the deck and our breath was taken away by how huge this kokanee was,” first mate Scott Hoffman said. “Captain Scott Carey has worked half his life for a day like this.”
At 2:10 p.m. on Saturday, July 20, the Tahoe Sports Fishing crew and angler Bill Brush of Nevada City, Calif., hauled in a new California and Nevada kokanee record at 5 pounds and 2 ounces. The catch broke a record that stood for 40 years, almost to the day. On July 31, 1973, Dick Bournique pulled a 4-pound, 13-ounce kokanee out of Lake Tahoe. It was a record that some said would never be broken.
“It was said by a fishing guide, Jack Martin in 2000, who was a guide for 20 years, that the kokanee salmon record would never be broken. Taylor Creek had dried up and all the kokanee ready to spawn had died and washed up on the Kiva Beach and Baldwin Beach shores,” Hoffman said. “They said there would never be a new record-sized kokanee pulled out of Lake Tahoe, but we proved them wrong. This is something we may never see again in our lifetime.”
The kokanee rang in at 5.10 pounds on a digital scale right after it was hauled on deck. About 15 minutes later, another scale called it 5.8 pounds. The crew knew it would start losing moisture and weight and they needed to find a certified scale quickly.
Hoffman packed the fish in ice and started making phone calls. He called every wildlife department he could think of, but they were all closed for the weekend. He even went so far as to call the police station where it was suggested he could just take a picture of the fish with whoever caught it.
He was about to give up, but decided to make one final call to Overland Meat & Seafood Company. Miraculously, the market had a certified scale and the Tahoe Sports Fishing crew rushed the kokanee in by 3:30 p.m.
The fish officially weighed in at 5 pounds, 2 ounces, beating the 40-year-old record by 5 ounces. The fish measured 24.75 inches. Five pounds hardly sounds like a show-stopper, but the average kokanee weighs less than a pound and is usually 14 inches long.
Carey and Hoffman had the fish certified with the Fish and Game Department two days later.
“Everyone on the boat besides the captain and I thought it was an ordinary fish,” Hoffman said. “Scott Carey has been looking for the record-breaking mackinaw, also known as lake trout, for over 22 years. Little did he know that he was targeting the wrong record-breaker this whole time.”
Carey is still going after that elusive mackinaw (Note: The Lake Tahoe record mackinaw trout of 37-pound, 6-ounces was caught by Robert Aronsen in 1974. The length of that fish was 44 inches.) But now he already has one for the fishing ages.
“We thought we had something special a couple weeks ago when we got a 19-inch kokanee, until we saw this 24-and-three-quarter-inch kokanee thrash his head out of the water,” Hoffman said. “Absolutely incredible is all I got to say.”