For many of us, news of the 53-pound 15-ounce lake trout caught at Flaming Gorge in early August is old news.
However, the more interesting topic of discussion (at least for me) is why it took so long (32 years) to break the record?
Let’s explore some of the reasons it would take three decades to catch a lake trout just two pounds heavier than the record set in 1988.
Mackinaw (lake trout) are prolific in Flaming Gorge Reservoir. In fact, they are so prolific that fishery managers have raised the limit on smaller lake trout (less than 28 inches in length) to 12 fish per day.
Managers believe these smaller lake trout are keeping the larger lake trout from growing to record sizes. It would take more words than I am allotted in this column to explain why they feel this way but suffice it to say that even in Flaming Gorge, there is not enough room for all of the lake trout to thrive.
In the spring, while searching for schools of kokanee salmon (one of the lake trout’s favorite forage), I have run into enormous schools of lake trout literally 30 feet thick on my fish finders.
What’s more, when I drop down to catch those fish, the smaller lake trout are the ones that bite a large percentage of the time. My personal belief is that the potential record-breaking lake trout are content to eat kokanees, rainbows, and smaller lake trout rather than chasing lures dropped by anglers.
This also happens in bass fishing. If I encounter a large school of bass hanging out together, the smaller bass seem the most excited to chase lures. The larger, trophy bass seem content to allow the smaller ones to expend all the energy while the trophy-sized fish wait for easier pickings such as some of the smaller bass in the school.
The next challenge for catching record-breaking lake trout is the unbelievable angling pressure on these fish.
You don’t have to be on Flaming Gorge too many times to notice that most lake trout anglers fish the exact same spots — scores of spots. On a given morning you might count 30 boats in a line trolling on the exact same line. Or, you might find 30 boats jigging on perhaps the same number of underwater humps that generally hold larger lake trout.
Now, if those boats were spread out over the 90-plus miles of the reservoir it wouldn’t be a big deal, but having so many boats in a five-mile-square area all fishing the same humps, ledges, or drop offs means that the potential record-breaking lake trout have seen every lure made hundreds if not thousands of times.
Of course, there are a lot of areas such as this all over the reservoir and just as many boats fish those areas too. Lucerne, Antelope, Swim Beach, Anvil, Buckboard, Jarvie Canyon, Mustang, Cedar Springs, Hideout, and others support the same or larger numbers of boats fishing the exact same ways.
Lake trout can live for up to 40 years so you can imagine how discriminating a fish might be after seeing so many lures for so many years.
Finally, some of the guides are torn between helping their clients catch numbers of big fish, and only seeking out the potential record-breakers. You may have to stay on top of the enormous marks on a fish finder for literally days and weeks at a time before those fish actually react to a lure. No guide could stay in business with clients paying $500 dollars a day for not even a single bite.
Thirty-two years seems like a long time to wait for a record to be broken, but given the available forage, the numbers of lures seen by giant lake trout, and anglers’ desires to catch numbers of fish (from 20 to 40 pounds) but not necessarily concentrating on catching ONLY record-breaking fish, it is understandable why it takes so long to break records.
But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I’ll see you on the lake!