A monster trout legally harvested by a Lapwai man would crush the existing Idaho state record providing the fish is determined to be a pure rainbow trout.
But even if a genetic test proves the fish is a rainbow and not a Kamloops, differences between state and tribal fishing rules will keep him from entering the record book.
Tui Moliga of Lapwai, a coho biologist at the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery, was bouncing salmon eggs for chinook below Dworshak Dam recently when he hooked the trout that has grown fat by feeding on kokanee that sometimes flush through the dam.
“Right away I knew it was a good one,” Moliga said. “He came and flashed and I seen it was a trout. There was a lot of words you can’t put in the paper but I was pretty excited.”
He fought the fish for more than 10 minutes, taking care to make sure it didn’t break off.
“He would dive down deep and get in the channel. He was stripping line. We had no net or anything to bring him in. It was pretty sketchy,” he said.
Moliga’s friend, Steve Croomer, was finally able to grab the fish. Realizing it could be a record, they took it to Harvest Foods in Orofino, where it weighed 28 pounds, 9 ounces on a registered scale.
He later took it to Lewiston to have it checked by an Idaho Fish and Game official, one of the prerequisites for record consideration.
There, Regional Fisheries manager Joe DuPont examined the fish and took a fin clip for DNA analysis, describing the fish as “incredibly fat.”
The state record rainbow trout, caught in the Snake River in 2009 by Michelle Larsen-Williams of Pingree, Idaho, weighed 20 pounds, 2 ounces.
But DuPont expects the trout might be a Kamloops, a strain of rainbow trout from Canada that is considered different than other rainbows.
The state plants Kamloops in Dworshak Reservoir and some of the fish get flushed through the dam.
“At this point, I’m not sure it would qualify as a rainbow,” DuPont said.
The Kamloops record was set by Wes Hamlet, who caught a 37-pounder from Lake Pend Oreille in 1947.
It will take two weeks to a few months to conduct DNA analysis to determine if it’s a true rainbow or a Kamloops.
At the time, DuPont was unsure even if the fish is a rainbow if it would qualify for the record book.
The North Fork is open to rainbow trout fishing. But according to state regulations, any rainbow over 20 inches long in the Clearwater River or the North Fork below the dam is considered a steelhead.
Moliga is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and broke no laws or regulations by keeping the trout. But non-tribal anglers cannot keep rainbow trout caught from the Clearwater River or its North Fork that are more than 20 inches long unless it is during an open steelhead fishing season and the fish has a clipped adipose fin.
The fin was not clipped and even though the fish was well over 20 inches, everyone agrees it is not a steelhead — trout that migrate to the ocean as juveniles and return as adults.
Idaho’s record book rules say all qualifying fish must be caught with hook and line “in compliance with existing fishing rules.” They also say the fish must have been caught in water open to the general public and within an open season for that species.
The North Fork of the Clearwater River was open to the general public but not for harvest of rainbow trout over 20 inches.
However, Moliga used hook and line and complied with fishing rules that apply to him and other tribal members.
Ed Schriever, chief of the fisheries bureau for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, marveled at Moliga’s fish. But he said it can’t be a state record. Even though the record book rules don’t explicitly say that qualifying fish must have been caught in compliance with existing “state of Idaho” fishing rules, he said it is implied.
“It can be a tribal record fish but it can’t be a state record,” he said. “Under state fishing rules that fish would not have been available for harvest even though it is completely legal under tribal rules.”
Moliga was unfazed by the decision. “It would have been cool but it’s still not going to change the fact that is a big fish that I caught,” he said. “I’m not a trophy hunter of fish but since I caught it I will be proud of it. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s the biggest one I ever caught.”
DuPont noted the fish has apparently been caught multiple times in recent years. He compared the markings on Moliga’s fish to pictures of a fish caught and released by Aaron Marshall of Boise two years ago and said they are identical.
Don Whitney, another Idaho Fish and Game fisheries biologist, said another angler caught and released the same fish earlier this year. Record or not, it is a remarkable fish. Moliga is getting it mounted.