A tale of the one that got away, sorta

Barbara Anne Greene

This summer has been a busy fishing summer.  William Walker of Basin just completed the Western Native Trout Challenge, which is to catch six native trout species in four states. 

Walker completed the Wyoming Cutt-Slam earlier this year.  His children, Amos and Dixie, have been participating in the Wyoming Youth Angler Challenge and have both become master anglers by completed six of the eight challenges. 

“The last two challenges we have left are Percid price to catch either a walleye or sauger to go along with the perch they caught and Cool Catch, a challenge that calls for catching of specific rare fish.  Amos caught a Master Angler size cutthroat in Beck Lake and we all caught master angler sized fish out of Bass Lake in Fremont County.” (Master Angler is another program Wyoming Game and Fish have for catching large fish).

Walker explained they received a WYO-100 checklist from Wyoming Game and Fish. He has been checking items off the list.  “One day the item was baiting your own hook, not an easy task for a 4- and 2-year-old.  We fished near the Basin Boat Doc after I got off work from 6 to 7:30 p.m.  This trip Amos and Dixie baited their own hooks and were in charge of casting their own line; something that Dad does on most occasions.  Our main goal on this trip was to catch saugers to complete a Wyoming Youth Fishing Challenge or catch a Master Angler catfish in excess of 28 inches.  

“The first fish we caught appeared to be a carp.  Amos reeled in the fish as Dixie and I climbed down the bank to retrieve the fish with the net.  As we pulled the fish out, I noticed a bright red tail and the mouth was on the bottom of the head, different than a carp.  I was thinking this may be a new species for me but didn't think much about it and we decided to throw the fish back.”

  He took pictures before throwing the fish back. “After looking at the pictures we took I noticed the dorsal fin was much shorter than a regular carp.  I then did some research once we got home and came to find out that the fish we caught is a native fish to Wyoming called the shorthead redhorse sucker. 

“The state record is 19.25 inches and 3 pounds, 38 ounces caught May 15, 2020 in the North Platte River.  My fishing scale starts at 2 pounds but the weight of the fish was somewhere between 3-4 pounds and 20.5 inches long.  In order to qualify for a state record, you have to take your fish to a certified scale and have 2 or more witnesses.  So unfortunately, our state record fish is still swimming around somewhere in the river.”

Mark Smith, assistant fisheries management coordinator for Wyoming Game and Fish, said that the shorthead redhorse sucker is pretty common in the Big Horn River. It is native and can also be found in other streams in northeast Wyoming. It’s most common in the stretch of the river around here. He added that some people confuse it with a regular sucker or carp. But the bright red tail sets this species apart.

Should someone catch a fish they believe may be a record-setter, there are a few steps to take. As Walker stated, the catch has to be weighed on a certified scale. Those can be found at a post office or grocery store. Two additional people need to witness the weight. Then its species has to be verified by a Game and Fish biologist.

Smith said most people throw them back. In the Midwest people used to pickle the fish but he is not sure that happens much anymore. He only knows of one person in Wyoming that does this.

He said there are also some other fish that are common in the river in this area besides carp and catfish. One is stone catfish. They are smaller than the channel catfish that are caught often. The difference is they only grow up to 12 inches and have really sharp spines on their back. Another common fish is flathead chub fish are very silvery 6-inch fish.