CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- How many of us, if we caught a potential state-record fish, would let it go?I'm not talking about a state-record carp, fallfish, bluegill or some other record no one really cares about. I'm talking about a record trout, bass, muskellunge or catfish.People covet those records, and rare is the angler who would release a record-breaker.Folks, meet Mark Clemishire.Clemishire, 54, of Skiatook, Okla., caught and released a rainbow trout that, if measurements are correct, might have broken a state record by more than 2 pounds.Fishing in Missouri's Lake Taneycomo, Clemishire hooked and landed the 31-inch fish on light fly fishing tackle after a 30-minute battle. He held the fish in the water to allow it to recover, lifted it long enough for his guide to snap a few photos, and turned it loose.While Clemishire and his guide had the fish in their hands, they measured its girth as well as its length. Its girth taped out at a whopping 23 inches, as big around as a man's thigh. Using a widely accepted formula for estimating trout weights by length and girth, the two men later calculated that the big 'bow weighed 20 pounds, 8 ounces.The existing Missouri record, held by a rainbow caught from the Roaring River in 2004, is 18 pounds, 1 ounce.To claim a record, though, the state requires a fish to be weighed on certified scales. Clemishire wasn't willing to kill the fish just to get it weighed. He told a reporter for the Springfield News-Leader that in his younger days he might have been tempted to keep the giant rainbow, but not now.
"If I were 30 instead of 54 I probably would have weighed it at the hatchery and certified it," he said. "But after that fight he was still good and alive. If we had tried to weigh it, I think he would have died in my hands."Releases of potential record-breaking glamour-species fish are rare, but they do happen. Earlier this year, right here in West Virginia, a young man caught and released a muskie that might have earned a spot in the record books.Luke King, 19, of Burnsville, was fishing for muskies during the spring spawning season when he hooked a gigantic female.King was using heavy tackle, and it took him only about 5 minutes to bring the huge fish to net. When he lifted it from the water, he noticed eggs spewing from the fish's vent. Eager to return the not-yet-spawned fish to its nest, he and his fishing partner held her in the water alongside the boat and stretched a measuring tape along her length.Biologists measure a fish by laying it out on a flat surface, such as a board, and measuring it from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail fin. King and his partner didn't have a surface long enough to accommodate the enormous muskie.Supported at the head and the tail, the 53-inch fish had a bow in its body that cost it an inch or two. In addition, King didn't squeeze the lobes of the tail together, which likely cost him another inch.
A Division of Natural Resources biologist estimated that King's fish, if properly measured, might have stretched out to 55 inches. Even at 53 inches, it would have broken the current record of 52.7 inches. At 55, it would have shattered the mark.But King wasn't interested in a record. He was interested in preserving the life of a huge female muskie so she could spawn hundreds more of her kind.The Luke Kings and Mark Clemishires of the world are few and far between, but they come along occasionally.Because they do, our rivers and lakes are better places to fish.