The morning started slowly for angler Matt Smiley, who was fishing the Flaming Gorge Reservoir which straddles the Utah-Wyoming border. But when he got a bite, it was a big one.
The fish Smiley caught on May 4 was recognized this week as the Utah state record for a catch-and-release lake trout, measuring 48 inches. He weighed it at just under 53 pounds but almost let it go without measuring it.
Just to get an idea of its size, an average boy in the month he turns 7 has a height of 48 inches and weight of nearly 51 pounds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control.
“I had been wanting to catch a fish over 50 pounds for a long, long time,” said Smiley, a Fairplay resident who once held the Colorado record with a lunker that weighed 44 pounds, 5 ounces. “I was pretty sure it was over 50 pounds, looking at it, but when we (weighed it), I was so excited. I put it back in the net and had it over the side of the boat, getting ready to let it go, and my buddy in the boat with me stopped me. He was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to measure that fish, do you have a tape measure in here?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t even care, man, I broke 50 pounds, I’m good with it.’ He’s like, ‘No, that’s the longest fish I’ve ever seen, you need to measure that thing.’ ”
They pulled it back out of the water, measured its length and let it go.
“It wasn’t even until a couple days later, we were like, ‘Wow, that’s long enough to be the ‘release’ state record,’ ” Smiley said. “I wouldn’t have even measured it if he hadn’t kind of forced me to. It’s kind of lucky that I had him in the boat that day.”
Smiley’s four-day trip to the reservoir in northeastern Utah, 25 miles west of the Colorado state line, started inauspiciously. The first day they didn’t get in much fishing because Smiley’s boat was having engine trouble that required attention from a local mechanic. The next two days went well.
“I had two really great days with a lot of action and some big fish each day, kind of a great bounce-back after the boat issues to start the trip,” Smiley said. “The (fourth) day, the bites almost completely stopped. We had gone all morning without even catching a fish, which was a big change from the two days before that. Finally got a bite, and it ended up being that one fish. It ended up being the only fish I caught that entire day.”
It took Smiley close to an hour to get the behemoth into the boat, although it wasn’t a very dramatic battle.
“The unique thing about the fight was it literally didn’t do anything for about 45 minutes, just sat on the bottom, wouldn’t even shake its head, wouldn’t move, wouldn’t run,” Smiley said. “Finally after 45-50 minutes, it kind of gave up and threw a few head shakes. He kind of came up directly under the boat so we couldn’t see it. It finally drifted out from under the boat to where my buddy could net it. It was a shocking thing to see the first time, it was so big.”
Smiley has made history before. On April 11, 2003, he caught the lake trout that gave him the Colorado state record at Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison. That record has since been broken.