The sun was still rising last Friday morning over western Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir when a frantic moment ensued on a small boat.
“I can’t get him in the net,” said Hunter Enloe, a lifelong angler and guide whose heart was pounding over a massive fish unlike anything he’d ever seen.
His father, Scott Enloe, the one who reeled in the giant, came to the side of the boat to lend all of his might.
“Like I was deadlifting,” he said. “Like I was working out.”
Finally hauled onboard, their eyes widened almost as large as the lake trout’s. Similar to the creature out of water, they breathed heavily. They scrambled for a scale and tape measure. (The first scale would break, the next would lose a clip.)
“Oh my god. Oh my god,” Hunter kept saying, shaking. “Dad … What did you just catch?”
The men would soon be laughing and hugging, celebrating what they believed to be a world record.
The Gunnison locals say they weighed the lake trout at 73.29 pounds. That is about a pound more than the record lake trout listed by the International Game Fish Association, one caught in Canada in 1995.
In the state, Scott Enloe’s reported catch would shatter the lake trout record kept by Colorado Parks and Wildlife: a 50-pounder also drawn from Blue Mesa in 2007. Enloe’s claim would by far be the biggest game fish of any kind CPW has logged, since the 57-pound grass carp out of Jefferson County in 2013.
The International Game Fish Association has maintained an all-time lake trout length of 43 inches, also pulled from Canada. Enloe measured his trout at 47 inches, as seen on video. That would make it the longest fish on CPW’s record sheet, which is currently topped by a 40-inch tiger muskie.
“It is a big deal,” Enloe said a few days after the catch. “And if it gets certified or not, I know what I caught, and I’m good with it.”
Early this week, the prospect of Enloe’s name in state and world record books appeared to be a big “if.”
Indeed, it all might end as one great fish tale.
CPW spokesperson John Livingston in en email called the catch “a significant accomplishment” on the trophy-rich Blue Mesa, adding: “Everybody probably thought another state record fish was in there, but not THAT big of a fish. We were all surprised by how big that fish was.”
While Livingston said photos could help verify a length record, a weight record mandating further inspection by long-held agency standards could not be certified.
“Because (Enloe) released the fish, no further steps can be taken on CPW’s end,” Livingston said.
Immediately after the catch last Friday morning, Hunter Enloe could be heard over the fish struggling for oxygen: “We gotta do things quick, Dad.” Their quickness could be the reason for the record claim going unsubstantiated.
“From catching and releasing, it was like a one-in-a-half-minute process,” Scott Enloe said. “We didn’t want to kill the fish.”
The International Game Fish Association’s record keeper, Zack Bellapigna, commended the quick release.
“We are a conservation-based organization,” he said from the Florida hub. “We promote catch and release.”
But among a long list of firm, detailed rules to verify world records is one requiring the fish to be weighed on land, not in a boat. It’s a point that often makes Bellapigna a bearer of bad news, he said — a common point, he added, contributing to maybe 100 of any year’s 700 or so record applications being rejected. (Others might be related to “certified” scales and length measures.)
It’s “an unfortunate part of our rules, which are put in place for very good reasons,” Bellapigna said. “In this case, because we wouldn’t be able to verify the legitimacy of weight on a moving surface.”
Yes, “unfortunate” is the word, Enloe said. He said the fish was too big to fit in his boat’s well, ensuring no safe transport to shore.
“If they don’t want to certify it because I didn’t kill it, then I’m OK with that,” he said.
OK, he said, with the fish going down as an unofficial world record or a local legend.
Later that night after the catch, Enloe walked into a local restaurant. A worker spotted him.
“Dude, I saw the big laker you caught!”
Word had spread all right — from Enloe texting photos to a few friends, to trade magazines calling, to posts all over social media with millions of views.
Some looked at the picture of the trout and figured it was fake. At 73 pounds, the thing might’ve weighed three times the weight of some of their dogs. Some sources suggest 73 pounds is heavier than the average human boy at 10 years old.
Looking at his sonar on the boat that morning, Enloe thought the mass he saw was two large fish. He said he would’ve been thrilled about a pair of 30-pounders.
But those show as yellow or orange on the sonar. This mass was appearing purple, teal and black — colors Enloe had never seen before.
“I knew something was up,” he said.
He saw the line of his Okuma rod drop: “It was game on.”
Game on for about 13 minutes, he said. Thirteen minutes of giving line more than pulling so as not to snap it — the patience and “soft spot” he’s learned from a lifetime of fishing.
He learned from his father before him and taught his son at an early age from their home in North Carolina.
“It’s the unknown,” Enloe said. “It’s the unknown that keeps us going.”
The Blue Mesa, Colorado’s largest body of water, represented that great unknown, the vast possibilities. Since moving nearby in 2016, the family has imagined monsters lurking in the depths, aging and feeding and growing since the dam’s construction in the 1960s.
“We always knew there was a world-record fish in there,” Enloe said.
He had no thought of finding it that day. That’s the thing about world records, Bellapigna said: “You can’t blame someone out fishing on a normal day and not studying this stuff up to know all the rules and requirements.”
No matter, Enloe said.
He watched that big fish swim away, and it was on to the next one.