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Brook trout caught in Hinsdale County sets Colorado record

Matt Smiley of Lake City poses with a record-breaking brook trout he caught Oct. 8 at Waterdog Lake near Lake City. The fish lost some of its color after a long hike down from the mountain lake. (Courtesy of Matt Smiley)
Fish reeled in from remote lake at 11,130 feet elevation in Uncompahgre National Forest

A Lake City man has set the new Colorado record for catching the largest brook trout.

On Oct. 8, Matt Smiley hauled in an 8-pound, 9-ounce brook trout from Waterdog Lake, located on the east side of Lake City in Hinsdale County within the Uncompahgre National Forest.

The fish measured 26.25 inches in length and had a girth of 16 inches, reports Colorado Parks and Wildlife in a news release.

The previous record was held by Tim Daniel, of Granby, who reeled in a 7.84-pound brook trout from Monarch Lake in Grand County on May 23.

That fish, which measured 23.25 inches with a girth of 15.375 broke the previous state record of 7.63 pounds from a brook trout caught in 1947 out of Upper Cataract Lake in Summit County. That had been the longest-standing fishing record in the state.

Smiley relayed his big fish story to CPW officials.

He had big trout on his mind when he hiked up the 3.2-mile Waterdog Lake Trail. The trail gains 2,400 feet of elevation to the lake nestled in a bowl at 11,130 feet elevation below Mesa Seco.

After a day of catching smaller fish, Smiley was about ready to pack up and head home to watch college football. But 20 seconds after he had that thought, he felt the tug of a large fish on his Favorite Fishing Jackhammer rod and set the hook on his artificial lure.

Smiley battled the fish and waded into the water to try to get it in his net. He was able to net it, but with one forceful roll, the trout was free of the net, and the fight resumed. It once again took his line out to the middle of the lake.

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“I went into the, ‘I can’t lose this one’ mode,” Smiley said. “She pulled and rolled and was doing crazy things. My heart sank when she flopped right back out of the net, but she stayed hooked up, and I brought her in a second time. It was a wild, crazy deal.”

Finally with the trout in his hands, Smiley had another 3.9-mile hike down the steep trail with the fish in his backpack.

He took it directly to the Lake City post office, where it was weighed by Emily Dozier, who happily obliged Smiley’s request to have the fish weighed.

After further inspection from Dan Brauch, the local CPW aquatic biologist, it was declared the new state record brook trout.

“So I am not too surprised this fish came from that lake, but it is a smaller body of water. It’s not a lake that handles a lot of use or fishing pressure and is difficult to access,” he said.

Smiley said it was a difficult decision to decide to keep the fish, go for the record and mount it rather than let it go.

“The experience of this catch has been surreal, and it took a few days to soak in. It’s a really special fish,” Smiley said. “The toughest thing for me with this whole deal was deciding to keep the fish. I’ve released so many over the years, but it was one of those deals where I made a quick decision and wanted to give this fish the recognition it deserves.”

Brauch noted that the weekend before Smiley’s triumph, Larry Vickers had caught an 8.22-pound brook trout at Waterdog Lake. Vickers said he knew he had a record fish, but he decided to eat it to not let the meat go to waste.

The brook trout, introduced to Colorado in 1872, is a member of the char genus of the trout and salmonid family. It is a beautifully colored fish with pink or red spots surrounded by blue halos along the sides and a distinctive marbled pattern over an olive-green back. Brook trout, which are native to Northeastern United States, often grow anywhere from 11 to 23 inches in length.

Now, the oldest fishing record in Colorado is for white bass, dating to 1963. The oldest trout record in the state is for native cutthroat, dating back to 1964.

To see the full list of state record fish by weight in Colorado, go to: https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/RecordsbyWeight.aspx.