Gregg P. Smith thought he might have hooked the biggest tiger trout in state history — a 1.76-pound, 17-3/4-inch-long, 8-inch-wide lunker from Woods Canyon Lake on Monday, Nov. 5.
But proving it turned out to harder than reeling it in.
The Payson resident caught the fish at the end of a long day of fishing at about 4:30 p.m. Heading toward Payson, he passed an Arizona Game & Fish Department officer on the side of the road. Smith made a U-turn.
The Game and Fish law enforcement officer called a game warden who told Smith how to measure the fish to submit it for the record book. Then he said Smith would have to weigh his catch on a certified scale.
That proved an arduous quest, based on the game warden’s directions.
First Smith raced down to the Butcher Hook near Roosevelt Lake — but the scale there wasn’t certified.
Next, Smith trekked to the Roosevelt Lake Marina. He had the fish weighed in front of the required two witnesses, only to discover the scale’s certification expired in July.
“So I wrote on the note that I sent to Arizona Game and Fish Department that this is the only scale and I told them I’d keep it frozen in case it needs to be weighed again.”
He feared the freezing process might reduce the weight. “Tiger trout are really slimly so as it thaws out it loses weight,” Smith said.
He laughed about the process. “I hope I don’t have to hire a lawyer,” he chuckled.
But he understands the need for strict guidelines. “Otherwise, you’d have everybody in the world submitting false crap,” he said.
The record listed on the AZGFD website for a tiger trout hook and line state record is a 1.49-pound fish measuring 15.4 inches long caught by Concho resident Roger Thompson at Carnero Lake on March 27, 2017.
Game and Fish has only been stocking the hybrid tiger trout for the last couple of years. So they don’t compare in size to record rainbow and brown trout — although the world record 20-pounder was caught in Michigan. The tigers are produced in hatcheries as a cross between brown and brook trout.
Smith used a Rebel Micro Mini Craw Fish, Vanish 2-pound test line, Saber 6-foot 6-inch Ultra Light rod, Flueger Ultra Light Reel in his 16-foot V Guide Tracker. He said the line was key. “It’s real thin, like hair,” he said. “That’s why they can’t see it.”
Smith, 63, grew up in Redondo Beach, Calif. and has fished since the age of 3. He enjoyed many family fishing trips with his father and grandfather. “I could ride my bike to Redondo Beach and catch bonita (small tuna),” he said.
He’s lived in Payson for 18 months after moving from California. He spent 27 years working for Boeing in the space shuttle program as a sheet metal mechanic before retiring at the age of 48 after a vertebra in his neck exploded.
He and his wife, Candi, moved to Payson from Palmdale, Calif. “My daughter lives in Gilbert and she used to come up here to Payson and pick up rescue animals from someone in St. Johns and take them back down to the Valley,” Smith said. “I hated California. And she said, ‘I think there’s a place you will like.’ It took us a year to find a house, but we love it.”
He loves to watch the wildlife. “Once in a while I see a golden eagle and ospreys. ”
He often teaches kids to fish at Green Valley Park. “My wife kind of fishes,” he said. “She plays cards at the Elks (Lodge). I go to the park and teach kids to fish. She calls me the fish whisperer. It’s kind of funny.”
He took a kid to Woods Canyon Lake a week before catching the big tiger trout. “We caught 57 tiger and rainbow trout and now he’s hooked on fishing,” Smith said.
He caught a rare albino rainbow trout at Green Valley Lake.
Chris Cantrell, aquatic branch chief for AZGFD, said if someone can’t find a certified scale, they can try a supermarket scale such as those in the meat department.
Smith sent his evidence, and now just has to wait to hear if he’s going in the record book.
The waiting may be the hardest part. But he’s got plenty of options for passing the time.
Heck, maybe he’ll snag an even bigger fish before he hears the news.