What if this was the same fish?

The best and biggest outdoor stories of 2016 in The News-Dispatch will be forever linked as the largest lake trout ever seen around these parts.

Two 44-inch trophies caught just miles apart. One landed and released in February, the other kept and weighed in June. The latter demolished the former Indiana record by more than eight pounds.

Is it possible this was the same fish, just four months fatter the second time it was caught?

The odds of seeing any lake trout twice is very improbable with tens of thousands of lakers available in the 22,794 square miles of Lake Michigan. And the photos look nothing similar.

On the other hand, does any salmonid look the same in winter (Feb.) as it does in summer (June)? And if a fish were so preposterously bigger than anything to ever come before, the chances of two such fish existing are extremely remote.

Just saying it’s something to think about. Regardless, long live catch-and-release.

Here are the shortened versions of two terrific lake trout tales:

• Feb. 26: A fish of a lifetime. Perhaps a state record.

Exactly how big it was will remain a mystery, which makes a better fish story.

Donnie Moore of Valparaiso caught and released a 44-inch laker on Lake Michigan on Sunday (while jigging near the Port of Indiana).

“I would have loved to get a weight on it, but I couldn’t kill a fish like that,” Moore said.

Three feet, eight inches of trout certainly is in the 30-pound range, maybe more. The Indiana state record is 29-pounds, four ounces.

“It was rough out there, some five-foot swells,” Moore recalled. “I was (sea) sick, lying down, watching Chris (Brown, who’s 20-foot Alumacraft they fished out of) catch fish. I sucked it up after awhile and hooked this fish.

“It took off, which is unusual (for lakers), then stuck to the bottom, After probably 10 minutes of not being able to budge the fish, I’m using a 10-pound leader, I figured it had snagged me on a rock and we even put the boat right over it and I tried to pull it loose. Well, it gave a few head shakes, came up a bit then right back to the bottom.”

Moore figures it took 25 minutes to get the brute to net, whereas typical 10-pounders take only seven or eight minutes.

“Right away, Chris says you know the state record is only 29, but it was too unique of a fish, too releasable in the cold water. We took photos.”

The pics are very impressive, although the fish is thin as far as lake trout go. On the other hand, two-dimensional photos hardly do big lakers justice as they are so much broader across the back than other salmonids.

DNR formulas put a 44-inch trout well into the 30s. Moore traded pics with a Great Slave Lake (Canada) guide who has a 44-inch laker that weighed 32 pounds.

It was the biggest trout I ever saw caught in Indiana. That is until June when a local captain destroyed the state record with a 37.55-pound beast.

Here is the June 17 N-D version:

• Record smasher.

Tyler Kreighbaum’s 37.55-pound lake trout catch on Saturday wasn’t just a really big fish that exceeded a really big state record — it crushed the previous mark by more than eight pounds.

It is the biggest trout or salmon ever caught from a boat out of Michigan City. The previous state lake trout mark was 29.25 caught in 1993. The Indiana chinook salmon record is 38 pounds, but was wrestled out of Trail Creek back in 1980.

“I’m still surprised how big it is,” Kreighbaum, the 25-year old charter captain of Tight Line, said. “I really thought we hooked bottom.”

Most trollers have been-there-done-that. There is a moment of joy when a rod releases followed by the sinking reality of a steady, monotonous pull of drag leaking line as the boat trolls away from a snag.

“You can’t just stop or turn around with the other lines (often a dozen or more) out,” Kreighbaum explained. “I slowed the boat and clamped down with my thumb on the reel and tried to break it (line, in order to save the other gear).

“Well, it starts to come and I’m thinking I got a huge pile of debris, maybe a body or something. I didn’t realize it was a fish until it was right under the swim platform.”

The rest is history as the DNR quickly cleared the paperwork and deemed it a new Indiana state record.

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