What a fish story

Donnie Moore of Valparaiso displays the 44-inch trout he caught last Sunday. He released it, so it couldn't be determined if it broke the state record of 29 pounds.

One hellaciously large lake trout. 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.

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

Better sportsman than I … Better than most.

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

From the bit I talked to Moore, he seems to have a fly fisherman's mentality, as in fishing is more about the pursuit and principles than trophies.

Every week he posts pictures of steelhead or carp caught and released on his own flies, lately its been dozens of large lake trout caught jigging near Burns Ditch.

"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 most 10- to 15-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.

Bottom line is the beast is still out there and likely will be bigger the next time it thrills an angler. Noteworthy, too, is there is a world-class lake trout fishery just minutes from where you're reading The News-Dispatch.

However, the shallow-water action is not for the ill-prepared. Lake Michigan is at its most dangerous in winter. The big trout move inshore to spawn on rocky reefs at Burns Ditch, New Buffalo and even Michigan City in late October and November. Some stick around near shore until the water warms in March and April.

But, when the weather and water conditions align, there are some beautiful fish to be had.

"Lake trout are sporty on medium tackle," Moore said. "They do everything a steelhead does — spinning, charging, sprinting, but while trying to get back to the bottom instead of above water."

There are a couple of guides who specialize in jigging for lakers with light tackle. Coho Bob Lausman (269-470-0720) launches out of New Buffalo, Mich., and Ralph Steiger (219-688-3593) fishes out of Burns Ditch and points west.

• Outdoor notes: Congratulations to Dan Rostecki for landing a 12-pound, eight-ounce steelhead — the biggest I've seen in many months — to win the Coldest Day Tournament on Saturday at Chief's Bait.

Steelhead fishing expert Roger Hinchcliff will be the featured speaker at the Northwest Indiana Steelheader's meeting on Thursday at the Izaak Walton Chapter, 1720 Crismar Lane, Portage. The seminar is open to the public at 7 p.m. Visit www.nwisteelheaders.org for more information.

Ralph Steiger and smallmouth bass expert Bobby Bergen will host a pair of seminars in Hammond on March 5. A salmon and trout program runs 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and smallmouth from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Cost is $40 for each session. Visit www.captsteiger.com for more information.

Dan Keating, one of the most notable authorities on Great Lakes trolling, will be the featured speaker at the March 9 Hoosier Coho Club meeting, which is open to the public at 7 p.m., at 121 Skwiat American Legion Drive, Michigan City. Visit www.hoosiercohoclub.org for more information.

The Michigan City Fish & Game Club, 107 Chapala Pkwy., is hosting one of its famous all-you-can-eat breakfast fundraisers from 7 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

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