Fishing the Fifty
My Quest to Fish All 50 States
Questions and Answers
If you don't see your question here, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.
What is an “unofficial” trophy, and how is it determined?
There are three types of “unofficial” trophies:
a. Trophy-size fish caught in a state with an official trophy program, but before I knew about the program. This occurred in six states (Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and New York) that do not allow belated submission. Only one state (Florida) in which I caught a trophy fish long before learning of the program let me submit my trophy application (very) belatedly, so my February 2009 largemouth bass trophies were approved in March 2014. I have no idea why other states do not allow belated trophy submission as well, under the condition that prizes will not be awarded. Publicizing trophy fish caught in a state’s waters increases awareness of the state’s trophy fisheries, which presumably leads to increased fishing license revenues and tourism dollars.
b. Trophy-size fish caught in a state without an official trophy program. In this case, I used In-Fisherman’s Master Angler size requirements. There were 11 states without official programs, but with fish listed on In-Fisherman’s Master Angler chart. I caught trophy fish in four of these states (Arizona, Indiana, Utah, and Wyoming). [Disclaimer: I never actually sent any entry forms to In-Fisherman, as they make it quite clear that requisite accompanying photographs then become their property. I always knew I wanted my photographs to remain my property for the purposes of this site, so that clause made award submission a nonstarter.]
c. Trophy-size fish caught in a state without an official trophy program AND of a species for which In-Fisherman does not have a trophy size. This applied to five states: Hawaii (yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi), Louisiana (red drum); Mississippi (red drum); Oklahoma (paddlefish); and Oregon (white sturgeon). It also applied to Wyoming’s kokanee salmon; Wyoming’s monster lake trout were unofficial trophies by section B’s standards. Interestingly, two of the best fish of my entire quest were my 44-inch, 40-pound Mississippi red drum and my nine-foot, 400-pound Oregon sturgeon. This meant I needed a proxy for trophy size in these three species. (I also caught paddlefish in Missouri, but they were barely over the legal size, so I can safely assume they were not trophy size.)
For my Oregon white sturgeon, the answer was straightforward. A nine-foot, 400-pound sturgeon certainly sounds like it would be a trophy, but I wanted to be sure. Several websites use “trophy” and “oversize” sturgeon interchangeably, leading me to believe that an oversize sturgeon (longer than five feet) is considered a trophy. Moreover, several other sites mention the average oversize sturgeon being around eight feet, so even by oversize standards, my nine-foot sturgeon was big. Therefore, I decided to call the biggest of my Oregon sturgeon an unofficial trophy.
For my Oklahoma paddlefish, the answer was still straightforward, but required some calculations. While Oklahoma did not have an official trophy program and paddlefish were not listed on In-Fisherman’s species list, six of the 22 states with paddlefish had official award programs that listed paddlefish. Fortunately, these states (Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) are either close to or relatively close to Oklahoma, so applying their trophy standards in Oklahoma seemed reasonable. Five of these states listed minimum trophy weights, and the average of these five was 50 pounds. Four of these states listed minimum trophy lengths, and the average was 47.75 inches. Therefore, these were the minimums I used to determine whether my biggest Oklahoma paddlefish was a trophy, which, at 54 pounds, 66 inches bill to tail, and 54 inches mouth to tail, I determined that it was.
For my Louisiana and Mississippi red drum, I went full-on nerd and did some statistical analysis. Only Texas and Florida have red drum trophy minimums (25 inches and 30 inches, respectively), so my 30-inch Louisiana red drum and all three of my Mississippi red drum would qualify in each state, which is a strong argument for them being trophies. But I wanted to be sure, so I compared these fish to red drum caught on the East Coast. This was difficult because East Coast red drum are notably bigger. The state records for the Gulf Coast range from Florida's 52.3125 pounds to Louisiana's 61 pounds, whereas the primary East Coast state records range from Maryland's 70 pounds to North Carolina's 94.125 pounds. Four East Coast states (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and North Carolina) have saltwater citation programs. In order to account for the size differences and compare the East Coast states directly to the Gulf Coast states, I took the ratio of minimum citation length to state record. Thankfully, these were fairly uniform. Then, I computed the ratio of the length red drum I caught in each state (30 for Louisiana and 37 - 44 for Mississippi) to its respective state record (61 pounds for Louisiana and 52.25 for Mississippi). The Louisiana red drum's ratio fell within the confidence intervals of the six states' average ratio. The ratios for the three Mississippi red drums exceeded the upper bound of the confidence interval, but that is great news because that confirms what I already suspected, that those fish were enormous. So, long nerdy story short, I concluded that my red drum from both Louisiana and Mississippi were trophies.
For California's kokanee salmon, the answer was very straightforward. California shares Lake Tahoe with Nevada, and Nevada does have a trophy program that lists kokanee salmon, with a minimum of two pounds needed for a trophy.
For my Wyoming kokanee salmon, I used neighboring Colorado’s minimum of 20 inches as a proxy for determining that my largest kokanee salmon were unofficial trophies. This made sense for two reasons. First, as the crow flies, Colorado is less than 30 miles from where I fished in Wyoming. Second, Wyoming’s other five neighboring states either did not have programs (Idaho, Montana, Utah), did not list kokanee as a trophy species (Nebraska), or did not have a seemingly sufficiently high minimum for a trophy. (South Dakota’s Proud Angler requires 14 inches or two pounds, which would have made almost all of my Wyoming kokanee trophy sized.)
d. … and then there’s Kentucky. My flathead is an unofficial trophy and not an official trophy because it violates the conditions of Kentucky’s trophy fish program due to my catching it in a pay lake. This condition would make sense if the pay lake were an abandoned well with trophy fish at the bottom, but the trophy lake at The Big Cat is 1.5 acres, making it as big or bigger than many private ponds, all of which are eligible for an official trophy. Strangely, if the Big Cat were a private pond owned by a fishing club that charged membership fees, then this fish would have qualified for a trophy because the lake would cease to be a pay lake. Perhaps KDFWR believes that pay lakes have bigger fish because their revenues are used to stock big fish. If so, I wonder if KDFWR sees the irony in this, given that the revenue from the fishing licenses it issues is used in part to stock stripers in Lake Cumberland (because there is no natural reproduction of stripers), thereby making Lake Cumberland a giant pay lake.
Why do some states not have guides mentioned?
I do not name the guides I fished with in Connecticut, Nevada, or New Mexico. In the cases of Connecticut and New Mexico, the guides are good fishermen but not good guides and therefore I do not recommend them. In the case of Nevada, the guide is very nice but I do not want to associate him with pictures of the small stripers I caught because it might be detrimental to his business.
Do you ever use the solunar calendar or peak feeding times?
Not really. I first heard about peak feeding times in 2011 and, by 2012, had dismissed them as useful predictors. I had never looked at a solunar calendar until compiling information for this site in 2014, after all of my trips were either planned or completed.
I strongly urge people to plan their fishing trips for when they want to fish, not for when the calendar says is the best day or time to fish. I have been skunked on “Excellent” fishing days and times, and, on several occasions, I had unbelievable fishing trips on “Poor” fishing days and times. The temperature, barometric pressure, etc. are contributing factors as well, but the one thing you learn about fish feeding habits is that you do not really know anything about fish feeding habits.
My Washington trip is the perfect example of why not to use solunar and feeding time charts. (Again, I did not use them to plan this trip. I am only including them here for illustrative purposes.) The feeding forecast was “Excellent” and the solunar calendar called for a maximum feeding score of 63 over the course of my trip, solidly in the “Very Good” range of 51 to 75. However, the bite was so slow in the morning that all of the other guide boats quit after five to six hours without catching a fish. My guide fortunately stuck it out and we fished 10+ hours and caught five fish. Hardly an “excellent,” or even a “very good” bite. The temperature reached 80 degrees that day and 79 degrees the next day, so an incoming front cannot be blamed either. It was simply one of those days that the fish played hard to get.
On the other hand, my two days in Vermont both had “Poor” feeding forecasts and had only one hour-long window in the “Good” range on the solunar chart in the two-day period in which I fished. I also fished in the middle of increasing and record heat. However, I caught 40 fish in two days, including a trophy Atlantic salmon and a trophy lake herring.
Moreover, the two predictions do not always agree. My Michigan trip produced 12 muskies and had a feeding forecast of “Excellent,” but had a solunar prediction of “Average.” My Arkansas striper trip had a feeding forecast of “Poor,” but a solunar prediction of “Good,” and produced stripers of 38, 28, 25, 23, 15, and 15 pounds.
Will you do better by religiously obeying the solunar calendar and feeding times forecast? Possibly, but you will also miss out on some incredible days of fishing, so why even bother?
What do you plan to do now that you’re done?
[Insert "hilarious" joke about robbing bank to pay for these trips.] I plan to return to some of the states I liked the most and to the states in which I have not yet caught a trophy fish, and I want to continue my Virginia Master Angler quest. There are 25 different freshwater species for which Virginia has an established citation size, and I currently have citations in 19, making me a Master Angler III. My next goal will be Master Angler IV, which will require one more new species.
People sometimes ask if I plan to fish abroad. I do not have any plans to travel abroad as of yet, but many guides have raved about the fishing in Mexico and I’ve seen some amazing fish pictures from Europe, so maybe I’ll venture into foreign waters someday. I don’t see a fishingthe196.com in my future though.
What is the biggest fish you have ever caught?
No cheating. You have to read the site to find out!
What about Washington, D.C.?
I caught many fish in Constitution Gardens and the Tidal Basin as a kid, and I will be happy to add D.C. to the site if it ever becomes a state.