colorado brook trout record matt smiley
Smiley with his 8 lb. 9 oz. brook trout; (photo/courtesy Smiley, CPW)

Another Record Broken: The Year of the Colorado Brook Trout

Five months ago, Colorado wildlife officials booked a new state record brook trout for the first time in 75 years. On Tuesday, they announced the record was broken — again.

Angler Matt Smiley of Lake City, Colo., is the state’s third new king of the brookie since this summer. On Oct. 8, Smiley hauled an 8-pound, 9-ounce brook trout from Waterdog Lake in the Uncompahgre National Forest near his Hinsdale County home, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) confirmed Tuesday.

The fish spanned 26.25 inches, with a 16-inch girth. In a tough decision, Smiley told wildlife officials, he chose to keep it.

“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.

colorado brook trout record matt smiley
(Photo courtesy/Smiley, CPW)

An Old Record Broken — Again

Prior to this May, Colorado’s brook trout record was the oldest-standing fishing benchmark in the state.

That’s when Tim Daniel of Granby, Colo., reeled in a 7.84-pound brookie from Monarch Lake in Grand County. Measured at 23.25 inches and 15.375 inches in girth, Daniel’s fish broke the previous state record of 7.63 pounds from a brook trout caught in 1947.

But big brook trout seemed to flock to Waterdog Lake early this fall, and Smiley and another angler capitalized. Only a week before Smiley’s catch, Larry Vickers — also a Lake City local — reported an 8.22-pounder.

According to CPW, Vickers opted against certifying the fish through CPW and decided to clean and eat it instead. However, CPW aquatic biologist Dan Brauch received word of Vickers’ catch, and it soon spread.

That’s where Smiley picked up the thread and decided to hike up to the 11,300-foot lake to try his luck.

For most of the day, according to CPW, his chances didn’t look promising. He’d spent the day catching smaller fish, and the department reported that 20 seconds after Smiley had decided to pack it in and go watch football, he “felt the tug of a large fish” on his Favorite Fishing Jackhammer rod.

Smiley set the hook on his artificial lure and reeled his way into the record books.

“When it surfaced and I could see it, all I could think was, ‘Wow.’ I’ve caught big brookies in the past around the state, but when I saw this one, it was just different. It had way more length than any of the big ones before,” he told CPW.

Emily Dozier later obliged Smiley’s request to weigh the fish at the Lake City post office. After Brauch concluded a further inspection, the fish officially earned Smiley the state record.

‘The Toughest Thing’

Reflecting on the catch, Smiley pointed to the fish’s natural life cycle and his sometimes bittersweet experience with the species in Colorado waterways.

“I’ve let some really big ones go, and then you see them later and age has not been kind to them as they’ve regressed and gone the other way when they aren’t getting the nutrients they need to maintain that size,” he told CPW.

“This one, it was in peak condition, and I made the decision to give that fish the recognition it deserves. But it’s been the toughest thing for me with this whole deal. We learn none of them live forever, but it’s just a crazy deal when it all happens at once and you have to make that quick call.”

Now, CPW confirmed, the oldest fishing record in Colorado is for white bass, dating back to 1963.

colorado brook trout record
Angler Breaks 75-Year-Old CO Brook Trout Record
If you’ve ever seen a brookie like this, you saw one that belonged in the record books. A Colorado man pulled the lunker from Monarch Lake. Read more…

Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.