by Rob Lusk August 02, 2022
I recently read a small article on Outtherecolorado.com about the Colorado brook trout record that stood since 1947 being broken. Curious for more information, I reached out to Jon Ewert, an Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife mentioned in the article, for more information. Jon was nice enough to talk with me and connected me with Tim Daniel, the angler that caught the record-breaking fish. Tim caught the 7.84lb fish on May 23rd, 2022 in Monarch Lake, Grand County, Colorado. The lake rests in the Arapahoe National Recreation Area and is a portal to the Indian Peak Wilderness.
The morning of May 23, 2022, Tim and his girlfriend, Karen, set off with their 120lb adopted "pound puppy" they affectionately refer to as Moose. The destination was one of their favorite fishing spots, Monarch Lake, and they were hoping to catch a couple brook trout for breakfast. They had no idea it would be a fishing trip they would never forget.
Tim describes himself as primarily a catch-and-release angler who will occasionally keep a couple fish to eat, always making sure to release any fish over 16" so they keep breeding; they prefer the meat of the smaller fish. Catch-and-release first appealed to him as a small boy because it allowed him to keep fishing all day, saying "If I had filled my stringer with my limit early, fishing would be over and I would have to go home." Later on in the mid 80’s, Tim would help CPW with a catch-and-release study focusing on the harmful impact rubber baits have on trout. He has also pioneered different techniques for releasing fish, particularly big fish, and tries to pass that knowledge along to fellow anglers whenever he can. On the other hand, he also told me a story of when he was 6 years old and the pride he felt bringing home a meal for his family. Having a very similar memory from my childhood just East in Larimer County, I can't help but feel a type of kinship with Tim.
Getting back to the morning of the 23rd, Tim and Karen had each caught one fish to keep and had released several others when Tim made the cast that would land him in the record books. As soon as he set the hook, he knew he had a much larger fish than he was accustomed to at Monarch. Once he landed it, it was evidently something truly special, but Tim wasn't concerned with the record and spent approximately the next half hour trying to release the fish back into Monarch Lake. Only after trying and failing to release the fish did the couple decide to keep it.
On the way home, they decided to find a certified scale, and after having weighed the fish, they knew what they had and called Jon Ewert. Jon came to examine the fish and was very excited to see the potential record. He then asked Tim where he caught the massive brookie, only to receive the reply "in the water". When pressed further, Tim said "canttellyalake, over by secret creek." Eventually, Tim gave Jon the answer he needed for the fish to be counted as an official record, except there was one problem; Tim had to sign off on the record being published for it to count officially, and Tim didn't want to give up his fishing spot.
When I asked Tim why he would protect his spot and give up the record, his answer was simple yet understandable… people. Tim has fished Monarch Lake for over 40 years and had seen the spot he primarily had to himself turn into "one of the busiest outdoor recreation draws in the country" which was amplified by the Covid pandemic and people rediscovering the outdoors. Over the years, he has seen the impact the increase in visitors has had on the environment, citing one example from during the height of the pandemic "where you couldn't look behind a bush in Grand County without seeing a pile of toilet paper". Tim was deeply concerned that if he gave up the location of the record, it would cause a mass influx of people attempting to break his record, and the natural resource simply wouldn't be able to support it. In my interview with Jon he confirmed that this record almost never saw the light of day.
So there the record sat in limbo for almost 8 weeks before Tim decided that he "needed to pay recognition and respect to the incredible fish, and the only way to do that was by publishing the record". He called Jon in the middle of July and gave him permission to publish. Two weeks later it was official. Tim Daniel is now a record holder, dethroning a fish that had stood for 75 years.
Tim also told me something else extraordinary during our talk; he said he has beaten that same record 3 other times and never turned in or kept the fish. These fish didn't come from Monarch, instead coming from a lake that requires a 7 mile hike from the closest trailhead to access. The first time he broke the record was about 15 years ago, and he says he unknowingly made the mistake of putting that fish in the freezer, immediately disqualifying it from contention for a record. Hearing Tim talk about that fish, I got the impression that fish was the only fish he ever truly considered turning in for credit as a record. I think the experience changed his perspective moving forward, and the next two times he caught record-breaking fish, he chose to release them, preferring "not to take a big fish's life just for a record".
We touched base with Jon Ewert, the Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife who manages the fisheries in this area, to ask a few follow up questions and learned “one aspect of brook trout population dynamics is that when they have excellent spawning, which creates a large population, that population can be stunted with the average size being about 8". What makes Monarch Lake unique is the population of large predatory brown trout (Salmo trutta). These brown trout feed on the brook trout, keeping their population in check. This leads to a higher quality brook trout fishery with a lower population built on larger fish. “Seeing the success that management has had at Monarch we have implemented a similar strategy at nearby Meadow Creek Lake. At Meadow Creek, however, we are using Tiger trout (Salmo trutta x Salvelinus fontinalis), a hybrid created by the fertilizing of brown trout eggs with brook trout sperm. Tiger trout are sterile which allows us to have total control over our introduced predatory population.”
Jon was also happy to tell us that despite any possible controversy over whether or not this was a pure brook trout, a dissection he completed proved 100% that it was.
We asked Jon, do you see another brook trout of this caliber coming out of Monarch Lake? The last record stood since 1947. Do you think it will be that long before it is broken again?
“While I don't think Tim's record will stand for as long as the old one did, I still think it will be quite a while before someone breaks it. Based on the netting surveys we have done in Monarch Lake, I think Tim Daniel caught the biggest brook trout in that lake by far. That fish was off the charts.”
Some people will claim Tim's three other record breakers are nothing but a fish story, but after conversing with him and learning the humble way he goes about his life and the respect he has for the fishery he loves, I, for one, believe him. I believe if he had been able to revive that fish on May 23rd, the record from 1947 would still stand. There's probably not another record breaker in Monarch Lake right now, but from talking to Tim, I believe there is likely one somewhere swimming in the alpine waters of Colorado waiting for someone to find it.
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