Florence man lands record lunker
50 pound Lake Trout surpasses record set in 2002 by brother-in-law
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2007-05-31
Don Walker claims that his years fishing with brother-in-law Larry
Cornell have been more good-natured than steeped in rivalry. And that
goes for many of the regular fishermen who spend their days floating Blue Mesa Reservoir in search of trophy lake trout, he says.
But Walker - who's fished the reservoir since it opened more than 40
years ago - landed a new state record mackinaw, or lake trout, May 23 on the lake; and Cornell, who was nearby when Walker caught the monster fish, held the previous record, set in 2002.
Walker's fish tipped the scales at 50.35 pounds, measured 44 1/4
inches in length with 34 3/8-inch girth. That beat Cornell's record by
about 3 1/2 pounds.
"My knees were still knockin' when I hit Gunnison," Walker recalls of bringing the fish in to be certified.
"It's incredible condition on this fish," Dan Brauch, aquatic
biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, says of the
weight-per-length measure of Walker's fish, an overall indicator of the fish's health.
"It basically means they're really fat. Most state records are real
good condition. That fish has a lot of shoulder. That's behind the head where the back will taper up."
The size of Walker's fish - taken from the west end of the lake - and
most lake trout in Blue Mesa Reservoir, Brauch says, has quite a bit to
do with an abundance of kokanee salmon. "A lake trout the size of these
record fish, they're able to eat a full size kokanee."
Walker's story of how he landed the trout isn't too far off many accounts of large fish hooked when least expected:
"We'd been out there all day ... and we were just about ready to give
up when I saw a pretty good fish in my depth finder. (That was) about the time the jig got to where he was and he smacked it. The fight was on then. ..."
After a 30-40 minute fight, Walker brought the lake trout close
enough to the boat that his wife, Paula, could net the 50-pound fish,
all while Cornell and his wife, Rena, looked on.
"They were right next to us," Paula Walker recalls. "Rena saw the fins and told Larry, 'He’s got a big fish.'"
Once the fish was in the net, Cornell said: "Donny, I think you might have beat me."
"I was there when he caught the record," Walker says of Cornell's 46.91-pound fish caught in 2002. "We’ve been at it since '83."
Walker, 61, who - since retiring from a Pueblo steel mill, where he
worked for 32 years - spends most of his summers living in a motor
home overlooking the reservoir, fishing daily and commingling with a tight-knit
group of folks who do much of the same. He finds enough excitement in
the sport of fishing for lake trout that he even thought about
releasing his state record fish after he caught it, because that’s what
"But it's hard to put back a state record," Walker says.
When asked why he releases fish after he's fought so hard to catch
them, Walker - or "Teddy Bear," his handle among the group of fishermen
who annually congregate along the shores of the lake, living in RVs
and communicating via two-way radio - devoutly states: "Catch and
release is my game. I enjoy catching nice, big trophy fish and if you
don't keep putting them back, they'll go away."
T.J. Hill of Gene Taylor's Sporting Goods in Gunnison when Walker's
fish came in. A tip from a friend at the DOW office summoned him for a closer look. He says he’s seen similar mounts but nothing that big, freshly caught. "It's an old fish," Hill estimates.
It all boils down to hard work, Walker says, "a lot of time and being
there when they're ready to feed. You sit there some days for hours
and maybe catch a small one or two. But you're thinking that a big one might be lurking around."
"We've all known him for quite a while," Don Mills, also of Gene
Taylor's, says of Walker. "He’s been a customer for a long time, 14
Walker prefers catching lake trout in spring, he says, because
they're feeding in shallow water and tend to be more active. He'd
rather not fish for lake trout through the summer, when they've
inhabited deeper water, due mostly to the fact that fighting a fish up
from the bottom of the lake limits its chance of survival.
"I had a 36 pounder last year and I was looking to maybe catch a 40
pounder," Walker says while thumbing through a stack of 14 polaroids taken
last season, most of fish weighing more than 25 pounds. He says he
simply can't thank his wife, brother- and sister-in-law enough for
their help. "Larry has helped me tremendously for showing me how to
fish for them. He's been doing it for years."
The fish, waiting to be stuffed at Bob’s Taxidermy in Buena Vista,
will soon find a new home above the Walker’s fireplace, replacing the
32 pounder that resides there now.
Walker spends the remainder of the year at his home in Florence. He
recalls, while gazing over the surface of the water from his motor home,
stopping with his dad and brothers along the shore of Blue Mesa
Reservoir shortly after it was built, pitching a tent and fishing from
the bank. The lake is still the silver-surfaced beauty that he
remembers from so many years ago. And that's kept - and will keep - him
coming back for as long as he can.
"There's a bunch of real nice people around here," he says. "It's a
wonderful sport. You can't believe how each fisherman treats the
other one. It's unbelievable - and all the people in Gunnison. It's a
wonderful little home."
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970-641-1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)