This weekend we welcomed the season’s first blanket of snow. Already, many of us look out windows longing for the warm spring days ahead, as well as all the beloved activities that come with it. That includes trout fishing.
It is no secret that the Driftless Area is home to some of the best trout fishing in the world. Anglers of every type take to the small streams that feed our beloved Kickapoo in search of that once in a lifetime catch.
That catch came this past September for Jim Nadolski, a Milwaukee resident with a cabin in rural Gays Mills. Nadolski has been fishing the area for over 50 years. Nadolski came up with his nephew to take advantage of the fall extended trout season. This fall was the first year that the DNR had extended the season by two weeks.
“The late season trout fishing is phenomenal,” Nadolski noted. “But the flood threw a monkey wrench in that.”
The water had just receded from the September flooding a few days prior to Nadolski deciding to venture out to a hole near Bloomington in Vernon County.
“I just had a feeling that anything left after the flood was going to be hungry,” the angler recalled. “I want to say it was only my second cast, I was throwing a artificial spin bait, when I hooked it, it was surprising. It felt like a 20-plus inch brown trout.”
However, the fish he hooked was no brown trout and not a brookie either. Instead it was an enormous tiger hybrid trout.
The tiger trout is a sterile, intergeneric hybrid of the brown trout and the brook trout. Its name derives from the pronounced vermiculation, which to some look like the stripes of a tiger. To this reporter, they look a bit more like a cheetah.
The fish is an anomaly in the wild, considering the parents are members of different genera. Records of this fish date back as far as 1944.
They are produced in hatcheries by fertilizing brown trout eggs with brook trout milt and then heat shocking. This shocking causes the creation of an extra set of chromosomes and increases the survival rate from five percent to 85 percent. They are also favored to stock in certain areas because they seem to love eating rough fish and are popular in use of controlling unwanted populations. The cherry on top for their usefulness is that they are also tightly controlled because they themselves are sterile.
Wisconsin however discontinued its stocking program of the tiger trout in the late 1970s. States out west such as Utah continue the practice.
So, it was no surprise when Nadolski was shocked to see such an enormous tiger.
“It really had a lot of fight in it,” Nadolski recalled. “And of course, I didn’t have a net, so I had to reset my drag on my ultra-light reel a couple of times, I wasn’t prepared for such a big fish.”
Nadolski fought the fish to let him tire out.
“It busted up out of the water like a tuna, three or four times,” Nadolski recalled. “It was just dancing on the water, trying to shake that hook.”
The hook however could not be shook, and finally Nadolski was able to swing the massive trout on to the shore.
“As it was flying over my head after I had to pull it up out of the water, I knew it had to be a tiger trout.”
Nadolski noted that in all of his years of fishing, all throughout the US and Canada he had only caught about five other tiger trout. None of which came close to the size of this fish.
“I’ve fished everywhere, and I knew that was a fish of a lifetime, it was a phenomenal moment,” Nadolski boasted.
“I said to myself, ‘oh good lord it has to be a state record!’” Nadolski said with a chuckle.
When he took it to the DNR office in LaCrosse however, his thoughts were confirmed.
“It was kind of funny, all of the wardens were there (at the DNR office) outside taking pictures of the fish,” he recalled.
The massive fish measured in at 17 ¼ inches and weighing one pound and 11.3 ounces. It officially became a state record on October 18 with a letter from the DNR Secretary.
“Congratulations! On behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, I’d like to take the opportunity to present you with a certificate in recognition of your angling success in September,” the letter read. “Wisconsin waters are enjoyed by many, but each year only a few anglers apply their skills to the extent that they get a verified record fish. The tiger trout that you caught set the initial record for that species in inland waters of Wisconsin. Your success is an incentive to others in knowing that record fish await fortunate anglers fishing the waters of the state. Accept my congratulations on your achievement and I wish you continued enjoyment and success with your 2016 Wisconsin fishing.”
So, not only did Nadolski get a state record fish, he in fact set the bar for the tiger trout record in Wisconsin. Nadolski got the news that his record became official as he was on his way to the taxidermist.
“My guy wasn’t sure he wanted to mount it since it was such a big deal,” Nadolski joked. He was also quick to add that not only does he have statewide bragging rights, but it pushed him to the top of the family bragging food chain as well.
“My niece caught a huge lake trout in Canada, so she always thought she was the trout queen of the family,” Nadolski said. “But now she’s only the queen for out of the country, I’m official in Wisconsin.”