Wyoming record-breaking largemouth bass caught
By LEW FREEDMAN
Jun. 05, 2018
CODY, Wyo. (AP) — Caleb Salzman was just as open-mouthed and shocked as the Wyoming record largemouth bass he hooked.
"It was crazy," Salzman said.
In a desperate dash to save itself and spit the hook lodged firmly in its mouth, the huge bass sliced through the water of Kleenburn Ponds toward Salzman.
After the first few tugs on the line Salzman knew the fish on was bigger than all its friends he had previously met at the pond outside Sheridan over the previous hour-and-a-half on the May evening. But he had no idea how big.
"It was a pretty big fight and then it came at me," he told the Cody Enterprise.
Salzman, 18, of Meeteetse, who just completed his freshman year at Sheridan College, kept the pressure on, reeling steadily. His eyes bulged when the bass broke the surface.
"Oh yeah, this is a big fish," he realized.
Largemouth bass' mouths seem perpetually frozen wide. For a moment, Salzman was likely a mirror image.
This was just the beginning of a head-spinning adventure that was wilder than the actual catch. The fish, whose life had been consigned to this one pond, took a little bit of a farewell tour.
Salzman's first-glance assessment of size was accurate, but the true immensity of the largemouth shocked Salzman, Wyoming Game and Fish officials and the fishing world once the measuring tools came out.
Weighing in at 11.51 pounds (5.2 kilograms), measuring 24.5 inches (62.2 centimeters) long and with a girth of 20.75 inches (52 centimeters), Salzman established a new Wyoming largemouth bass record.
The size of Salzman's largemouth is preposterously huge for Wyoming, where trout are king and large largemouth are rare.
"This fish was a freak," said Paul Mavrakis, the Sheridan fisheries supervisor.
The old record of 7 pounds, 14 ounces (3.6 kilograms) was set in 1992 in the same area by a 15-year-old Sheridan boy named Dustin Shorma. Shorma is now a Game and Fish game warden stationed in Dayton, though by coincidence he was present in the office when Salzman brought the fish in.
"That was my 15 minutes of fame when I was 15," Shorma said. "It came full circle."
Salzman's 15 minutes of renown are just beginning, and from May 10 and May 11, when this all began on a whim to just get out of the house, it may endure for the next 15 years or 50.
"I would have bet a year's salary there wasn't a bass over 10 pounds in the state of Wyoming," Shorma said. "That fish is ginormous. That record will never be broken in this state."
School was wrapping up for the semester when Salzman and friend Johnny Morgan decided to make a short drive to the ponds about 7 p.m.
The duo caught about nine smaller bass before Moby Dick struck.
Salzman was fishing with a plastic green worm that had worked for bass before and this big boy fell for it.
The next day, Salzman called the Sheridan G&F office, saying he caught a big bass and was bringing it in.
This set off a flurry at the office. For ages, Shorma's coworkers teased him about the likely end of his reign as record-holder.
"All the time," Shorma said. "'We've got a bass that's going to break your record.' Now my colleagues say they can't make fun of me anymore."
In a somewhat surreal development, Gordon Edwards, Shorma's fishing partner the day he caught the record, is now a fisheries biologist who was transferred to the Sheridan office about a month before Salzman brought in the fish.
When someone in the office said he had to come out and see this fish, Edwards was skeptical.
"I thought it was a prank (on Shorma)," he said. "People had been ribbing Dustin about his fish forever."
When Edwards gazed upon the size of Salzman's fish he let out an expletive with a modifier.
"It was a momentary lapse of professional composure," Edwards said.
Salzman, who caught a 9-pound (4 kilograms) carp two years ago, felt the same way.
"It's the biggest fish I ever caught," he said.
And that was after it shed about a pound before the weigh-in.
"It would have been over 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) and he still crushed the record by over four pounds," Shorma said.
For perspective on why Wyoming officials are so astonished by Salzman's catch, as of the summer of 2016 his fish was large enough to be a state record in 18 other states. In eight other states, the record is only a few ounces more than Salzman's.
The world record is 22 pounds 4 ounces (10 kilograms).
No experts believed a bass could grow as big as Salzman's 11.51-pound largemouth in Wyoming because of altitude and water temperature.
Largemouth need time and warm water to grow, and the summer is too short for them to get much larger in this region, Sam Hochhalter, the Cody region fisheries supervisor.
Back in Meeteetse and working at his summer job for the U.S. Forest Service, the attention for Salzman was spreading.
Salzman's stepfather, Zeb Hagen, can envision a larger forum for recognition.
"I think he definitely deserves to go to the White House to meet President Trump," Hagen said.
That seemed a bit much for Salzman, who thinks the president has enough on his plate to visit with a teenager who caught a big fish in Wyoming.
Still, Caleb Salzman is starting to realize he might be high-fiving people for years.
"I know that it is a once-in-a-lifetime fish," he said.
Information from: The Cody Enterprise, http://www.codyenterprise.com