Colorado Brook Trout Record Falls 3 Times in 5 Months

The state brookie record went unmatched for 75 years—until 2022.

MAtt Smiley's record brook trout
Matt Smiley with a giant of a brookie! Courtesy CPW

On May 23 the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) verified a new state record brook trout had been caught by angler Tim Daniel of Granby with a 7.84-pound fish taken from Monarch Lake in Grand County. This surpassed a long-standing 75-year old state brook trout record set in 1947 by angler George Knorr that weighed 7.63-pounds from Upper Cataract Lake in Summit County.

In early October the record was broken a second time by Larry Vickers of Lake City when he caught an 8.22-pound brook trout from Waterdog Lake in Hinsdale County. According to CPW Vickers knew he had a record brook trout but decided to eat it. CPW aquatic biologist Dan Brauch was notified of the catch, and word of the massive brookie spread across the region.

The following weekend on Oct. 8, Matt Smiley of Lake City, Colo. decided to head to Waterdog Lake because he was aware of Vickers’ catch and wanted some autumn high-country fishing, according to a report from CPW. So, Smiley headed up to Waterdog Lake, following an almost four-mile hike, where the lake rested in a mountain basin at 11,130 feet in elevation.

“After fishing for a bit and only seeing smaller fish, I thought I wasn’t going to see any real good ones,” CPW reported. “But then the rod got heavy, I set my hook and could tell I had a really big fish.

“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.”

Smiley fought the fish into lake shallows and got a net under the fish. But suddenly the fish rolled and darted back into the lake and the battle resumed.

“I went into the, ‘I can’t lose this one’ mode,” says Smiley. “She pulled and rolled and was doing crazy things. My heart sank when she flopped right back out of the net, but she stayed hooked up and I brought her in a second time. It was a wild, crazy deal.”

Smiley finally landed the fish, but had another 4-mile hike down the mountain trail with the fish in his backpack. Once off the mountain, he headed to the Lake City post office where Emily Dozier obliged Smiley’s request to have the fish weighed on certified scales.

After further inspection from state biologist Dan Brauch, he declared the fish the state record brook trout, weighing 8-pounds, 9-ounces, measuring 26.25-inche long, with a 16-inch girth. A remarkable prize from remote Waterdog Lake in Colorado’s Uncompahgre National Forest.

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“The experience of this catch has been surreal, and it took a few days to soak in,” says Smiley. “It’s a special fish.

“The toughest thing for me was deciding to keep the fish. I’ve released so many over the years, but it was one of those deals where I made a quick decision and wanted to give this fish the recognition it deserves.”

Brauch said he wasn’t too surprised the record brook trout came from Waterdog Lake.

“It’s a smaller body of water, without much pressure and is difficult to access,” he explained. “Seeing two record fish in one week caught from there, it’s a cool story.”

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