Not only was the current world record brown trout caught in Arkansas waters, the monstrous fish it replaced in the record books was also from Arkansas.
Let's get right to it, then. Forty-pounds, four ounces -- a quarter pound heavier than a sack of topsoil you'd pick up down at your local garden supply shop. It was caught on a 1/32oz olive green maribou jig and was fought with an ultralight rod and reel loaded with 4lb test line. This photo (by Gregg Patterson) shows the big brown as well as Howard "Rip" Collins, the man who pulled it from the Little Red River near Swinging Bridge.
Swinging Bridge is the name of the spot on the river where a swinging bridge tragically collapsed under the weight of a large church group. The spot is now called Barnett Access, and that's a picture of it below as seen from the highway 110 bridge. That's Sugarloaf Mountain in the background.
So here's the story in a nutshell. At about 11:00 a.m. Saturday, May 9 1992, 64-year-old Heber Springs Resident Rip Collins was fishing with buddy Van Cooper of Forrest City in a boat on the Little Red. He tied a tiny olive-green maribou jig to his 4lb test line and three casts later he hooked this big female. It took only five minutes to get her to the gunwales (she must have practically given herself up), but they had to flag down another fisherman to borrow a landing net to get her into the boat.
At about 12:30pm, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) officers Tom Bly and Sam Lester saw the fish and offered to weigh it and verify the weight for the record books. Collins (an avid catch-and-release proponent) declined, since hanging this heavy a fish by the gills on the hook scale at the dock would probably have killed it. Collins used an algorithm employed by makers of replica fish to estimate the weight. (length) * (girth in front of the dorsal fin) * (girth behind the dorsal fin) * 800=weight in pounds. This formula yielded 33.7 pounds, about five pounds short of the record at that time.
He decided that there was no sense in killing the fish if it wasn't close to a record; but he wanted his son to see the trophy-sized fish, so he confined it temporarily in a 3x6-foot wire cage under his son's boat dock.
On the following Monday, the AGFC guys were able to obtain from the US Fish and Wildlife Service an oxygenated tank truck , the kind routinely used for transporting fish from hatcheries to rivers and lakes. Collins was persuaded then to allow the fish to be taken to the Heber Springs post office where it was weighed on a postal scale and the weight verified by wildlife officer Monty Carmikle.
The fish was then returned to the Little Red, but the stresses of the ordeal had been too great. Despite the efforts of numerous friends, public wildlife management employees and even a local veterinarian, the big brown died Monday afternoon. Sam Lester of the AGFC said that the fish might have lost as much as ten percent of its body weight due to stress between the time it was caught and the time it was weighed. Collins was quoted in Arkansas Wildlife magazine as saying, "I'm glad to have the record, but if I had to do it over again, I'd release the fish... It's like losing a best friend."
Pictured at right is an AGFC employee at the AGFC Game and Fish Museum standing next to a life-sized replica of the Collins brownie. The specimen is exceptionally lifelike and looks quite natural. The plastic fish ain't bad either.
The 40-4 behemoth blew away the previous all-tackle record of 38-9, which was caught by Mike "Huey" Manley of North Little Rock four years earlier. The Manley fish was recognized by the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame but disqualified on a technicality by the International Game and Fish Association, so before the Collins fish, the IGFA recognized a 1952 catch from Argentina 35-15 as the world record.
The Manley fish was caught here on the North Fork of the White River, a trout stream known for large fish.
At left two fishermen enjoy a quiet, misty morning fishing in the North Fork. The scenery along Arkansas' trout streams is always breathtaking and the fishing is usually pretty fair. I'd be willing to bet that just about anybody could go to just about any Arkansas trout stream just about any day of the year, and if he generally applies himself for a full day he can take home a limit of rainbows. A limit being five.
These pig-sized brownies are somewhat rarer, but twenty-pounders are caught once or twice a year and five-pounders happen all the time. There's more stuff you might want to read about trout fishing in Arkansas, history of the tailwaters, places to go and all. Below are a couple of official links. Lots of trout docks and guide services also maintain websites. Just use your favorite search engine with the words "Arkansas" and "trout."
While we're on the subject of big fish, read about Arkansas' World Record Walleye.
AGFC | More on AR trout streams
Mosby, Joe and Greg Patterson, "Another World Record Brown Trout," Arkansas Wildlife, Summer 1992, vol 23, #2, p. 20.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 13, 1992, Section C, page 1, column 3.