Should this giant New Zealand trout count as a record?

On August 15, angler Rae Bushby landed a 30.31lb rainbow trout in New Zealand’s famous Tekapo Canal. It’s “famous” because this isn’t the first time this water has kicked out trout of massive (if not gross, mutant-like) proportions. People come from all over the world in search of the behemoths of Tekapo. Bushby hopes her fish will qualify and beat the current IGFA women’s 8-pound line class record, which weighed 29 pounds, 5 ounces and has only been on the books since 2019.

Trophy Factory Trophy

So, what makes this channel able to breed such huge fish? It is fed by the Ice Age, so it has excellent water quality. It’s deep and slow, which helps too. But here’s the kicker: Tekapo and other New Zealand channels support massive commercial salmon farming operations. These fish are fed pellets pumped full of lab-made cocktails that promote rapid growth. The excess feed that the salmon lacks has become the main food source for the New Zealand channel trout. Once you take that into account, the question arises: are these fish really worthy of record status, or does the undeniable hand of man making them blow up like gum-chewing know-it-all Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka make them less glorious?

The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer. It is entirely a matter of opinion and individual morality. I can summarize my position based on New Jersey registered brown trout, which I caught four or five times in one season a few years ago.

The current state record brookie of Jersey weighs 7 pounds, 3 ounces, and it’s been standing since 1995. The state record I caught multiple times probably weighed about 9 pounds. For a whole spring it lived happily under the low farm bridge on the property rented by the trout club I was a member of for a number of years. We bought it—along with all the other huge trout in the range—from a private hatchery, and the brookie spent his days fattening up the protein-rich pellets that would pop out of a deer feeder twice a day. I’m sure you think there’s no way fishing qualifies for a state record, but you’re wrong. While my access may have been private, the stream is a public body of water, so fish from it qualify. Of course I’d be kicking myself if I even considered putting that brookie in the record books, but you and I both know that another angler might have the guts because for many anglers, records are the ultimate flex.

Wild Fish Records

I’m not suggesting that Rae Bushby or anyone else claiming a Tekapo record is an ego maniac. In fact, Bushby looks very happy in the pictures, and I’m happy for her. But I’m saying that places like Tekapo – and my old trout club for that matter – where the size of fish is a direct result of human interference and science, the opportunity for people to hit record goals in wild places where I think records should come from because it makes the performance so much sweeter. The funny thing about Tekapo record trout is that these aren’t even the worst cases of human-modified trout records.

The current all-tackle world record rainbow trout weighed 48.8 pounds and was caught in Canada’s Lake Diefenbaker in 2009 by Sean Konrad. It’s super impressive…until you discover the fish is a triploid – a genetically modified trout developed in a lab to grow extra massive. It was one of several triploids that escaped a local fish farm several years earlier and ended up in Diefenbaker. wired covered the story as the catch sparked outrage in the angling community with many purists arguing that there is a huge difference between implanted fish that qualify for records and “manufactured” fish that qualify. From the story:

The IGFA refused to distinguish between natural and GM fish. Nor would they distinguish between species caught in their traditional waters and species introduced to new, growth-friendly environments, such as large-mouth bass whose oversized ancestors imported from Florida to California In the 1960s.

As long as the IGFA is OK with qualifying triploids and fish in rare situations like the one in Tekapo, anyone who does not having access to these places has no chance of getting his or her name in the record books. I think that’s sad because back in the day the charm of records was that, in theory, anyone could catch one anywhere. At least you felt every day on any water, you could be lucky.

So this brings us back to the issue of legitimacy. Are triploids and the Tekapo trout “legitimate?” On paper, by the rules, yes, they are – for better or for worse. I’d love to mess around at the Diefenbakermeer one day, and I’d love to fish for Tekapo, not because I think those trouts better then wild specimens on the Madison of Delaware, despite their size, but because I think they’re super weird, and I’m attracted to weird stuff. But as for qualifying for a record, I would never have the guts.

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