When Gene Somers pulled a fish through the ice of Presque Isle Lake Jan. 9, he had taken the first step in an adventure that would prove to be a lot fun and would also lead to accolades from the state.
Somers had caught a mottled sculpin, a tiny bottom-dwelling fish that inhabits streams and cool water lakes.
Despite the sculpin’s modest size, Somers knew it had big potential – state record potential.
Well, that path to the state record is complete.
Somers received notice via mail Feb. 12 that his mottled sculpin, all 4-1⁄2 inches and 1⁄2-ounce of it, was officially recognized as the state’s biggest.
It displaced what was previously a void in the state’s hook-and-line record listings.
Somers received a handsome certificate and a congratulatory letter from DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.
“Wisconsin’s waters are enjoyed by many but only a few anglers get to ply their skills to catch a verified record fish. Your success is an incentive to others in knowing that record fish await fortunate anglers,” the letter read in part.
“The whole thing was really a riot,” Somers said of the record-setting experience.
The idea was actually formulated several years ago, when Somers spotted a sculpin on his underwater camera while ice fishing. Curious about the little fish, he spent some time trying to catch it. He finally did, on a tiny jig and the eye of a fathead minnow.
He let the fish go, and later found out what it was and the fact that there was no state record listed for it. Somers decided he would apply for state record status if he caught another.
It was about 3 p.m. Jan. 9 when the wait was over.
Somers was in about 20 feet of water, using a Jigging Rap tipped with some meat from a shiner, and hoping for walleyes when the sculpin somehow managed to get itself hooked on the lure’s treble hook.
From there, it was a trip to Manitowish Waters to weigh-in on a grocery store’s scale. There, onlookers were wondering what the 4-1⁄2-inch catch even was.
At the DNR office, personnel were both surprised and amused when Somers showed with the sculpin. There, a biologist positively identified the catch.
Then, of course, the taxidermist, North Country Taxidermy in Hazelhurst, is preserving the catch for the ages.
“They’re mounting it on driftwood, so I’m thinking I’ll put it ... in the cabin and then have the certificate mounted next to it, I suppose,” Somers said.
His dad, Gene, sent a letter to Montana, the only other state that lists a mottled sculpin among its hook-and-line record fish.
“He said something like, ‘Look out, we’re gunnin’ for you, Wisconsin is,’ or something like that and he got a response back from somebody that works in their DNR there that was pretty funny,” Somers said.
Others have enjoyed the ride to a state record.
“Of course all my friends and family have kind of been laughing with me about the whole thing,” Somers said.
“I’m glad I did it. I think it was neat – definitely going to be a good story to tell.”
Of course, now that the story is out there and the mottled sculpin is in the record books, a challenger might come along and attempt to overtake the 1⁄2-ouncer.
“I’m sure that there’s bigger ones around,” Somers acknowledges. “You know, the problem is just getting one to bite, I suppose.”
To view Wisconsin’s hook and line record fish online, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Fishing/RecordFish/.
Somers is from Janesville, but has a cabin on the Turtle Chain.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.