Are New Zealand’s Record Trout Really Legit?
Should rainbows that get big by chowing down on lab-created growth hormones qualify for record status?
On August 15, angler Rae Bushby landed a 30.31-pound rainbow trout in New Zealand’s famed Tekapo Canal. It’s “famed” because this is not the first time this body of water has kicked out trout of huge (if not gross, mutant-like) proportions. People come from around the world seeking Tekapo’s behemoths. Bushby is hoping her fish qualifies and beats the current IGFA 8-pound women’s line-class record, which weighed 29 pounds, 5 ounces, and has only been in the books since 2019.
Trophy Trout Factory
So, what makes this canal capable of growing such immense fish? It’s glacial fed, so it has excellent water quality. It’s deep and slow, which also helps. But here’s the kicker: Tekapo and other New Zealand canals support massive commercial salmon farming operations. These fish are fed pellets pumped full of lab-created cocktails that promote fast growth. The excess feed that the salmon miss has become the primary food source for New Zealand’s canal trout. Once you factor that in, it begs the question: Are these fish really worthy of record status, or does the undeniable hand of man causing them to blow up like gum-chewing know-it-all Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka make them less glorious?
The truth is there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s completely a matter of opinion and individual morals. I can sum up my stance based on the New Jersey state-record brook trout, which I caught four or five times in a single season some years ago.
The current Jersey state-record brookie weighs 7 pounds, 3 ounces, and it’s stood since 1995. The state-record that I caught multiple times probably weighed around 9 pounds. For an entire spring, it lived happily under the low farm bridge on the property leased by the trout club I belonged to for several years. We purchased it—along with all the other massive trout in the stretch—from a private hatchery, and the brookie spent its days fattening up on the high protein pellets that would shoot out of a deer feeder twice a day. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking there’s no way that fish would qualify as a state record, but you’re wrong. While my access might have been private, the stream is a public body of water, therefore fish from it qualify. Of course, I’d kick my own ass for even considering entering that brookie into the record books, but you and I both know another angler just might have the gall, because for many fishermen, records are the ultimate flex.
Wild Fishing Records
I’m not suggesting that Rae Bushby or anyone else who’s claimed a record from Tekapo is an egomaniac. In fact, Bushby looks really happy in the photos, and I’m happy for her. But I am saying that places like Tekapo—and my old trout club, for that matter—where fish size is a direct result of human meddling and science erase the possibility for folks to achieve record goals in wild places where I think records should come from because it makes the achievement so much sweeter. The funny thing about the line-class record trout from Tekapo is that these are not 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 by Sean Konrad in 2009. It’s super impressive…until you learn that the fish is a triploid—a genetically modified trout engineered in a lab to grow extra massive. It was one of many triploids that escaped a local fish farm some years earlier ending up in Diefenbaker. Wired covered the story, as the catch led to outrage in the angling community with many purists claiming there is a huge difference between implanted fish qualifying for records and “manufactured” fish qualifying. From the story:
The IGFA refused to make a distinction between natural and GM fish. Neither would they distinguish between species caught in their traditional waters and those introduced into new, growth-friendly environments, such as largemouth bass whose extra-large ancestors were imported from Florida to California in the 1960s.
As long as the IGFA is OK with qualifying triploids and fish in rare situations like those in Tekapo, anyone that does not have access to these places doesn’t have a chance in hell of getting his or her name in the record books. I find that sad, because the charm of records used to be that, theoretically, anyone could catch one anywhere. You at least felt like any day on any water, you could get lucky.
So, this brings us back to the question of legitimacy. Are triploids and the Tekapo trout “legit?” On paper, by the rules, yes they are—for better or worse. I’d love to mess around on Lake Diefenbaker someday, and I’d be thrilled to fish Tekapo, not because I think those trout are better than wild ones on the Madison or Delaware despite their size, but because I think they’re super weird, and I’m attracted to weird shit. But as for qualifying one for any sort of record, I’d never have the gall.