Striper guide Kenny Short and his daughter Laci were on a quest to catch her first 60-pound striped bass when the 13-year-old reeled in a big one while trolling the Chesapeake Bay last December. The fish just missed the 60-pound mark, but it did win a nice consolation prize, officially announced last month: A new International Game and Fish Association (IGFA) female junior all-tackle world record for striped bass.
As proprietor of Kenny’s Striper Guide Service on Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake, Short puts anglers on trophy landlocked striped bass year-round. But in the winter, when big migratory saltwater stripers pour into Chesapeake Bay, he focuses on “daddy-daughter time” with Laci. “Whatever we catch, I let her reel in,” Short tells Field & Stream. “When she’s with me, I never reel in a fish. She gets them all.”
Kenny caught his first striped bass at 13 and has been obsessed with the hard-fighting sportfish ever since. He competed four years on the National Striped Bass Association’s Gold Cup tournament trail with Team Polar, which placed in the top three each year and won Team of the Year in 2006. He passed along his passion to Laci, who caught her first striper at 3, and the pair have competed together in striped bass tournaments.
“She was wanting to catch a 60, and I told her, ‘Laci, 60s are few and far between.’ I’ve only caught two bigger than 60 myself,” says Short, whose personal best is a 64-pounder from Chesapeake Bay. “But that was our goal, to try and catch her a 60.”
On Dec. 18, they were pulling live eels on Trophy Stalker Planer Boards, which Short designs and builds himself. He trolls with the current, running just a little faster than water speed to keep the eels swimming in a more natural presentation.
“We were on a bunch of good fish that morning,” Short recalls. “She’d already caught six or seven, one a 55-pounder. Then this big one took off, and I mean that drag was screaming as she was getting the rod out of the holder. The fish just kept going and going. Finally it stopped, and she said, ‘Daddy, this one’s bigger.’”
Short says Laci fought the fish for about 15 minutes. “She got really, really tired. A couple times I told her, ‘Just stand there, lean back against the seat, and rest. She’d stick the rod between her legs, sit there and rest a little bit, then go back to the rail. When she got the fish next to the boat, her eyes got really big. She normally stays calm, but she got a little excited with that one.”
When they weighed the fish with a Boga Grip, Short says, it was “within an ounce or two of 60 pounds.” But because any weights that fall between two graduations on a scale must be rounded to the lower of the two, according to IGFA rules, the official weight is 59 pounds, 8 ounces.
At the time, though, rules and records were the furthest thing from Short’s mind. “We didn’t care about that. I had no idea what the junior world record was. We were just out on daddy-daughter time trying to catch her a 60-pounder.” They snapped a couple of quick photos and released the fish, then went back to trolling. Laci caught a couple more stripers, including one over 57 pounds.
“I told her, ‘You don’t have days like this very often.’ I wanted to keep fishing, but she was tired and ready to go. I said, all right, I’m not going to make her stay if she doesn’t want to. I always try to make sure she enjoys it, so she’ll want to keep fishing with me.”
Later, after he posted photos to his Facebook page, two commenters told Short the fish was a potential world record. He was skeptical, until one sent him a screenshot of the IGFA web page showing the standing female junior record—a 58-pound, 4-ounce striped bass caught Oct. 24, 2010, by Juliana Merighi in Delaware Bay, Cape May, New Jersey. “I was like, well, shoot, maybe it is a record. I looked into it and told her about it, and she got pretty excited.”
Short submitted the record application to IGFA in January. As the months passed, Laci kept asking if he’d heard anything. He felt confident her fish was a record, but he kept quiet so as not to disappoint her if for some reason it didn’t work out. They were notified in early August that Laci was indeed the new female junior world record holder.
“She’s very excited, but I don’t think she realizes exactly how big an achievement this is,” Short says. “To her, it’s just a big fish. It’s not something she brags about, because she’s not one to talk a whole lot about stuff like that. But she’s happy she caught it. Anytime we talk about it, she smiles.”
According to Short, the chase that started it all, their quest for a 60 pounder, isn’t done yet. “We’re going to get her a 60,” Short says, chuckling. “We’re already planning to go back this winter.” If it happens, this time they’ll know precisely what world record Laci is topping.