For the second time in three years, striper fisherman Peter Vican has set a new Rhode Island state record for striped bass--and this time he missed the world record by only a pound. Fishing in the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, Vican, of East Greenwich, hooked the 77.4 pound striper at 3:30 a.m. June 19, besting by a half-pound the state record he set himself in 2008.
The state-record twofer is just the latest in a string of remarkable fishing feats for Vican and his fishing partner Don Smith. Each are three-time winners of the Rhode Island Governor’s Cup, which annually goes to the angler who catches and releases the biggest striper in Rhode Island waters. The week before his Father’s Day record catch, Vican won the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association Spring Striped Bass Tournament with a 56.8 pound striper (shown here), while Smith took second with a 48-pounder.
Vican and Smith (left), started their record-breaking night around 9:30 p.m. on June 18, landing more than a dozen fish over 25 pounds. Around midnight, the fish began getting bigger, with Smith catching a 48-pounder and Vican hooking one slightly smaller.
The pair are light-tackle drift fishermen: They use current and wind to drift their boat over likely spots where big striped bass hug the bottom at night to feed on crabs and small lobsters. “The big fat cows don’t usually chase bait,” Vican says. “They’re just too lazy. So night fishing is a lot easier.” Both fish 50-pound Tuff Line XP braid on St. Croix graphite rods. Vican uses a Penn 560 spinning reel, while his partner favors a Calcutta 400 conventional-style reel. Smith makes their terminal tackle: A 6/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hook snelled to a 36-inch length of Seaguar 50-pound fluorocarbon attached to the main line with a Rosco barrel swivel. They go through about 150 rigs a season, thanks largely to the bluefish, which can destroy a rig in a hurry when they get in a feeding frenzy. On this night, they were also using 3-ounce egg sinkers to keep their preferred bait–live eels–near the bottom in a strong current.
When the state-record fish struck, it stripped line–“but nowhere near the amount you would expect from a fish of that size,” says Smith. “We had no clue we had such a big fish,” Vican says. “It dove straight to the bottom under the boat; I’d lift it a little and it would dive back down. This went on for about 10 minutes until I got him up to the top and Don got him in the net.”
Vican’s first record fish, this 76.87-pound striper from 2008, also came from the waters off Block Island, during a July tournament benefiting the Block Island Volunteer Fire Department.
Vican and Smith were fishing a favorite spot called The Nest about 1 a.m. when Vican stowed his rod in a rod holder and grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler. “He had an eel on his rig that was almost dead from being taken by three bass on previous drifts,” Smith recalls. “Suddenly the rod bent over and line started screaming off the spool.”
The big striper nearly emptied the spool before stopping, and for the next 10 minutes Vican battled the fish to a standstill, as the striper easily took back any line he gained. Vican finally turned the fish toward the boat, sweating out the striper’s big runs until the fish settled 40 feet down on the bottom. It took him another 10 minutes to lift the striper off the bottom. After a half-hour battle, he finally had it in the boat.
Vican and Smith know big stripers: They average at least 1,000 bass a season over 25 pounds, and Smith says Vican has probably caught 40 stripers over 50 pounds in the 12 years they’ve fished together, and a dozen over 60 pounds. (When not tournament fishing, the men release their catches.) They estimated Vican’s fish between 55 and 60 pounds, and figured they had the tournament locked up.
When they went to the Twin Maples bait shop to weigh the fish on a certified scale, they learned they had an even bigger prize: The fish topped out at 76 pounds, 14 ounces, blowing away the Rhode Island record, a 70-pound striper that also was officially weighed at Twin Maples, in 1984.
“It just so happened that the guy who had the state record, Joe Szabo, was there,” Vican recalls. “He took one look at my fish and said, ‘That’s the new state record. I should know, I’ve got [the current record].’ Before that, I had no idea what the state record even was.”
He did, however, know the world record stood at 78.5 pounds–and he knew that just a week earlier he’d released an even bigger fish than the 76-pounder. In fact, Smith had to talk him into keeping this one. “I wanted to release it, but he kept saying it would be good for the charity tournament,” says Vican, shown here with Captain Matt King of Hula Charters at the 2008 weigh-in. “Well, hundreds of people showed up to see the fish, so it was good for the tournament. Then the media blitz started, and I told Don, ‘This is your fault, so you handle it. You’re my secretary now.'”
And now, Vican has broken his own state record. After measuring the fish on the boat, he thought he had a good shot at dethroning the world-record fish, the 78.5-pound striper caught in 1982 by Albert McReynolds off Atlantic City, New Jersey. Vican’s striper measured 52 inches long, with a girth of 35 inches, and a mathematical formula used for estimating weight projected the fish over 79 pounds. “On the way to the scale I said to Don, ‘Wouldn’t it be weird if this fish is between the old state record and the world record?'” Vican recalls. “And he said, ‘Don’t say that, you’ll jinx yourself.’ But if anyone had told me I could catch a fish between the state record and the world record, I’d have said they were nuts.”
“I wish I’d been fishing with a 4-pound fluke,” jokes Vican, who finds it hard to be too disappointed with missing out on a world record. “I was perfectly satisfied with the 56-pounder the week before,” he says. “This was a big bonus.”
“There’s bigger stripers out there,” Vican says. Though no one has caught anything bigger than 78.5 pounds on a rod and reel, he’s heard reports of net fishermen bringing up striped bass that stretch 6-feet long and weigh 120 pounds. “I’d love to see one that size. I’m going to keep looking for them, and I’m sure Don will be looking, too. We’ll see who gets them.”