The 36th week of 2009 will forever be known as "Trout Week" in North America.
On Sept. 5, Canadian angler Sean Konrad obliterated the IGFA all-tackle world rainbow record with a 48-pound rainbow out of Saskatchewan's Lake Diefenbaker, eclipsing a 2-year-old record held by his twin brother.
Four days later, retired construction manager Tom Healy eclipsed the world German brown mark with a 41-pound, 7-ounce monster on Michigan's Manistee River.
Two trout, 89 pounds, less than a week apart. Here are their stories:
The rainbow warriors
Even looking at the photos, it takes some suspension of disbelief to wrap your mind around a 48-pound rainbow trout. The dimensions seem freakish and otherwordly -- 42 inches long with a 32-inch girth -- and the tiny head looks like a science experiment gone wrong attached to the basketball-round rotundity of the belly.
It's classic triploid rainbow, though -- enormous girth, wide tail, thick caudal peduncle -- and as of around midnight on Sept. 5, it became the new (certification-pending) all-tackle world record.
Just another late-summer night for Sean and Adam Konrad, the Canadian twins who, over the course of the past two years, have ascended to cult status rivaling that of Mario and Luigi. Only for fishing geeks, not gaming geeks.
Fishing on the same impoundment where his younger brother had broken one of the Holy Grails of fishing records in 2007 with a 43-pound, 10-ounce IGFA all-tackle record rainbow -- a fish that broke a 37-year-old mark -- Sean Konrad pushed the rainbow record just shy of the 50-pound mark with an amorphous 48-pound triploid that absorbed a Rapala on Diefenbaker, a 106,000-acre impoundment of the South Saskatchewan and Que'Appele Rivers in the windswept Canadian Prairie country 140 miles west of Regina.
"Adam had been joking with me earlier, 'You know, man, we have to get you a 40-pounder in the books,' because I hadn't gotten one yet," Sean Konrad said. "Adam already had the 43-pounder.
"He caught a 41.2 that holds the 20-pound line class, and a 40.1 that holds the 12-pound record. I kept telling him 'I know, I know, it'll happen. I'll get one.' Well, I got one."
The Konrads' mind-blowing success at Diefenbaker -- Sean estimates they've caught more than 300 fish over 20 pounds and several over 30 -- has turned them into the fishing ninjas as much as the fishing geeks: As a necessity, almost all of their fishing is done at night, when they can escape the squadrons of spies and tagalongs trying to ferret out their honey holes.
"If there are people out, we don't even try to fish," Sean said. "We have so many locals trying to figure out what we're doing, we pretty much limit it to nighttime now."
Consequently, Sean Konrad's first look at his 48-pounder was via headlamp, in the pitch-black middle of the night. After wrestling the big pig into the net and guesstimating that it was an honest 40, the twins loaded the fish into a cooler, iced it down and brought it to a certified post-office scale the next morning.
That scale pegged at 40, but it wasn't until they subsequently put the fish on an IGFA-certified Chatillon scale that Sean realized that he'd blasted his twin's world record by nearly 5 pounds.
"When we weighed it we started freaking out," Konrad said. "I told Adam, 'It's 48,' and he was stunned. He goes 'WHAT ... 48 ... WHAT?'"
Diefenbaker's rainbow production is the result of commercially raised sterile rainbows (triploids) escaping local growing pens in 2000, when roughly a half-million fish entered the lake through a damaged net at CanGro Fish Farm. Because they're genetically engineered to have three sets of chromosomes instead of two, their growth rate is substantially higher than a diploid rainbow because all of their living energy goes into feeding, with no physical stressors related to spawning.
Biologists estimate that Lake Diefenbaker's trout could survive for upwards of 20 years, but the lake is almost certainly on the downward side of a steep growth curve that started with the original half-million escapees. That said, Sean Konrad doesn't discount the possibility of a 50-pounder.
"We've hooked a couple of fish that have almost completely spooled us before we lost them," he says. "It seems there might be a bigger fish out there, but I do think we're pushing about up against the biggest."
Additional triploids are stocked directly into the lake as well, where they immediately belly up to a buffet of forage that includes everything from minnows to crayfish.
"We think they eat everything," Konrad said. "We've found crayfish inside of 'em, weeds, minnows, small whitefish ... there's a big forage base. I suppose once the lake runs out of food, they'd die off, but I don't see that happening. There's really not that many trout, and it seems like there's always going to be food available."
Lake Michigan's biggest
Three days after Tom Healy eclipsed a 17-year-old world record with a 41-pound, 7-ounce German brown pulled out of Michigan's Manistee River, residents of the small port village of Manistee are still celebrating the biggest star to hit town since James Earl Jones began acting at the Ramsdell Theater in the 1950s.
Healy's fish, which he caught Sept. 9 on the Manistee with guide Tim Roller of Ultimate Outfitters (see photos of the fish here on FieldandStream.com), has grabbed screen time on CNN, and has been the hot thread topic on fishing and outdoors forums from one end of the continent to the other.
For a former logging community and fishing village of 6,500, the big brown is a big deal.
"One thing that's surprised me a little -- and I guess it shouldn't have -- is that the people of Manistee are really jacked up about this [fish]," said Roller, who has been guiding the Manistee since 1993. "It's a cool little city, but it's a small port city that's kinda quiet. I think everybody understands the potential of what it could mean to the city."
That potential certainly includes a spike in traffic through the businesses of downtown Manistee, and on the waters of the city's namesake river. Roller saw a noticeable increase in the number of anglers on the water Friday, his first day back on the river after a day off to respond to hundreds of e-mails and phone queries from around the country.
"Today was noticeably different," Roller said of the Friday afternoon traffic on the lower river. "I can only imagine what it's going to be like on the weekend. I guess I never really thought about going to the river looking to catch a world record, but that's one thing we all have to figure out. What next? No matter what, it's a pretty special thing to be a part of."
Healy, a retired construction manager from Rockford, has fished with Roller for 15 years, but when Roller slipped the net over Healy's bubba brown and they got a good look at the fish, all semblance of protocol went out the window as the sheer size of the beast started to sink in.
"The first picture of that fish we got in the boat, I handed my cell phone over and said, 'Here, take a picture!' but we had to wait forever because I was laughing too hard to pick [the fish] up," Roller said. "I don't really have a good concept of how long we fought that fish because you lost the concept of time. I'm still just trying to get a handle on it all."
The fish -- if everything checks out with the IGFA -- would surpass the standing all-tackle world record of 40 pounds, 4 ounces caught in Arkansas' Little Red River in 1992. It easily breaks the Michigan state record of 36 pounds, 13 ounces caught in 2007, and, according to Roller, registers as the heaviest anadromous fish ever caught on the Lake Michigan system.
"We've had a number of browns in Lake Michigan in the 20s, but we've never had a salmon or trout in the 40s," Roller said. "This is the one record we felt like we could get on Lake Michigan. We know we're never going to get the world record salmon or steelhead because of Alaska and the West Coast fisheries, but we thought maybe we could get [the German brown record]."
Michigan DNR biologists Todd Kalish and Mark Tonello weighed the fish in front of a live TV camera from local news stations.
Healy hooked the big brown while drifting the Manistee, casting a No. 8 shad-colored Rapala Shad Rap to shoreline structure. It's a common technique in the late summer and early fall, when the Manistee's salmon are aggressively pursuing forage.
"I call it 'bass fishing on steroids,' because we backrow and pound the banks," Roller said. "Most of the hits are literally so hard they almost take the rod out of your hands."
Healy was geared with a Cabela's XML medium-heavy 9-foot rod and Prodigy reel spooled with 40-pound Power Pro.