While out searching for walleye on March 26, Jacob Bernhardt saw a “massive school” of fish light up his boat’s fish finder. It was a swarm of more than 200 longnose suckers.
“It’s a weird thing,” he said.
Dropping a jig into the ball of fish, Bernhardt almost immediately hooked into what is now the new state record for the species – a 20.1 incher weighing 3.42 pounds.
Suckers don’t get much appreciation in Montana, despite being the sucker species with the greatest statewide distribution in “all three major drainages, mountain streams and plains reservoirs,” according to the Montana Field Guide. That may be because they are the “most frequently caught fish by Montana anglers,” the guide said.
“The sucker family is the third-largest family of fish species in Montana with nine species, behind only the minnow and salmonid (trout) families,” according to Dave Hagengruber, Information and Education Program manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena.
Bernhardt said he knew as soon as the fish surfaced that it was likely a new state record. That’s because he caught one last year that was really close to the then-standing record, a 3.27-pounder netted in the Marias River in 1988.
Worried that his scale may have been off by the fraction necessary for a new record, Bernhardt spent the rest of the day searching out a scale to weigh the fish and someone from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to verify it.
Bernhardt’s catch near Cascade on the Missouri River comes on the heels of a new state record brown trout – a 32-pound, 8-ouncer caught by Conrad angler Robbie Docktor on March 3. The catch drew national attention.
“I didn’t figure there would be as much press,” Bernhardt said of his catch. “I’m OK with that.”
Another record recently added to Montana’s books was a 15.5-inch, 1.91-pound yellow bullhead caught by Roberta Legge on Dec. 12, 2020, while fishing at Tongue River Reservoir. All told, there have been five new fish records in Montana in less than a year.
“With a total of 91 native and introduced fish species found in Montana, interest in fish records has increased in recent years,” Hagengruber wrote in a press release.
The list can be found on FWP’s website at https://fwp.mt.gov/fish/anglingData/records.
Anglers who think they may have caught a state record fish should keep the following things in mind:
• To prevent loss of weight, do not clean or freeze the fish. Keep the fish cool — preferably on ice.
• Take a picture of the fish.
• Weigh the fish on a certified scale (found in grocery store or hardware store, etc.), witnessed by a store employee or other observer. Obtain a weight receipt and an affidavit from the store personnel if no FWP official is present. Measure the length and girth.
• Contact the nearest FWP office to have the fish positively identified by a fisheries biologist or manager.