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West Virginia Teen Lands New State-Record Tiger Trout That Barely Fit in the Net

“It hit, I felt some weight, but it dropped the lure”
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A teenager kneels with a fat tiger trout held in his hands, an dholds the fish by his tailgate.
Smith holds his new state-record fish, the heaviest tiger trout on record in West Virginia. Courtesy of Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith, 16, was bank fishing early on Feb. 24 at New Creek Dam Site #14 with his pal Caleb Burns, 18. The public lake in Grant County, West Virginia, is deep and clear, and Smith spotted the fish a few feet underwater at 7:30 a.m.

“I thought it was a brown trout when I cast to it,” Smith tells Outdoor Life. “It hit, I felt some weight, but it dropped the lure.”

Smith, who was fishing a Gulp 3-inch white-and-gray minnow, quickly reeled in his lure with spinning tackle and fine 4-pound test line. He made another cast to the trout as it was swimming away from shore. But it refused the lure. Smith reeled in a second time then sent a third cast out to where the fish was headed.

“I just felt weight on my line a few seconds after I made my third cast with the Gulp minnow,” says the home-schooled 10th grader from Burlington. “I set the hook, and the trout didn’t fight much for a few minutes. It never jumped, but it was strong. It took about six minutes to get it close to shore.”

Once near the bank his pal Burns tried netting it, but the net was too small for the trout to easily fit into.

A hybrid tiger trout caught in West Virginia.
The record trout didn’t quite fit in the net.

Courtesy of Nathan Smith

“We finally got it in the net headfirst, and Caleb was able to get it on shore,” Smith says.

Smith knew it was a huge trout, but only thought the tiger trout weighed five or six pounds. But Burns’ friend Michael Bibawick was in the area and saw the fish. Bibawick thought it could be a state record. The teens continued fishing, and Smith caught a pair of 15-inch rainbow trout. Then, considering Bibawick’s advice, Smith took his catch to the West Virginia DNR office in nearby Romney.

The new state-record tiger trout.
The big tiger trout on the tailgate.

Courtesy of Nathan Smith

So Smith took his catch to the West Virginia DNR office in Romney, where it was positively identified as a tiger trout. A biologist taped the fish at 26.75 inches long and weighed it on certified scales for an official weight of 11.98 pounds. It’s the new West Virginia state record tiger trout by weight, beating the old record by more than 1.5 pounds.Smith’s fish is just shy of the longest tiger trout on record in the state. That fish was caught by Mike Connolly in 2011 from Krodel Lake in Mason County. Connolly’s tiger trout measured 28.7 inches long and weighed 10.65 pounds.

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The West Virginia state-record tiger trout sits in a blue bucket on a certified scale that reads its official weight.
Smith’s trout weighed on certified scales.

Courtesy of Nathan Smith

Tiger trout are a cross between a brown trout and a brook trout. Although this hybridization does occur in the wild, it’s rare. Tiger trout are easy to produce, however, and many states include them with their hatchery rainbows and browns for spring and fall stockings. (West Virginia’s New Creek Dam Site #14 does receive annual trout stocking from the DNR.)

Wild tigers rarely exceed 12 inches, but hatchery tigers are hungry and grow big quickly. This makes them more aggressive than other trout, and their unusual markings are prized by many anglers. The IGFA world-record tiger trout weighed 27 pounds 6 ounces and was caught ini Washington State by Cathy Clegg in 2022. Tiger trout have international distribution, with IGFA records also listed from Australia and the United Kingdom.

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Smith plans to have a replica mount made by a taxidermist, and won’t let the fish go to waste.

“We filleted the trout, and will eat it soon.” says Smith, who was out trout fishing when talking to OL about his record catch.