No fish tale: the eye-opening story behind Tim Daniel’s record-breaking brook trout

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Tim Daniel of Granby holds the brook trout he caught in Monarch Lake on May 23. George Knorr set the previous brook trout record in 1947, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Tim Daniel / Courtesy Photo

Unlike many fish stories, full of heroism and bravado on the angler’s part, the one Granby local Tim Daniel tells about catching his record-breaking brook trout brims with feeling and lessons in resource protection.

The story started on May 23, nearly two and a half months ago. Daniel, who’s been fishing since he was three years old, cast his line into one of the spots in Monarch Lake he thought a healthy brook trout would like. Soon enough, he got a bite, and as he reeled the fish on his hook in, he says he knew it was a large one. It fought for 15 minutes.

George Knorr set the previous record with a 7.63-pound brook trout he caught in Upper Cataract Lake in the Gore Range in 1947.

Daniel’s fish weighed 7.84 pounds, measured 23 and 1/4 inches long and had a girth of 15 and 3/8 inches. That made it the biggest brook trout ever recorded in Colorado and a state record. But catching it and earning the right to claim that victory didn’t feel all that great to Daniel. “When I got it, I was trying to revive it,” he says. “I didn’t want to kill him. That really broke my heart.”

What’s more, Daniel had caught six fish heavier than the brookie in another area outside of Grand County, “and with all of them, I didn’t want to draw attention to the place I was fishing, because I’d never seen another person there,” he says.

Keeping the lake he’d pulled his other trophy fish from a secret was important to Daniel, as was honoring his record-breaking trout. At first he didn’t want people to know about the fish, because of the increased pressure it might put on Monarch Lake.

“But everybody had been coming up to me, and I felt so bad about the fish,” he says. “He’s the champion, not me, because of how long he’s been able to elude people. That’s what made me finally decide to let the word out about him. I wanted the fish to get some kind of credit, and maybe use this as an opportunity to tell people that we need to protect our resource.”

Turning in a big fish
Jon Ewert, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist for Grand County, said, “Tim had to do a lot of soul searching to let us publish his state record. But one of my points in talking about this with him was that Monarch Lake is actually a great place to hold the record because the lake is no secret. If you show up there after 8 a.m. on any summer day you’re going to be parking a half-mile from the trailhead. It’s more or less maxed out on use as it is, so new anglers might not find it that attractive when they see the traffic level that currently exists there.”

Ewert adds that Daniel’s fish grew to its size thanks to a combination of a high degree of biological productivity—“tons of bugs, lots of submerged, rooted vegetation”—and a fairly shallow depth profile in Monarch Lake. The lake also stays cold due to high-altitude streams flowing into it. Those conditions can produce some pretty large fish, plus the lake holds some relatively large brown trout, says Ewert.

“The brown trout provide predation on brook trout, thinning them out and enhancing the quality of the brook trout that remain,” he says.

Ewert didn’t age Daniel’s fish, so neither he nor Daniel will ever know how old it was. Ewert says, “It didn’t strike me as particularly old—more fast- growing. We do stock 10-inch rainbow trout in that lake, and the fish Tim caught is entirely capable of eating 10-inch rainbows and was probably making use of them as prey.”

Ewert adds it’s important people know Daniel’s fish wasn’t a “splake.”

Splake are a sterile hybrid of brook and lake trout parks and wildlife stocks in different places for management reasons, says Ewert. They look like a brook trout on steroids; the state-record splake weighed 18 pounds.

“So sometimes if a brook trout is designated as record-breaking, the first question is, ‘Is it a splake?’” says Ewert. “We’ve had anglers bring them in claiming they’re record brook trout, but we dissect them and say nope.” Ewert says parks and wildlife hasn’t stocked splake in any waters connected to Monarch Lake, so there is no way one would show up there anyway.

Ewert believes Daniel’s fish was “generally in the age range of six, seven or eight years old.” He says there’s no correlation in human years (like dogs), but that’s about as long as most trout live (although some can reach 11 or 12 years old). He had to dissect it to determine beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t a splake. But he waited until Daniel took it to a taxidermist and had the skin removed so he could have it mounted.

How a record fish lives on in form and memory
Daniel says he’s going to put his fish on a wall at home that holds some of his other trophies. There are those he won in ice fishing tournaments, elk he’s harvested and other trophy fish he’s had the pleasure to catch.

When I called him to ask if he’d tell me about his fish, he hesitated, saying, “I want to be humble.” But he decided to talk, even though I’d made a mistake in the original story we published July 29. I wrote that Daniel had “snagged” his fish. “It nearly ruined my reputation,” he said. Unbeknownst to me, “snag” means catching a fish using a hook tethered to a fishing line and piercing its flesh rather than catching it in a sporting way (hook in mouth).

Ewert says Daniel by no means snagged his fish. He caught it fair and square. But Daniel isn’t going to tell you where in Monarch Lake he caught it. That, you’ll have to try and deduce through your own methods. Better yet, find a different lake to fish, and keep it a secret. And don’t expect to break Daniel’s record with a fish in Monarch Lake.

Ewert has been setting nets in there every few years for research.

He says he’s never netted a fish anywhere near the size of Daniel’s.

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