What a roller coaster ride.
For those who have not heard, the 5-pound, 6-ounce fish I caught in a remote Adirondack pond two weeks ago was determined to be a splake, and therefore ineligible for the state brook trout record.
Had it been certified, the fish would have shattered the previous record taken in 2006 by Jesse Yousey in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area by 7 ounces.
But, alas, it was not to be.
Since then, I've taken some good-natured ribbing from my long-time fishing buddies for not being able to distinguish the fish as a splake - which is a hybrid cross between a lake trout and a brookie.
Some even looked at the photo of the fish and immediately said, "Looks like a splake to me, John."
Certainly, anyone who fishes brookies here knows the chance of a splake being caught is always there, which is why the certification process is in place.
In my defense, though, there were a couple extenuating circumstances to this story. First, the fish came from a pond that had never before produced a splake, at least as far as the DEC knew.
No record of splake being stocked in the pond exists, and state officials were bewildered about how they got there.
Senior aquatics biologist Rich Preall believes the fish were inadvertently stocked by plane. As a result, no fish from the pond will be considered for a state record in the future.
Second, the fish I caught may have been some kind of hybrid cross between stocked splake and the native brook trout population, known as a "backcross."
That would make the fish nearly indistinguishable from a brook trout, unless it is dissected by a biologist, Preall said.
Splake do reproduce
There is a common misconception splake are infertile and cannot reproduce. Not only can splake spawn in a pond, the fish can breed back to either parent species, creating generation after generation of "backcrosses," Preall noted.
Each generation removed begins to take on more physical and biological characteristics of the parent strain.
"The backcrossing problem is a big reason why it is hard to distinguish splake from brook trout. Second- and third-generation backcrossed splake can look nearly exactly like brook trout (or lake trout). We don't know which ponds splake will be able to reproduce in successfully, so we have to assume that they can reproduce in every pond," Preall said.
Therefore, any pond in which splake are identified is immediately ineligible for the state brook trout record, he noted.
The only true way to determine if a splake has infiltrated the gene pool is to open the fish and count the worm-like appendages - known as pyloric caecae - that hang from the fish's intestine.
Most native brook trout will have 25-35 pyloric caecae. Get more than 55 and the state will not recognize the fish as a brook trout - more than 65, and the fish is considered a splake. Lakers have around 95.
The count on my fish came in at around 65. Another fish I carried out the same day that was 4 pounds, 10 ounces had 61 pyloric caecae - making it also ineligible for a brook trout certification.
The system, however, is a bit subjective - especially if fish are actually third-, or fourth-generation "backcrosses."
Preall said an angler would have a legitimate argument a fish with a 55-65 pyloric caecae count is indeed a brook trout. And, it has been noted as the generations become removed, the pyloric caecae count does decrease, making the strain closer to a certifiable brook trout.
So, at some point, a "backcross" could in theory be certified a record, provided a splake had not been identified in the pond it came from and its pyloric caecae count falls below the 55 standard set by the state.
Now that I have lulled you to sleep with scientific jargon, I'll leave you with one last thought.
Some have asked if I'm bitter or disillusioned with the state's certification process. The answer is unequivocally, no.
It's refreshing the state has established certification regulations and that everyone is being held to the same standard.
Will some true state records fall through the cracks as a result? Will a fish with splake in its heritage someday be certified a record? Possibly.
But, the fact is mistakes did occur in previous record keeping - a fact the state recognized. That is why the records were tossed out a few years ago and this new certification process was put in place.
I don't know many that would want their name attached to a record without some kind of qualifying process.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.