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Whopper walleye landed by Dickinson man could smash state record

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This walleye caught on the Missouri River south of Bismarck by Jared Shypkoski, of Dickinson, on Saturday might be a state record. It weighed 16 pounds, 6 ounces on a certified scale.

Dickinson oil field worker Jared Shypkoski has gone to other states in search of monster walleye, but he found the biggest of his life in his native North Dakota -- and it might be the largest ever documented in the state.

Wildlife officials are investigating whether a whopper that Shypkoski landed over the weekend on the Missouri River south of Bismarck is a state record.

If it is, Jared Shypkoski's lunker would be the second record walleye caught in the past three years and would add to a string of record fish caught in North Dakota since the turn of the century.

Shypkoski was fishing with others Saturday evening in the Fort Rice area, trolling crankbaits, when the fish hit.

"I knew it was big because I couldn't hardly reel it in," he said. "I thought it was big, but not that big, never in a million years."

But then he got the 33-inch fish in the boat and weighed it.

"Then I knew right away -- that's a state record, if my scale is on," he said. 

A game warden later confirmed its weight at 16 pounds, 6 ounces on a certified scale in Bismarck, according to Game and Fish Department Fisheries Chief Greg Power. The agency now will look into matters such as whether the fish was legally caught.

"Since we've had one of our staff observe the fish and witness the weighing of the fish on a scale, this will help move things along," Power said.

Shypkoski, 41 and a lifelong angler, has had some good fishing luck lately -- just a couple of weeks ago he landed a 31-inch walleye that he didn't weigh on the Columbia River in Washington, where he and a friend went "looking for this caliber of fish," he said. Shypkoski also has fished the Great Lakes, Fort Peck in Montana, and Lakes Sakakawea and Oahe on the Missouri River system in the Dakotas.

The fish he caught Saturday would smash the record -- a 15-pound, 13-ounce walleye that Neal Leier, of Bismarck, caught in May 2018, also on the Missouri south of Bismarck, near the Fox Island boat ramp.

Leier's whopper broke North Dakota's longest-standing fish record. The previous record walleye had been a fish from Wood Lake credited to Blair Chapman of Minnewauken in January 1959.

Many anglers believed that wasn’t the true record -- that Chapman didn’t catch the fish but instead found it dead, or that it wasn’t as big as claimed. There were no state-certified scales at the time, and no photos exist of the fish. Chapman’s son, Blair Chapman Jr., in the past has publicly said that the fish was found dead. The family told The Associated Press in 2014 that it was no longer interested in discussing the story.

Tom Volk, of Lincoln, caught a 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye in April 2019 from the shore of the Heart River in Mandan, but Game and Fish investigators determined the fish was not properly hooked and thus ineligible for a state record. Volk disputed the finding, to no avail.

Falling records

Game and Fish keeps a list of records for 29 fish. Seventeen of those records have fallen or been tied since 2000, and 11 records have been set or tied in just the past 10 years.

Game and Fish has attributed the windfall of whoppers to several factors, including more anglers, more fishable waters in the state due to recent wet years, stepped-up fish stocking efforts and better angling techniques.

When it comes to walleyes, there have been a lot in excess of 12 pounds in the Missouri River system in the past decade, according to Power and South Central Fisheries District Supervisor Paul Bailey. A number of large walleye were caught in the Garrison Dam Tailrace in the fall of 2011 and again in 2012, following the 2011 Missouri River flood. The largest was 15 pounds, 4 ounces, landed by Alecia Berg, of Minot.

Power and Bailey attribute the large number of large walleyes to several factors:

  • A strong year class of walleyes in 2001 now reaching their maximum age and size.
  • An abundance of high-calorie cisco forage fish in the Missouri River suitable for large walleye -- "Think of them as swimming Snickers bars," Power said.
  • More anglers fishing the Missouri, and using improved techniques, increasing the odds of larger fish being caught.

Nearly three-fourths of the 12-pound or larger walleyes reported to Game and Fish in the past half century have been caught in just the last dozen years, according to Power.

"More recently, in just a 35-mile reach of the Missouri River, in or immediately south of Bismarck-Mandan, we’ve likely had at least five fish reported by anglers that were over 15 pounds in the past four years," he said.

Shypkoski hasn't decided yet where he'll display his trophy fish, but he has the pick of any room in his home.

"I'm single -- that's why I get to fish so much," he joked.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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