Jan Mack never suspected his prowess with rod and reel would result in a benchmark of angling excellence. Then again, for a guy with a fishing partner named "Perch Eye" Nelson, anything is possible.
Fishing through the ice with "Perch Eye" last month on Canyon Ferry Reservoir, Mack landed the largest Utah chub ever caught in Montana. However, Mack, watching the fish flop ever more slowly as it froze on the ice, had no idea his catch was a record. He didn't even know what it was."I thought it was a whitefish," Mack said. "But `Perch Eye' said `No, that's a Utah chub. You probably got a state record here. That's a big one.' "
None bigger in Big Sky Country.
The Bozeman angler's prize weighed in a 1.47 pounds and stretched the tape to 14 inches. The previous record chub was landed by M. Steve Kovatch in 1986 and tipped the scales at 1.43 pounds.
"M. Steve's gonna be bummed," Mack said, and admitted he was a little embarrassed. "It's only four hundredths of a pound."
Not that the difference couldn't have been greater, but Mack didn't rush to weigh the fish, letting it freeze dry on the ice instead. And the chub was missing one eye.
"I don't know what an eyeball weighs," Mack said wistfully, "but if it had had both eyes . . . "
One eye or two, Mack's fish tops the list, but Wade Fredenberg, a fisheries biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, says bigger chubs lurk in the Missouri River drainage.
"The guys who work on Hauser (Reservoir) say that they've seen larger ones there," Fredenberg said. "It's a real trophy chub fishery."
Mack and "Perch Eye" were enjoying fast fishing for yellow perch last Jan. 6 when the record chub hit Mack's hook - baited appropriately with a perch eye.
While the Utah chub is included on the list of Montana record fish, it doesn't possess the glamour of the state's more popular species. Some anglers even consider the chub a trash fish.
"It's all in the eye of the beholder," Fredenberg said. "Chubs are members of the minnow family."
Introduced to the Missouri River system in the 1930s when a fisherman emptied his minnow bucket into the reservoir, Utah chubs may someday reach the mouth of the Mississippi.
"It's kind of amazing that some guy with a bait bucket is responsible for that," Fredenberg said. "I wouldn't want to finger some guy from Utah, but that's probably what happened."
Mack has yet to cash in on his angling accomplishment. No fishing tackle manufactures have called asking him to endorse their products. He hasn't been approached by Larry of "Fishing the West."
Fredenberg received a similar lack of attention after landing the state record yellow bullhead in 1987.
"Four years have passed and nothing has happened," Fredenberg said.
Mack may have to settle for the knowledge that he did what no fisherman in a state filled with fishermen had ever done before. And he still has the fish.
The largest Utah chub caught in Montana waters doesn't grace the wall of Mack's den. Neither does it hang suspended in a glass case on a coffee table. This Moby Dick of bottom feeders rests in a plastic bag inside Mack's freezer.
"It's too expensive to mount. It's too bony to eat. It's too prestigious to throw away," Mack said. "I'll just keep it in the freezer."