Cheyenne – It’s only the third record largemouth bass in Wyoming history and could easily be the last.
The 11.51-pound fish caught May 10 at Kleenburn Ponds just north of Sheridan, didn’t just shatter the old record from March 1992 by nearly 4 pounds; it has astounded fish biologists and bested the state record of not just all surrounding states, but several Midwestern states, too.
“Nobody was more surprised than me,” said Caleb Salzman, Wyoming’s new state record largemouth bass angler. “I still can’t hardly believe it.”
The 18-year-old Sheridan College freshman landed “eight to nine little bass” before hooking the memorable record on a green plastic worm.
Although the record will always legally be listed at “11.51 pounds,” the documents could have read 12 pounds or even a little more had the fish been officially weighed the evening it was caught. Salzman said the bass weighed “12 and a half pounds” on a “cheap” tackle box scale that night. The fish certainly lost several ounces to dehydration before being officially weighed the next morning.
“Catching a largemouth bass of this size is comparable to shooting a 400-inch bull elk in a general license public land area,” said Paul Mavrakis, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s fisheries supervisor in Sheridan. “It’s an incredible accomplishment because the ponds receive heavy fishing pressure.”
The weight, of course, wasn’t the only impressive vital statistic: The bass measured 24.5 inches long with a 20.75-inch girth.
He said the department has netted bass in Kleenburn “that may have come close to the old record” of 7.87 pounds, but nothing near the size of Salzman’s fish.
How the fish grew so surprisingly large, was probably a combination of it taking advantage of the location’s long-growing season by Wyoming standards and the pond’s abundant small bass, perch and also probably the 8-inch rainbows stocked every fall.
“The fish had to be incredibly savvy,” Mavrakis says. “I can’t imagine how many lures and baits she’s looked at over the years and wouldn’t be surprised if she broke an angler’s line a time or two, also.”
He adds anglers can take stock in the fact that after many years of spawning the big fish’s genes should be well-represented in the two connected ponds, which total about 10 acres in size.
Although both the new and former largemouth bass records were caught in northern Sheridan County ponds, that’s just where the serendipity begins. When Salzman brought his catch to the Sheridan Game and Fish office May 11 to have the species officially identified, on site was Dayton Game Warden Dustin Shorma, the former holder of the record. And as Gordon Edwards was on hand to witness his friend Shorma establish the previous record back on March 15, 1992 when they were both 15, Edwards, now a department fish biologist, was on hand at the office to witness the new record become officially certified.
“Records are made to be broken and this fish did more than break my record, it crushed it!” a happy Shorma emphasized. “Who would know, that 26 years later, Gordon and I would find ourselves as the district game warden and fish biologist in the same place we grew up, only to pass the torch on to another worthy individual.”
The state record Shorma bested was likely Wyoming’s first – a 7.13 pounder caught clear back in 1942 at Stove Lake in Goshen County.
Eighteen-year-old Salzman, who aspires to be a game warden as Shorma did as a teenager, and his big fish have something in common, too: They are about the same age. Edwards examined a scale from the big bass under a microscope, similar to counting rings on a tree stump, and believes the fish to be 17 to 19 years old.
As you might expect, Salzman is getting his record bass mounted and plans to revisit Kleenburn Ponds when he returns to Sheridan College for the fall semester following a summer of working for the Shoshone National Forest.
“This experience has been so cool,” Salzman said. “I really feel fortunate to have caught this tremendous fish.”
Kleenburn Ponds was once the site of a former coal mine. In 2009 the area was greatly improved as a result of an abandoned mine land project or AML. Mavrakis credits the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality for their role in reclaiming the area and Sheridan County for acquiring and improving the property for public access.