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HAYDEN, Idaho — Thomas Francis knew he had to have a record fish when he watched his lure sink to the bottom of Hayden Lake in northern Idaho last week.
"As soon as my lure hit the bottom, I felt her hit. I fish with 80-pound test line, and she almost immediately started peeling drag, a lot of it," he told Idaho Fish and Game officials on Friday. "She pinned herself to the bottom and just kept going. ... I knew that wasn't normal and I could tell it was something special."
Sure enough, he was right.
Idaho agency officials confirmed that the 49-inch long and 40.76-pound northern pike Francis reeled in on March 21 is the largest catch of its kind in the state, breaking the previous northern pike record of 40.13 pounds, set in 2010. The previous record fish was nabbed at Lower Twin Lake, also located in northern Idaho.
The catch hasn't made for just one man's epic fishing story, but it's made national headlines this week; however, the record wasn't totally by accident. Francis says he's often out on the water seeking northern pike, a species quite common in the region.
"They are the biggest fish we can go after here in north Idaho and I fish for them almost every day," he told Idaho wildlife officials.
He ventured out onto Hayden Lake last week with the same goal in mind, though he wasn't exactly expecting to catch a record-breaking fish. That changed the moment he felt his line snag. It took a bit of time and effort but he was eventually able to reel in the giant.
Francis adds that he knew he was in for a potential record-breaker by the time he saw what he had caught. Once the fish was out of the water, he raced over to the closest dock, looking for a boat with a scale and tape measure. The first scale couldn't handle the fish because it was so large, so he searched around until he found the biggest scale to accurately measure the fish.
With the help of others in the area at the time, they were able to properly measure the fish for state record certification. And that's how the old record fell.
Idaho has been home to quite a few large catches over at least the past century.
A Utah man made headlines last year when he caught and released an "eye-popping" 10-foot, 4-inch white sturgeon at C.J. Strike Reservoir in southwest Idaho, unofficially estimated at about 600 pounds. Per Idaho fishing records, the heaviest fish ever caught in the Gem State remains a 675-pound sturgeon pulled from the Snake River in 1908.