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From the April 2010 Conservationist

A man holding a state-record size brook trout out in front of him

Nice Fish

A new state record brook trout

By Mike Raycovicz

When Tom Yacovella headed into the tranquil early morning mist of Raquette Lake on June 7, 2009, little did he know that good fortune would soon place him atop the list of New York's elite brook trout record-holders.

Every angler dreams of catching big fish, and Utica native and resident Tom Yacovella is no exception. However, big fish are rare, and record-breaking fish are even more so. A wildlife artist, Yacovella is well-known for his sculpture of a bedded white-tail buck composed entirely of shed antlers which was displayed several years ago at the New York State Fair (see Conservationist, October 2005).

Yacovella has had a fascination with fishing for brook trout since he was a child. Placed in the Masonic orphanage in Utica after his mother died, Yacovella spent countless summer hours fishing and catching brook trout in the small stream that ran past the orphanage camp in Woodgate where the children spent the summer. Yacovella cherished the time he spent fishing and to this day, still avidly fishes for brook trout because of the challenge they present and the beauty of the fish.

Yacovella said whenever he targets brook trout, his goal is to catch one just a little bigger than the last. Over the years, he's caught and released numerous brook trout weighing more than two pounds and he knows there are bigger ones to be found. Until he boated his record-breaking trout, Yacovella's biggest brookie was a 4-pound, 1-ounce fish he caught more than twenty years ago in a small Adirondack pond.

A watercolor painting of a brook trout underwater
One of Tom Yacovella's brook trout
paintings.

When the wind favors his small boat, Tom likes taking it to Raquette Lake where he enjoys fishing in the solitude of the Adirondacks. Fate has a way of smiling on those who pursue a dream; little did Tom know he would not only catch the brook trout of a lifetime that day, but one that would set a new state record for the species.

Brook trout are highly popular game fish and are often associated with remote wilderness areas such as the Adirondacks. Yacovella loves the Adirondacks and fishes there often. The pleasure of brook trout fishing, he says, comes from being part of the pristine surroundings encompassing the type of water where brookies are found. What makes Yacovella's catch so amazing is that brook trout are relatively short-lived, and fish weighing more than two pounds, while not rare, are uncommon in New York.

Launching his boat on Raquette Lake at 5:30 a.m., Yacovella had an uneventful fishing experience until the big fish hit his lure just before noon. Tom likes to fish minnow imitations and was using a three-way rig with a small floating Rapala tied to a four-foot light leader. He said he fished the lure 24 feet down, keeping it away from the lake trout that lie deeper and the bass that frequent shallower water. He said he fishes with a limber rod much like those used for steelhead, because big fish have to fight the rod rather than the reel, and there is less likelihood of losing them.

After hooking the fish, Yacovella thought a smallmouth bass took his lure. "The fish fought hard and stayed deep. From the fight, I thought I hooked a nice smallmouth bass," he said. He finally coaxed the fish high enough to see it in the clear lake water but still didn't realize he had hooked a nice brookie. "When I first saw the fish, I thought it might be a lake trout," Yacovella said. However as he brought the fish nearer the lake's surface, he noticed the distinctive red, white and black fins of a brook trout. Realizing the fish on the end of his line might be bigger than any brook trout he ever caught, the fight immediately took on new meaning. "It's amazing the deals you begin to make with God when you have a fish this size at the end of your line," Yacovella said with a grin. "The fish fought hard, but I let the nimble rod do the work until I was able to slip my landing net beneath it," he continued.

Later that afternoon, Yacovella placed the fish on a scale and noted it weighed more than five pounds. However, he was due to leave town on a business trip, so he packed the huge trout in ice in a cooler where it remained for two days. When Tom returned, a friend mentioned that he thought the fish might be a modern-day state record for this species, so Yacovella had the fish weighed again, this time on a certified scale. He was astounded when the scale showed the fish weighed 5 pounds, 4½ ounces. Yacovella's brook trout had broken the previous state record by more than five ounces! The taxidermist told Tom he thought the fish may have lost up to four ounces of its original weight during the time it was in the cooler of ice.

Since brook trout are often found in the same water as other trout species, Yacovella took his trout to DEC's Utica office where Fisheries Biologist Dave Erway examined the fish. Erway determined it was indeed a brook trout and a new state record. The huge brook trout, a female, was 21 inches in length and had an astounding 15-inch girth.

The trout was mounted by a taxidermist, but Yacovella, being an artist, said he would paint the fish himself. "They're a beautiful fish and I've often painted them," he said. "It's only fitting I paint the fish as I see it," he added.

As with most fishermen, Yacovella wasn't out to set a new state record that June day; he only wanted to catch one nice fish. It seems like he did both.

Outdoor writer Mike Raykovicz enjoys fishing for native brookies and walking the woods near his home in New York's Southern Tier.

For further reading about past state record brook trout, see Brook trout: record of a legacy on page 28 of the February 2003 Conservationist.

Photo: Bob Montesano