British Columbia

B.C. man caught world record fish with his bare hands before eating it

DNA tests show the world's largest kokanee salmon came out of Arrow Lakes in the Kootenays but the man who caught it has already smoked and eaten it.

What he thought was a dead rainbow trout turned out to be a record breaking, lively kokanee

Denis Woodcox landed a record-breaking kokanee salmon on Lower Arrow Lake in 2015 but the previous record wasn't all he smoked; he also smoked the evidence before he ate it. (Noah Woodcox)

The world's largest recorded kokanee salmon was caught, smoked and eaten before anyone realized what a prize fish it was.

Government biologists recently confirmed DNA testing that shows the 5.4-kilogram fish caught in British Columbia shatters the previous record (3.9 kilograms) held since 2010 by Oregon fisherman Ron Campbell.

"We were thinking it was a big rainbow [trout]. We never even thought that it was a kokanee," said Denis Woodcox, who landed the beast with his bare hands.

Smoked the record

Woodcox and his son were motoring through Lower Arrow Lake on their way to go camping when they spotted what looked like a boat's bumper floating near the surface.

When he realized it was a large fish he thought for sure it was dead and decided to check if there was any gear or tackle caught in the fish's mouth.

But when Woodcox reached down — placing one hand under the tail, one near the head — the fish began to fight, hard.

"It almost pulled me over the boat. I finally got it lifted up high enough that I could throw it over my shoulder into the boat," he told Alya Ramadan, guest host of CBC's Radio West.

"We knocked it out, and we were laughing at how big this fish was."

The fish, which Woodcox still assumed was just a very large rainbow trout, was frozen until it was time for smoking a few months down the road.

After defrosting the fish, Woodcox was preparing it to be brined and then smoked when he noticed the flesh was darker than typical trout meat and seemed quite oily.

That's when he started to question himself.

"I said to my son, 'I don't think that's a rainbow,'" he recalled.

Luckily, Woodcox kept the head and spine intact and frozen, perfect for the local fisheries office to send off for testing

"I could tell they really didn't believe it was as big as I was saying it was. I showed them a picture of it and they were like 'holy cow!'" said Woodcox.

Prize food fish

Biologists took a closer look at the specimen and conducted physical assessments that led them to believe it was indeed a delicious kokanee; known for having rich and flavourful meat, much like its seaworthy cousin, the sockeye. 

A more typically sized kokanee catch submitted by a CBC listener in 2012. (Dodie Marshall, West Kelowna)

Woodcox shared much of the smoked fish with his neighbours, as he usually does, he said.

Kokanee salmon normally spawn and then die around four years old, but officials say the trophy fish was around seven years old.

Provincial government biologists said the male kokanee was likely sterile and skipped the spawning process, allowing it a few extra years of growth.

In Canada, kokanee naturally occur in B.C. and the Yukon. They are also native to Alaska, Washington and Idaho, as well as Japan, and Russia.

Anglers are limited to five kokanee per day between Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes while many kokanee populations in B.C. are catch-and-release year round in order to protect the fragile species.