Scott Turner, of Boise, is no stranger to Idaho’s catch-and-release record book.
In the brief five years since the state started keeping records for fish that are measured and then let go rather than whacked and slapped on a scale, Turner has held about a dozen of them. He once owned the records for channel and flathead catfish, white crappie, brook trout, carp and perch. He has twice held and given up the kokanee record.
Now he owns the state catch-and-release record for steelhead — again.
He landed the monster on the South Fork of the Clearwater River recently and stretched a tape across its thick back.
“Check this out folks, 39 and a quarter inches,” he said later as his girlfriend, Jess Caldwell, recorded with her iPhone. “If someone hasn’t caught a bigger one this weekend, this is going to be the new catch-and-release state record in Idaho.”
It was. Turner had been trying to reclaim the title since the 36-incher he caught in 2017 was bested, first in December of 2018 by one that measured a yard and an inch. That record subsequently fell in April of 2019 when Sam Brumbaugh of Libby, Montana, beat it by an inch.
“I knew the record was 38 inches,” he said while recounting his latest record catch during a telephone interview.
The tape running from the tip of the big buck’s nose to the end of its tail surpassed 38 and squeaked past 39.
“This thing smokes the record by an inch and a quarter,” he recalled thinking.
According to an Idaho Fish and Game news release, only about 0.9% of the steelhead that return to the state each year surpass 35 inches. Steelhead longer than 40 inches make up 0.002% of each run.
Turner had traveled to the South Fork the previous weekend only to be blown out by high water and bad weather. At the urging of Caldwell, who was eager to land her first steelhead, they returned.
The flows, the color of the water and the sunshine were perfect.
“I got her on a steelhead the first 15 minutes we were there,” he said. “She couldn’t believe how big they are.”
Turner caught his first steelhead in an unlikely place, downtown Boise from the Boise River. For years the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has released surplus hatchery adult steelhead in the river to give capital city anglers a taste of what people who live along the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers enjoy. Those fish are now trapped at Hells Canyon Dam and trucked to Boise. But back in Turner’s high school years the fish sometimes came from Clearwater Drainage, which is home to big B-run bruisers.
“I caught a 40-incher right here in downtown Boise,” he said.
When he was old enough to drive, he started making trips to Riggins and the Little Salmon River. Over the past eight years or so he’s made regular trips to the South Fork Clearwater in search of the big steelhead.
“Those fish up there, they run heavy,” he said. “That big fish, (the record-setter) it was just thick all the way back to the tail, like a salmon. They are a lot bigger than the fish we catch on the Little Salmon or up at Stanley, and it seems like they are bigger this year.”
Since the state started the catch-and-release record program in 2016, Turner is among a handful of anglers who have made a sport of having their names etched in the book. When the program was brand new, it was easy. All you had to do was catch a fish, measure and document the catch, and file the paperwork before someone else did. Even if it was a small fish, you could hold the record for a moment or two. Turner grabbed the first record for brook trout with a fish just shy of 8 inches. Now the record stands at 22.
“I got a couple the easy way, but they are getting really hard to break now,” he said.
Turner has some in his sights. He’d like to regain the title for channel and flathead catfish and would love to hold the record for white sturgeon.
If he does, it might be captured on video. Turner has a YouTube channel called Silhouette Outdoors, where he makes and posts fishing and other outdoor videos. Many of them are tutorials that show people how to catch various species at different Idaho lakes and rivers.
“I don’t have any kids, so this is kind of my way of passing on my knowledge,” he said.
A short video that includes his record steelhead can be seen at bit.ly/32hJRwC.
“It’s really about promoting fishing and getting people out there and getting them fishing and getting them practicing catch and release,” Turner said. “It’s awesome. You get these big fish like this and release them in the wild so they can fight again or pass on their genes. I think it’s just a really great program Fish and Game has going on.”