Pennsylvania man almost ate enormous fish before state record verification

PAUL PEIRCE
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
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After pulling a mammoth 34-inch walleye out of the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville on Oct. 28, Richard Nicholson had to be persuaded by his son not to filet the fish but have it weighed to see if was a state record.

So the next morning Nicholson, 62, put the fish in the same five-gallon bucket he had carried it home from the river and drove it to a grocery store to have it weighed.

The fish tipped the scales at 18 pounds, 1 ounce, breaking a 41-year-old state record of a 17 pound, 9 ounce walleye pulled out of the Allegheny Reservoir in Warren County by angler Mike Holly of Bradford in 1980.

Nicholson, who was fishing along a sandbar near the Crawford Avenue Bridge in view of the Connellsville police station when he made the record catch, had earlier in the day caught a large sauger and then a 27-inch walleye that weighed 9 pounds, he said.

"I was lucky and I was really fortunate I had my son with me that day or I definitely would have eaten that fish," Nicholson laughed Tuesday

Nicholson said he has fished that same area since he was about 5 years old with his father.

"That definitely turned out to be only the start of the best fishing day ever," he said.

At about 6:45 p.m. Oct. 28, Nicholson's son, Richard Jr., told his father he had a bite.

"I looked over and the rod had really taken a bend, so I grabbed it and just started reeling. It knew right away it was something big and I thought maybe it was a musky," Nicholson said.

Nicholson said it took him 25 minutes to land the big fish to the shore.

"It was so big that it actually broke the net," Nicholson said.

He was thinking more about the fish fillets he would enjoy more than landing a potential state record and had placed the fish in a spring-fed live well at his home after getting home late and was looking forward to fish fillets the next day.

"We had the fish home when my son looked up the state record and said, 'Dad, we better get this thing weighed,' " Nicholson said.

After weighing it on a certified scale at a grocery store Oct. 29, Nicholson contacted the fish commission and Waterways Conservation Officer Scott Opfer met him at his home where he verified the record catch by checking its species, weight and measurements.

Nicholson then completed a Pennsylvania State Record Fish application, submitted it for the agency's review and the state record was recently verified.

"It's really unbelievable that with so much big water all across the state including big rivers, and Lake Erie that this fish was caught right here on the Yough. There's a lot of pride in that and I'd bet there are a lot more records in that river if people would fish it harder," Nicholson told the fish commission.

Nicholson, a retired union carpenter who used to build bridges in the region, reported he caught the fish on a live creek chub attached to a No. 2 hook on a 6-pound test line weighted down with bb-size split shot.

Nicholson plans to keep the fish frozen until a taxidermist can produce a molded replica of his record catch. Then, he finally intends to enjoy those walleye fillets with friends and family, he said.