Catch and release

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Lauren Dunn poses with a 12-pound northern pike, a pending world record fish she caught in Lake Champlain last week. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Dunn)

“I’m never swimming in Lake Champlain again.”

So joked Lauren Dunn’s friend after learning Dunn caught two huge fish there on October 2. Both of them are pending world record status.

Dunn, a first-year engineering student at St. Michael’s College who holds nearly 40 International Game Fish Association world records, started fishing at age 4. Last weekend, she dipped into the lake for the first time this season beside Colchester’s Master Class Angling guide, Drew Price.

The day of fishing began at 8 a.m. as part of her 20th birthday present. Her dad, Brian Dunn, is an avid fly-fisherman who helped her scout out Price.

The pair then spent the day fishing in Price’s canoe along the Burlington shore of Lake Champlain. Price was about to lead the canoe to a new spot when Dunne said, quietly, “Drew, I think I have something.”

Tugging on the line was a 12-pound, 39-inch northern pike. The other catch weighed in at six pounds, six ounces, measuring 36 inches in length, Dunn said.

The 12-pounder is the biggest fish Dunn has caught on a fly rod, her preferred fishing method.

“Once you’ve hooked a fish and think, ‘Wow, this could be a world record,’ you get really excited, really anxious that it’s going to come off and nervous that you’re going to lose it,” she said. “You try and stay calm.”

Seeing the pike jump out of the water was just one sign of its large size. When it came time to reel it in, she was on her own, per international fishing regulations that say Dunn can’t receive any help bringing the fish to shore.

“[If] you get tired, you’re out of luck. You have to keep reeling,” she said.

About 10 minutes later, the fish was safe on shore. She weighed the fish on a certified scale, measured its length from the longest part of its tail to its nose and also its girth, taking pictures along the way.

The process of submitting a world record catch is detailed, requiring a two-page application that notes who was present, the type of line, rod and reel used; and a notarized signature, among other specifics. She’ll learn in three months if the record is approved.

A number of different categories exist for world records, which Dunn said sometimes confuses people. A world record is achieved after catching the biggest category fish for a specific line, not just the heaviest fish of a species, she explained.

Trout is common in her hometown of Lake Tahoe, Calif., which account for some of her other world records. She’s nabbed records for cut throat trout, bull trout and various types of bass including small mouth, large mouth and peacock. Mountain white fish, pacific barracuda and northern pike are also on her résumé, she said.

Price was impressed with the sheer size of the 12-pound pike, because anglers don’t see many that size in Lake Champlain. Where in the lake will remain a secret, though; Price isn’t giving up his prized spot.

Though the IGFA records are measured by weight, the Vermont Master Angler Program measures by length, meaning Dunn’s 39-inch pike could be her first submission in the program.

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Lauren Dunn is pictured fishing in Quebec, Canada in June 2015. The St. Michael’s College first-year student holds about 40 International Game Fish Association world records. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Dunn)

The program names 33 different species, and an angler must get five annually to get a master’s pin in a given year, Price said.

“She’s very driven and very dedicated, which is awesome, especially for someone her age,” Price said. “She also takes critique very well.”

Fishing isn’t as popular for women, Dunn said, so she hopes she influences younger girls to join the world record game. In 2014, Dunn was named the female International Junior Angler of the Year, reeling in the most world records that year for girls aged 12-16.

But Dunn doesn’t talk about these much. A member of the alpine skiing and women’s soccer teams at St. Michael’s, Dunn’s teammates were surprised when a picture surfaced on social media of her holding the fish before she released it. Some knew she fished but not that she holds records and could have more down the line.

One teammate couldn’t believe Dunn didn’t use the fish facts in a teambuilding icebreaker at the beginning of the season.

“It’s arguably the coolest thing about you,” Dunn recalled the teammate saying.

Fishing is an investment in time and money, Dunn said, but she encourages people who want to get into world record fishing to reach out to their local guides.

“Fishing is a lot of luck, but there are a lot of ways to increase your chance of catching fish,” she said. “You have to use the right flies, the right equipment, go to the right spots, go the right time of year.”

On October 2, Dunn had luck and the right fixtures on her side. With the lake low and cold weather coming, Dunn plans to take a few more chances on the lake before winter reels in.