If there is an ideal person to hold the odd record for the largest rainbow trout ever caught in Mississippi, it is Tommy Ware.
And, soon, Ware, a devoted flyfisherman from Ocean Springs, should be bestowed with that honor.
On March 22, Ware caught a rainbow trout that state biologists Stephen Brown and Lauren Thayer certified and weighed at 3 pounds, 10 ounces. It had a total length of 19.72 inches and a fork length of 19.29 inches.
It is significantly larger than the existing — and first — rainbow trout record, a 2-pound, 15-ounce fish caught in 2001 in Lake Whittington, a Mississippi River oxbow north of Greenville.
“I still have to get my fishing buddy, Matt Sellers, and we need to go to Hattiesburg (to the regional office of the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks) to sign the record application and submit it,” Ware said. “We will be doing that soon.”
Ware, 42, a regional director for Ducks Unlimited, caught the fish on a black wooly bugger on a 9-foot, 3-4 weight St. Croix Imperial Rod and a Hardy 5 wt. 4000DD Ultralight reel. Ware was using 5 wt. floating line and a 4X tippet.
For those who don’t recognize the vernacular, that’s flyfishing gear, which is something Ware stresses when discussing the record fish.
“Matt and I are hardcore, true flyfishermen,” Ware said. “We would not disgrace a trout by catching it on anything other than a fly. Trout are supposed to be caught on a fly.”
That’s why Ware and Sellers paid no attention to other fishermen at the private lake near Scooba, and why Ware is most worthy of having this record.
“They were catching trout on some spinners and Rapalas on spinning gear, and they kept telling Matt and me that ‘if you guys want to catch these trout, you need to throw one of these Rapalas,’” Ware said. “We just kept tying on flies and casting.
“I tied on the black wooly bugger and it took me a couple of hours before I finally got a strike. When I set the hook, I felt a lot of weight and knew it was a heavy fish. I just thought it was a largemouth bass. Then she rolled up and I saw it was a trout.”
It was the second time Ware had a chance to set the state record, and this time when he landed the big one he acted on it.
“We went to the same lake last year and caught some trout but never really thought about a record,” he said. “I remember how surreal it was standing on this pond levee in Mississippi in the winter, in a snow storm and casting flies for rainbow trout. I never even thought about a record, and we caught some in the size range of that record fish in the Delta. Just didn’t come to mind. We were catching fish to eat.
“You see, Matt and me and some of our friends, we make a lot of trips to Arkansas to trout fish with flies over there. As a matter of fact, I bought the black wooly bugger fly I was using in Arkansas on one of our trips. We catch a lot of trout there and we always release them, and if I had caught this trout in the wild in a trout stream, I can assure you I would have let it go. But we were fishing in a stock pond in Mississippi and that gave us a chance to catch some trout we could take home and eat.”
Ware isn’t sure of the origin of the record trout, but knows the lake’s owner stocks them for two reasons — one, it gives them some winter fishing opportunities, and, two, since the lake is a trophy bass fishery with F1 Florida bass stocked, the big bass eat the trout and it promotes trophy growth.
Rainbow Trout is one of the few non-native sportfish species that can be legally stocked in private ponds in Mississippi. Rainbow Trout are typically stocked in the winter, and will not survive as water temperatures increase to 70° F and above.
“I don’t know if this one just survived from last year, but that seems unlikely, or whether it was just stocked as a big fish this year,” Ware said. “I am curious. I know that."