CLINTON — Fishing is in season, and one local angler has snagged the fish of a lifetime.
During the peak of walleye season, Dale Merchant and his long-time fishing partner, and uncle, Charlie Sexton, headed out on the morning of March 26 for a day on the river.
What they came home with was something they never anticipated — a 13 pound, 8 ounce, female walleye measuring 29 inches long.
"It was the fish of a lifetime, there's no doubt about that," Merchant said. "We started probably about 9:30 a.m., because that morning was about 23 degrees. We fished our spots and I'm thinking about 10:30 a.m. we caught the big one."
Coming in one pound shy of the state record, a 14 pound, 8 ounce behemoth caught in 1986 by Gloria Eoriatti in the Des Moines River, Merchant's fish joins a relatively short list of near record-breaking walleye catches in Iowa.
According to Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist Scott Gritters, only about .001 percent of walleye reach the size of Merchant's prize fish.
"We rarely see a fish that big," Gritters said. "Female walleye get bigger than male walleye but I've never seen one that big."
One reason Merchant was able to nab the mammoth female, says Gritters, is because it's nearly spawning season for walleye and the closely related sauger fish. When female sauger and walleye prepare for spawning season, they become more apt to biting because they need extra food and strength for the spawn.
For that reason, walleye are one of the most sought-after fish soon after the river thaws.
"Walleye is the first thing that people go after," Gritters said. "As soon as they can get their boats in, even when the ice is still flowing, that's the first thing that they're after."