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Chad Halvorson

Washington Walleye Record Surpassed...

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19.3 Pounds of Walleye! Caught by Mike Hepper.

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According to WDFW measurements, Hepper landed a 19.3-pound walleye from the Columbia on Feb. 5. The fish is .4 pounds heavier than Gabriel’s current state record.

It likely will be Hepper's record too. All signs point towards it being a legitimate catch, and there doesn’t appear to be any hesitancy on the part of WDFW as was seen in September when a smallmouth bass application was submitted to the state but found to be faulty. WDFW records coordinator Keith Underwood is also expected to send out a press release later today.

Hepper, a retired Richland high school business-education teacher and former track-and-field coach, says it was caught in Walla Walla County waters.

“Down from the mouth of the Snake by Buoy 30,” he says. “A lot of people refer to the area as Finley, or Boise-Cascade.”

The big girl bit a hand-tied silver-scale Smile blade rig baited with a nightcrawler behind a bottom walker trolled about 1.5 mph in 34 feet of water.

Anglers in the local walleye world were pleased that Hepper was the guy to catch such a big fish

“Mike Hepper is an outstanding fisherman,” says Jason Bauer of Northwestwalleye.com, a Web site that covers local tournaments and fishing action. “He is always the first on the water and the last to pull up to the ramp.”

Indeed, the catch is the culmination of many years of effort.

“I put a lot of time in, I’ve been chasing that record for awhile,” Hepper says.

We’ll have more on Heppers’ catch in our Feb. 22 issue, which will also focus on trophy walleye fishing.

HOW HE CAUGHT THE FISH: After a day off to watch the Colts and Bears, Hepper and his fishing partner for the day, Ron Humbyrd of Pasco, got back on the river Monday morning.

“We launched early in the morning out of Hood Park in the Burbank area. We took off and ran downriver to where a lot of people are fishing,” he says.

The walleye are kegged up, fattening for the upcoming spawn.

“They’ve moved around on me a bit,” Hepper says, but after finding them again, he worked them steadily for three or four days using a GPS to follow bottom contours.

“I’ve been consistently in 35 to 40 feet of water. I was getting my bites in 37 to 39 feet, but this was in 34,” he says.

He and Humbyrd caught two fish making a drift with Smile blades, which are made of Mylar, and can be tuned to either turn faster or slower than regular metal ones, according to Bob Schmidt, president of the Northwest-based manufacturer Mack’s Lure.

Then around 10:30 a.m. Hepper’s rod bowed.

“At first I thought it was snagged,” Hepper says, but then his fishing pole gave a couple telltale thumps.

“I told my partner, ‘This is a heavy fish,’” he says.

Heavy indeed.

Hepper brought the walleye up from the bottom, but then it went under his 18-foot Lund Fisherman, where he feared the fish would find a sharp edge and cut his Fireline.

“I took it easy,” he says. “When it surfaced, I told (Humbyrd) it was a state record.”

Their scale rang up a whopping 19.7 pounds, way over Gabriel’s 18.9-pounder.

Based on prior experience with big fish whose weights faded after their initial scaling, Hepper didn’t want to mess around, he wanted to get it on an official scale and fast.

“‘Get your gear up, we’re getting out of here,’” he told Humbyrd and fired up the 115-horse Yamaha.

“On the way in we called the (Fish & Wildlife) Department, told them we were coming in with a big fish and wanted to have it verified,” he says.

On a local meat market’s scale, the walleye hit 19.65 pounds.

“Right away when it hit 19, I knew it was a state record,” Hepper says.

At WDFW’s Pasco field office, the fish was recorded as 19 pounds, 4.8 ounces, or 19.3 pounds. Biologist Paul Hoffarth says it measured 33.7 inches long and 22.2 inches around.

Asked if it was the biggest walleye he’d ever seen, Hoffarth replied, “Yeah, by far and away.”

WALLEYE MAN: Hepper came from North Dakota in 1965 and is known as a passionate walleye angler.

“You’ll go somewhere fun fishing, and he’ll be there,” says Bauer.

Asked Tuesday afternoon if he indeed fished five or six days a week, Hepper said, “At least -- I didn’t go Super Bowl Sunday, but this is eight of nine or nine of ten days.”

So far this year he says he’s landed a 141/2-pounder, a couple 13-plus-pounders, and several 9- and 10-pounders.

In fact, the other two fish caught the same day as his potential record were 91/2- and 101/2-pounders.

“That’s a lot of big fish to be caught in a short amount of time,” Hepper says.

But it’s not always so easy. His then-biggest ever, a 17.7-pounder, was landed after fishing five days straight with only one bite -- that fish.

Hepper also fishes in local walleye tournaments. He and partner Bobby Jacobsen of Moses Lake were 2002’s anglers of the year on the Columbia River Walleye Circuit, thanks in part to top-place finishes in that year’s first two events.

This past season, Hepper finished 75th among 486 anglers in the Washington State Walleye Circuit, operated by Walleyes Unlimited Northwest. Bauer, who’s also involved in WUNW, says he would have done better, but Hepper missed a couple of events in the five-stop series, which includes tourneys on Potholes, Moses, Banks as well as the Governor’s Cup and Two Rivers derbies on Lake Roosevelt. Hepper and partner Scott Urlacher did finish fifth at Banks with 38.18 pounds.

Leroy Ledeboer, an F&H News contributor and longtime walleye-crowd observer, termed Hepper a “top-notch walleye guy.”

“That doesn’t come as a real surprise that (the potential record) was caught by him,” he says.

“Nobody deserves it more than he does,” adds Jacobsen.

In fact, for some it’s very refreshing that an angler like Hepper hit the jackpot.

“It’s really nice when a skilled person hooks the record instead of someone who’s just in the right place at the right time,” says Ledeboer. “They just work at it and work at it. And they have a lot of fun.”

BIGGER FISH? Hepper’s no glory hog -- he actually thinks there are bigger walleye to be caught.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the record did go down. A fish this big early in the season -- it’s still two or three weeks, maybe a month early,” Hepper says, and adds, “I’m hoping to hang on to it for a week or two.”

It’s long been rumored that enormous walleye exist in the Columbia system, but Arnold Berg’s 19-pound, 15.3-ouncer has held on since 1990 as the Northwest’s biggest specimen.

“We’re getting close to that 20-pound mark. It’s just a matter of time now,” says Bauer.

But while he says he wouldn’t be suprised if it got caught next week, it might also take, say, five years.

“I’m sure that there is a 20-pound fish out there,” says Bauer, “but they are only that big this time of the year, say late January to mid-March when they are bulking up for the spawn. Because the window for a 20-pound fish is so small, and the weather at this time of year keeps many anglers at home, the percentages to get an angler in front of one of these 20-pounders is remarkably small. However, fishing for walleye is a lot like playing poker. You have to have some skills, but you also need a great amount of luck.”

Hepper will have a handsome mount created for his fish.

“My plan is to have it mounted in a glass case with river rocks and sticks,” he says.

He also praised WDFW’s ability to coordinate the presence of a biologist and game warden for the official weigh-in just hours after his catch.

“Everything fell in perfect, couldn’t have been timed any better. The Fish & Wildlife Department was outstanding. We were kinda lucky we didn’t have to wait for the next day or anything like that,” he says.

He says there’s also a chance the 19.65-pound weight will be the official record measurement.

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Nice walleye!

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The walleyes in the Columbia River are just sick! There was a meeting of national walleye biologists in Minnesota this summer that a friend of mine was able to attend and he said they expect the Washington and likely the national record to fall soon. These walleyes are exotics to the system and just GORGE themselves on trout and salmon smolts coming downstream. These fish are actually really tough to catch because they have too much to eat.

We are talking about medically obese walleyes, its crazy!

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Actually they are pretty reliable, Ive been going every weekend all summer. Plus, trout are not their main forage base, whitefish, perch, etc. This is based on my personal info, as I have cleaned more than I dare mention (Hey not all mine Im just the knife guy). I have only found 1 trout in a belly, everything else is crawdads, perch, whitefish, small Walleye. Unbeatable fishery out here, I will miss it but Im happy to be headed back to Minny is 2 weeks.

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chad what part of the river did you fish. i've been working back there in the summers for the last couple of years and have done my fishing down by hood river and the dalles. Thats an awesome walleye and a tremendous fishery out there.

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I've heard fishing was pretty good up that way. I live over on the west side by rainer. I'm really hoping to have a little more time to fish this summer. Heading back out there in 3 weeks plan on hitting hte springers for a wek before work starts.

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