Castlegar is renowned for its freshwater fish but no one could have foreseen the giant that local angler Denis Woodcox pulled out of Arrow Lake. In fact, it took recent DNA testing to prove he had indeed caught a world record.

It was an exceptionally hot day in August 2015 when Denis and his teenage son Noah were fishing on Lower Arrow Lake, just north of downtown Castlegar. They weren’t on the water very long when Denis landed what he thought to be a large trout that weighed over ten pounds. He and his son took turns snapping photos with the fish and then they returned home where they filleted it, smoked the meat and stored the carcass including head, fins and bones in a freezer for later disposal.

“I thought about the dark meat, though,” he says, “and started wondering, ‘Was that a Kokanee?’” Kokanee fish are native to the Kootenay region of British Columbia and are a non-migrating form of sockeye salmon. Like their saltwater cousins they die after spawning but, because they don’t feed in the ocean, their size tends to be much smaller. Which is why the thought of a 10-plus-pound Kokanee seemed so strange to Denis.

Kokanee (Oncorhynchus nerka) is a landlocked type of sockeye salmon commonplace in the waters around Castlegar and the West Kootenays
Kokanee (Oncorhynchus nerka) is a landlocked type of sockeye salmon commonplace in the waters around Castlegar and the West Kootenays.

Eventually he took the carcass to provincial scientists and they determined the fish was seven years old and weighed 12 pounds, a full three pounds larger than the official world-record Kokanee caught in Oregon. Still, some of the scientists were skeptical: “Perhaps it was a Sockeye that someone dumped into the lake?” they thought. Or maybe it was a rare triploid and didn’t have the gene that causes Kokanee to spawn and die around the age of four. The only way to be sure was to perform a DNA test.

This month the results of that test finally came in and sure enough Denis Woodcox has the distinction of catching the largest Kokanee on earth…in Castlegar!

Because he ate it, however, the 12-pound fish cannot be counted as a world record. That said, scientists theorize there could be other triploids in Arrow Lakes and so it may not take long for another angler to land a giant and win the record. Provided it’s not eaten first.