Nick Tassoni caught a walleye so big on Saturday it stretched across generations and broke the longest-standing gamefish record in Illinois.
Tassoni, a 15-year-old freshman at Rockford Auburn, boated his 14-pound, 12-ounce walleye from the Pecatonica River while fishing with his dad Dave in Winnebago County between the Macktown and Two Rivers forest preserves.
They started fishing before sunrise around 5:30 a.m. with little luck. So, Tassoni took a noon lunch and nap. When he awoke, he set up a line to troll. Within seconds, he hooked something.
``He struggled with him a bit and he really couldn't move the fish,'' Dave said. ``He jacked with him a bit. I finally put the motor in reverse and we went after this fish because he couldn't move her.''
Because of the difficulty, they assumed it was a snagged carp or buffalo. They had caught a number of them on Saturday.
``But I knew it was a walleye when it got within 20 feet of the boat and it started shaking its head,'' Nick said. ``We got it in the boat. My dad doesn't even remember netting it.''
On their Berkley digital scale, it came to 14.9 pounds. That would smash the Illinois record set in 1961 when Fred Goselin caught a 14-pound walleye from the Kankakee River. For a few seconds, they thought about keeping on fishing, then realized they need to make the long ride back to Two Rivers.
En route, Dave called conservation police officer Brian Alt to ask what to do. Alt went online and printed out the necessary paperwork. The Tassoni's squeezed the fish into a red Coleman cooler filled with river water.
``I give the father a lot of credit,'' Alt said. ``He is one of those anglers who keeps up on what the state records are. He knew right away.''
The Tassoni's got off the water, then met Alt about 2:15 p.m. for the official weighing at Pinnon's in Rockford. The famous meat market had its usual Saturday crowd lined up. The fish caused so much hubbub the scale had to be as moved to a back room.
``I was blown away,'' said Brian Overbey, who weighed it. ``My family had a cabin in Minnesota for years and we never saw anything that prehistoric. All you heard in the store was gasps and ahs. When I put it up on the scale and saw the actual weight, that is when I was really shocked.''
The female walleye, 31 inches long with a girth of 20 1/4 inches, settled in at weight of 14.75 pounds.
Regional fisheries biologist Dan Sallee, who verified the fish Sunday, said it was still green and, in a couple months nearer the spawn, would have easily topped 15 pounds.
``Just a beautiful fish,'' Sallee said. ``It is absolutely gorgeous. A lot of times you get those big old fish and they get gnarly looking. This was a beautiful fish.''
And it was a fish with family ties.
The lure, a Rapala firetiger No. 7 Minnow Rap, Tassoni had bought. The rod was a Carolina Lizard Dragger by Falcon his dad had bought at a garage sale. The reel, an old Ambassador 5000, came from his late paternal grandfather Jerry. The line, Trilene 10-pound Big Game, came from a box of fishing stuff of his late maternal great-grandfather Walter Fox and was gifted from his uncle Tony Thoren. Fox founded the walleye club in Rockford.
``I didn't think about that when I was using it,'' Tassoni said.
Saturday night Nick and Dave struggled to keep the fish alive. They even went to a neighbor's for a 200-gallon horse trough, then drove back to the Pec and bucketed it full of river water. During the night, they took turns trying to keep the fish alive in the tank, including using a sort of muskie sling, but it died early Sunday. It will be mounted.
What I most loved was something Dave said, ``It would not surprise if they are in there bigger.''