SPRINGFIELD — There's no doubt Bill Babler's 40-pound, 6-ounce brown trout is a monster that smashed the previous Missouri brown trout record by nearly six pounds.
But as one local angler sees it, that's the problem.
The record fish caught in September at Lake Taneycomo was a "triploid" brown trout, a fish that was artificially made sterile at Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery so it could grow fast and get really big.
Local angler Al Agnew tips his hat to Babler's success but said he thinks the conservation department should have a special record category for triploid trout.
Perhaps an asterisk beside the triploid record?
"It seems to me that triploid browns are basically artificial fish," Agnew said. "They are bred specifically to grow to large sizes, unlike 'natural' brown trout."
He believes a non-triploid brown that grows to record size "is a greater accomplishment to catch, in my opinion."
"For one thing, it would be rarer and less likely to reach that size, but also in Missouri, because 'natural' browns would have slower growth rates, to reach record size they would have to live longer in the waters where they have been stocked, and presumably learn more about how to avoid being caught," he said.
"To be honest, I don't think most anglers know or care about triploids," he added. "And I'm sure that a lot of anglers would be all for anything that might give them a better chance at catching a huge fish. I'm probably in the minority in being concerned and somewhat contemptuous about these 'frankenfish.' I'll take a 'real' brown trout any day."
Phil Lilley, a marina owner and trout-fishing expert who is well known to trout aficionados at Lake Taneycomo, has witnessed several of the record browns come in.
He acknowledges some think a triploid fish should be in its own record category.
"I understand how people feel about it," Lilley said. "It would be just very difficult to manage, especially on a national scale."
Bill Babler, who caught the current record brown trout, said he understands what Agnew is saying.
But he doesn't think Missouri needs to go the route of having a special category for triploid trout.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "But you can end up having an asterisk by anything you catch, especially with trout — if it wasn't caught on a fly, or if it wasn't caught on a dry fly, for example. It can get so complicated, pretty soon you just have an asterisk for everything."
Agnew's "real brown trout" comment is not the way the Missouri Department of Conservation views the fish it produces and releases into Lake Taneycomo.
Fisheries biologist Shane Bush said MDC typically stocks about 15,000 brown trout and 560,000 rainbow trout in Lake Taneycomo each year. None of the rainbows are triploids, and he notes that none of the trout are native to Missouri.
"Triploids are produced by either heat or pressure shocking the eggs," he said. "Once the eggs hatch, they’re raised just like any other trout we have at the hatchery until they are released. We stocked 13,852 triploid Crawford strain brown trout from 2013-15. The objective behind this project was to see if we could produce bigger fish since those fish wouldn’t be putting energy in to reproduction and gamete production."
It has been a remarkable success, with the last five brown trout Missouri records coming out of Lake Taneycomo. Of those, two have been triploid fish.
But Bush emphasized not all hatchery brown trout are triploids, but triploids do occur naturally in many types of fish in nature. It is possible that some of the diploid brown trout produced in the hatchery could turn out to be infertile triploids. It would require genetic testing on a record fish to determine the difference.
Brown trout are not native to Missouri, nor do they successfully reproduce in any of Missouri’s waters. All brown trout in Missouri have been artificially propagated, raised and stocked by MDC, so none of them are "natural," Bush notes.
And diploid browns — not just sterile triploids — do get big.
"We have observed diploid brown trout above 35 pounds in Lake Taneycomo," Bush said. "We don’t know for sure if they have slower growth rates or not at this point because we haven’t studied the same strain of diploids and triploids side by side."
MDC also stocks two genetic strains of brown trout.
"The strain of brown trout in Lake Taneycomo that are triploids are the Crawford strain, while the strain of diploids (fertile fish) we stock are Sheep Creek strain," he said.
"Literature shows that although both of these species are brown trout, they do possess some different characteristics. One of these characteristics could be growth rates. In fact, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is currently studying the growth rates of both diploid and triploid Crawford strain brown trout.
"Besides growth rates, other characteristics are different between strains. The Crawfords are known to be more adapted for a lake environment, versus the Sheep Creek that are known to be more migratory. There may also be strains that are more willing to take a bait than others, which would affect their growth rates and retention time in the lake. These are all considerations we take when determining what is the best strain of fish to stock for anglers to have the most success."
The world record brown trout was caught in New Zealand, weighing 42 pounds, 10 ounces — not much bigger than Bill Babler's Missouri record brown.
"I do not know if the New Zealand fish was triploid or not, but it is very possible a new world record brown trout could be swimming in Lake Taneycomo, especially since the 34-pound record caught last February was released successfully," Bush said.