The 17 heavyweights that top the Alaska angling record book tend to be an eye-popping lot, many enjoying worldwide acclaim.
Consider the 459-pound halibut caught in Unalaska 14 years ago, the 97-pound Kenai king salmon landed a quarter-century ago or the 42-pound steelhead from Bell Island dragged in by an 8-year-old.
The latest addition to the list might not be big enough to serve as bait for some of those fish, but Peter Cockwill's 5-pound, 1-ounce grayling, caught in 2006 on the Seward Peninsula's Fish River, may have taken more effort than any of them.
"He really worked for it," said guide Fred DeCicco. "The guy's a great fisherman."
Cockwill, a British fishing guide who's been bringing clients to Alaska for more than two decades, began his quest for a big Alaska grayling some 10 years ago.
"I have long had a fascination with the arctic grayling, which evolved into an obsession to try and find a truly large one," he said by e-mail. "I heard all the tall stories and saw many photos of nice fish ... and went to many places alleging to be full of big ones."
He eventually hooked up with DeCicco, a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game northwest area biologist who began guiding for Twin Peaks Adventures of Nome after retiring.
"A real fishing fanatic," is how DeCicco describes Cockwill, who had already researched grayling records and fished such renowned waters as Great Bear Lake in Canada before turning to Alaska.
"We took him on a float trip where we know there are big grayling," DeCicco said by phone from his home in Fairbanks. No lie.
The first 30 grayling Cockwill landed exceeded his lifetime best, DeCicco said. Cockwill and his fishing buddy each landed three weighing more than 4 pounds, a lunker of a grayling but no record. What, they wondered, might they do differently?
"Come at end of August when the fish are a little fatter, and come during a big pink salmon year when the fish are really obese," DeCicco advised.
That's how Cockwill found himself walking the banks of the Fish River, sight-fishing for grayling in late August. They were plentiful, but when Cockwill pulled in the eventual record, neither man considered it a contender.
"I was actually going to turn it loose without weighing it," DeCicco said. "It just didn't appear to be anything special."
He decided he better check.
"Ah, Peter," he called out, "you better have a look at this one."
One look was all it took. The 22 7/8-inch grayling was just 14 ounces off the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world record.
"He turned into a blubbering idiot," DeCicco said. "He was weeping."
After weighing it on a scale certified by the IGFA, measuring it and photographing it, the grayling was released -- just like all the grayling Cockwill caught. That afforded the duo another first.
"It was the first time the state has recognized a released fish as a state record," said DeCicco, who estimated the fish's age at 30 years. "We weren't going to kill a fish to establish a record."
Cockwill couldn't agree more.
"It is sheer folly to kill large grayling, as these fish cannot be replaced, and they seriously need protection," Cockwill wrote.
Heading into the 2010 fishing season, the fish listed below are Alaska bests -- records typically hard to nab.
Only four new marks, including DeCicco's grayling, were established during the last decade.
Alaska's oldest angling record?
David White's 42-pound, 3-ounce steelhead caught on Bell Island near Ketchikan 40 years ago.
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4329.
Alaska's record fish
Fourteen species of the biggest sport-caught fish in Alaska, as recognized by the state's Department of Fish and Game:
Arctic Char / Dolly Varden (1)
• Size: 27 pounds, 6 ounces
• When: October of 2002
• Where: Wiluk River near Kivalina
• Angler: Mike Curtiss of Nikiski
• Size: 24 pounds, 12 ounces
• When: 1976
• Where: Lake Louise
• Angler: George Howard
King Salmon (2)
• Size: 97 pounds, 4 ounces
• When: May 17, 1985
• Where: Kenai River
• Angler: Les Anderson
• Size: 32 pounds
• When: 1985
• Where: Caamano Point near Ketchikan
• Angler: Fredrick Thynes
• Size: 8 pounds, 6 ounces
• When: 1977
• Where: Wilson Lake, east of Ketchikan
• Angler: Robert Denison
• Size: 5 pounds, 1 ounce
• When: Aug. 17, 2008
• Where: Fish River on Seward Peninsula
• Angler: Peter Cockwill of Surrey, England
• Size: 459 pounds
• When: June 11, 1996
• Where: Unalaska Bay
• Angler: Jack Tragis
Lake Trout (4)
• Size: 47 pounds
• When: 1970
• Where: Clarence Lake in Talkeetna Mountains
• Angler: Daniel Thorsness
• Size: 81 pounds, 6 ounces
• When: 2002
• Where: Monty Island
• Angler: Charles Curny
• Size: 38 pounds, 8 ounces
• When: 1991
• Where: Innoko River north of McGrath
• Angler: Jack Wagner
• Size: 12 pounds, 9 ounces
• When: 1974
• Where: Moose River
• Angler: Steven A. Lee
Rainbow/Steelhead Trout (5)
• Size: 42 pounds, 3 ounces
• When: June, 1970
• Where: Bell Island near Ketchikan
• Angler: David White
• Size: 16 pounds
• When: 1974
• Where: Kenai River
• Angler: Chuck Leach
• Size: 38 pounds, 11 ounces
• When: 2001
• Where: Prince William Sound
• Angler: Rosemary Roberts
• Photo: www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/trophy/
• Size: 53 pounds
• When: 1986
• Where: Pah River, a tributary of the Kobuk River in northwest Alaska
• Angler: Lawrence E. Hudnall of Hammond, Ind.
• Size: 26 pounds
• When: 1976
• Where: Icy Strait near Hoonah
• Angler: Andrew Robbins
• Note: Carl Roehl of Anchorage came within ounces of Robbins record, catching a 24-pound, 12-ounce silver on July 20, 2002, outside of Whittier.
• Size: 9 pounds
• When: July 17, 1989
• Where: Tozitna River, a Yukon River tributary
• Angler: Al Mathews
By MIKE CAMPBELL
Alaska Dispatch Publishing