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VT Fisherman Caught With Radio-Tracked Atlantic Salmon in Freezer 

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A Bethel angler was busted for reportedly taking home a 31-inch Atlantic salmon he caught in the White River, and reporting it as a brown trout.

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Ryan McCullough faces a $1500 fine and loss of his fishing license for three years for not accurately identifying his catch, according to Vermont Fish & Wildlife. A press release states that McCullough was fishing downstream of the federal fish hatchery in Stockbridge on July 25 when he hooked and landed a 9.5-pound, 31.5-inch-long fish that turned out to be an andromous Atlantic Salmon (top). He reportedly "misidentified" it as a brown trout (bottom) and took it home to have it stuffed.

How did McCullough get caught? In a press release, Fish & Wildlife offers this (perhaps) unintentionally hilarious explanation:

"A photo of the fish appeared in the local newspaper. Fisheries biologists who had previously put radio transmitters in Atlantic salmon that had migrated upstream in the Connecticut to spawn noticed the photo. They also discovered one of the two salmon they were monitoring in the White River was now transmitting its signal from dry land in Bethel. ...The missing salmon was located in a freezer in Bethel."

So, how easy would it be to mistake an Atlantic salmon for a brown trout? We put that question to Ken Gillette, who runs the federal fish hatchery that released the salmon in question.

"Depends on the knowledge of the angler," Gillette says. "Someone who's been around a lot could probably tell the difference. Sometimes people get confused."

Whether McCullough was confused or deliberately misreported his catch is unclear. State offices are closed today in observance of Bennington Battle Day, so Vermont Fish & Wildlife officials weren't available to explain. And McCullough doesn't appear to have a listed phone number.

But consider this: According to Vermont Fish & Wildlife records, a 9.5-pound brown trout would be the 39th biggest brown trout ever caught in Vermont (or at least ever recorded). More importantly, it would be the largest brown trout ever caught in the White River. The current White River record is held by Michael T. Lawrence, who landed a 9-pound brown trout on May 15, 1997.

The biggest brown trout ever caught in the state of Vermont — Barry Bouker pulled it from Sherman Reservoir on August 10, 1990 — weighed in at a pole-snapping 22.16 pounds!

Before landing in McCullough's freezer, the salmon completed an incredible journey. According to Gillette, salmon released in Bethel travel down the Connecticut River, out into Long Island Sound and several thousand miles to North Atlantic waters near Greenland, where they feed for two years before starting the return trip to their native waters to spawn. When they return, Vermont officials tag them with radio transmitters to track their progress. 

Other interesting factoids from Gillette:

  • The White River National Fish Hatchery produces and releases more than 5 million Atlantic salmon fry in tributaries of the Connecticut watershed, and supplies 660,000 lake trout yearlings for stocking in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
  • The radio transmitter used to track the fish are small and might not be visible to an angler.

Just think, this whole thing could have been much worse — and much more embarrassing for McCullough. Had he decided to eat the salmon, rather than have it stuffed, the Fish & Wildlife press release might have read more like this:

"Fisheries biologists noticed something amiss when the radio transmitter indicated the salmon was no longer going gently upstream but instead traveling at 70 mph down Interstate 89. Investigators were further flummoxed when, the next day, the transmitter indicated the fish had come to rest in the toilet of a Rutland Denny's. Fisheries biologists consider the case cold at this point and are praying for the salmon's safe return."

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Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2012, and the news editor from 2012-2013.

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