Veteran river rat John Grubenhoff landed an enormous walleye on Friday, February 28 from the Columbia River that eclipsed the 20-pound mark and by all accounts will demolish the Washington state record walleye.
Grubenhoff was fishing the McNary Pool section of Lake Wallula, which is located between the McNary and Priest Rapids dams at the confluence of the Snake River. “It’s a transition area where the free-flowing Columbia meets Wallula,” he noted.
Knowing that the river’s walleyes would be staging adjacent to spawning areas, Grubenhoff targeted a breakline and current edge that coincided a short cast from a rocky, windswept shoreline. “It was the perfect scenario,” he said.
Indeed, Grubenhoff caught a 14-pound walleye within 10 minutes of dropping his line in the water. While that fish would top most anglers’ big-walleye lists, he was after an even bigger prize. Having caught an 18-pounder several years ago, Grubenhoff had his sights set on a state record. “Actually, I’ve been fishing for that girl for 29 years,” he said.
A fan of beefy minnowbaits, Grubenhoff was pulling a 5¼-inch, silver-and-black J13 Jointed Rapala when the big fish struck. The lure was trailing six feet behind a 2-ounce bottom-walking sinker in 22 feet of water, as Grubenhoff trolled upstream along the break at .8 mph. He was using 17-pound-test monofilament mainline and leader. “I don’t care for braid, and I don’t like losing $10 lures, so I use heavy mono,” he explained.
The monstrous fish weighed 20.32 pounds on a certified scale at an Alberston’s market in Richland. By comparison, the existing walleye record stands at 19.3 pounds. Also a Columbia River fish, it was caught February 5, 2007 by Mike Hepper.
State fisheries biologist John Hone witnessed the weighing of Grubenhoff’s fish that evening. Hone then forwarded the verification process to District 4 fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth, who examined the fish the following morning. Hoffarth confirmed that the fish was a walleye, and its length was 35½ inches, with a girth of 23 inches.
“Based on the size of the fish, the angler’s account of the catch, and his reputation as a legitimate fisherman, there’s nothing to call this catch into question,” said Hoffarth, who expects the record to be approved by department headquarters in Olympia within “a week or two.”
Besides being the heir-apparent state record, a 20-pound walleye raises eyebrows across the continent. The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and International Game Fish Association both recognize a 25-pound giant caught by Mabry Harper in 1960 on Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake as the all-tackle world record. And besides Tennessee, the records of only three states and one Canadian province top 20 pounds.
Given the Columbia River’s reputation for producing trophy walleyes in the 15- to 18-pound range—and now this certified 20-pounder—both Hoffarth and Grubenhoff are confident that even bigger walleyes roam the river’s swirling depths. “Our walleye population has been growing for the past 15 years,” said Hoffarth. He credited excellent habitat, along with an abundance of juvenile shad and salmon, plus perch, peamouth, whitefish, and other forage, for fueling the production of over-sized walleyes.
When asked whether he believes the Columbia holds even bigger walleyes, Grubenhoff didn’t hesitate. “Yes, I do,” he said, adding with a grin, “And I’m going to try and catch her, too!”