The fisherman who caught a potentially record-breaking northern pike wasn’t thinking as much about the record books as he was keeping the massive fish alive, forgoing his name in the record books for the pride of catch-and-release.

Nathan Lafleur got the measurements and snapped a few pictures before letting the monster back into the shallow bay on Devil’s Lake in North Dakota. Later Lafleur found out the catch would have likely been around 39 pounds, breaking a state record. 

The 22-inch girth and 51½ inch length eclipsed the 48-inch length of the state record pike, which weighed 37 pounds, 8 ounces and was caught in 1968 on Lake Sakakawea, according to the Grand Forks Herald. The 33-year-old told the paper how he caught the most recent fish with a fly rod.

“That is probably my favorite way to fish,” he said. “My equivalent for fly fishing vs. conventional tackle would be from rifle hunting to bow hunting. Once you do that and experience it, that’s all you want.”

For Lafleur this catch represented more than the size of the fish. It was a lesson in catch-and-release that he hopes to instill in other anglers. 

“To me, the catch-and-release thing is what’s so important,” Lafleur said. “That fish never could have made 51½ inches if it didn’t get to make 40 and didn’t get to make 43.

“Throwing those fish back is what I want people to understand and to develop and not exploit the fishery we have here.”

Photo credit: Grand Forks Herald