By Chris Funk
I don't know why I had a hankering to start making a fish list of the species I catch. I probably blame it most on a goofy movie called "The Big Year" where birdwatchers are competing to log the most species of birds in a year. I was turning 40 shortly after the movie hit the screens and decided that I wanted to catch 40 species of fish in my 40th year. My rules were simple, start January 1st and log each individual species on the fish list.
They could be caught from boat, kayak, canoe or on foot and by any legal means for the species, rod, bow or cast net.
In my mind it was doable and seemed like a fun adventure but I had no idea how addicting it could be. I fished hard all spring long and on May 31st, the day before my 40th birthday, I landed a beautiful rainbow trout in a Montana mountain lake. It was species number 40 on my list for the year!
I went on to add a number of more fish through the year and on New Year's Eve I ended up with 75 species total. The cool thing was there were several new species to me like a wahoo, a smallmouth bass and a wicked little critter called a spotted scorpionfish.
I vastly underestimated how much fun it could be to keep a catch list and how difficult it could be at times. That year I watched a monster white crappie come unhooked beside my boat and watched my son land several species of fish that I needed to catch myself. I also made a few sacrifices along the way: leaving a flat of speckled trout blowing up on topwater baits to head to a bridge to catch a sheepshead was not an easy choice!
In the end it was a great adventure and I have been keeping a list for 4 years now. The moment my line goes tight I am filled with wonder about what species it may be. I can't wait till I see that flash of color and can tell what I am fighting. When I target a species for the list and actually land it there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment; especially if it is a first ever of the species.
I will never forget the sight of the brown lateral on my first snook. I yelled so loud the guys I was fishing with thought I had lost my mind! Just this year I got to catch and release my first ever musky. That fish was boated after four years of trying to catch one. The guys fishing with me that day knew my excitement as well, I promise you!
It has been so much fun keeping up with a catch list that I am not sure I will ever quit. It hangs in a kitchen cabinet and I update it with every new species for the year.
I have my standard species that I catch that I am extremely thankful for, and now and again I get to chase the rarer ones.
I even have a hit list full of some fish I have been chasing for a while with no luck so far. The thought of finally holding one of those in front of a camera keeps my fire lit. This year has been my second best as far as numbers go but the real treat was 14 of them were the first ever of the species for me. If you ever decide to chase your own "big year", all it takes is a pad of paper and a little adventure!