When Capt. Wes Winters took the International Game Fish Association’s “Anglers Pledge” he promised to introduce at least one person to fishing. Capt. Winters chose his granddaughter, Julia Ketner, and he did more than just introduce her to fishing, he introduced her to the record books.
Late last summer Julia, 8, completed the IGFA’s ultimate accomplishment, a “Royal Slam” catching all the official species of a particular type of fish. In April, with 10 smallfry records and one all-tackle length record to her name, she will be honored by the IGFA as its 2012 Female Smallfry Angler of the Year.
“I like the fight,” Julia said at her grandfather’s house in Westhampton this week, adding, with a sheepish gap-toothed grin: “I like catching more than him.”
That was a common occurrence, Capt. Winters admits, during the pair’s five-month quest to complete the bass royal slam in a single year. They spent 36 days on the water in six different states during Julia’s breaks from school last year and the IGFA annual book of world records reads like a diary of their travels: from fly fishing in the heat of a Kentucky summer to fishing through the ice of a frozen New Hampshire lake.
“I started taking her snapper fishing down the bay when she was four,” Capt. Winters recalls of their early forays. “She never wanted to leave. Even the night of the carnival, she didn’t want to leave.”
A retired merchant marine, Capt. Winters and his wife, Nancy, have always sought to travel with their granddaughters, Julia and her sister Abby, and as an avid fisherman, Capt. Winters’s vacation itineraries always lead somewhere there are fish swimming nearby. Their first trip together was to Mooselookmeguntic Lake in western Maine in search of trout and salmon, and Julia’s enthusiasm for fishing got Capt. Winters to thinking about the possibility that such a young angler could set a world record. The IGFA categorizes its records according to age and gender and the record books for children under the age of 10 have a number of surmountable pinnacles.
That spring the family took a trip to Florida during the Easter break from school. Grampa and granddaughter, of course, sought out one of the numerous lakes holding record size largemouth bass. Julia’s first largemouth inhaled a live golden shiner the pair were dragging behind their boat. At 5-pounds 14-ounces it didn’t break a record but it got Capt. Winters thinking about the possibilities.
“The royal slam seemed like it was something that was reachable for her,” he said. “On the way home we stopped in Georgia.”
The Chatahooochee River gave up three spotted bass for Julia and the quest was on. As soon as school was out that June, Wes and Julia were on the road upstate to Lake Erie where aggressive and hard-fighting smallmouth bass are ubiquitous. Julia fought more than 30 of them the first day. Three down, four to go.
In July the pair headed out on a road trip with the intention of not returning until the royal slam was complete—or, at least, until school was to start again. The first stop was Kentucky and a date with a white bass and 102-degree temperatures. Two days later they were standing on the rocky shoreline of the Flint River in Georgia, fly rods in hand and shoal bass in their sights.
“I liked the fly rod,” Julia said, making the whipping motion of the notoriously difficult action of tossing a tiny weightless feather with a noodle-like fly rod. “It was hard.”
Five down, two to go.
The very next day the fishing team were on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina and a hybrid striped bass, or whiterock bass, was soon flopping on the deck of Capt. Buster Green’s fishing boat. One to go.
Capt. Winters pointed the car north toward home, but the respite from their crusade was brief. By the following week they were headed north to New Hampshire in search of the final piece of the puzzle: the tiny rock bass. A baited hook dangled off a public fishing dock on shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, and the slam was complete. Julia took a celebratory dive off the dock—before getting back to the fishing.
Of course, along with a likely nomination for grandfather of the year, Capt. Winters also completed his own royal slam that day.
Far from those sweltering days, sitting in her grandparents’ kitchen on Monday with piles of snow outside, Julia recalled the many battles of the royal slam. The hybrid striper was the hardest fighting; the largemouth the toughest to hook. The time with her grandfather the best memory, certainly.
And the record books could not go to print quite yet. In November, Julia and her grandfather were back in New Hampshire and Lake Winnipesauke. Beneath the frigid lake surface, big yellow perch were lurking and the one that bit Julia’s bait made history. With its golden belly, brilliant red pelvic fins and emerald green back, it was the longest of its species, ever caught, by anyone of any age or gender.