CANYON FERRY — When Helena Police Chief Steve Hagen retired at the end of 2021, he told MTN he planned to spend a lot more time hunting and fishing.
He made that happen – and made a big catch in the process.
“I will guarantee you that my worst day of fishing is way better than the best day at work, by far,” he said this week.
But Monday was far from the worst day. That’s the day he brought in a fish that turned out to be a Utah chub – the largest one on record caught in Montana.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “Most days fishing, you just catch fish and that’s it, but this one, I caught a fish that most people don’t ever catch, and don’t ever catch them in that size.”
Since Hagen wrapped up his 30-year law enforcement career on Dec. 30, he says he’s been out ice fishing 33 days. On Monday, he set up his ice house on the southeast side of Canyon Ferry Lake, near where Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks drops discarded Christmas trees to serve as habitat for yellow perch.
Hagen was looking for perch or walleye when he dropped a lure baited with maggots into the water. On one attempt, though, he pulled out a Utah chub — a non-native fish that was introduced to Hebgen Lake decades ago, most likely by bait fishermen, and is now spreading through the Missouri River system.
“It’s a weird fish,” Hagen said. “Basically it’s just a big minnow.”
It’s only the second time Hagen has ever caught one. The first was about 25 years ago, on the north end of Canyon Ferry.
“You just never know what you’re going to catch,” he said.
Hagen remembered hearing a story about the previous record Utah chub, caught at Canyon Ferry in 1992. He believed his fish might be able to beat it.
“I took it home and I weighed it on two different scales, and it was 2.4 pounds, and I had seen the record was 1.8 pounds, so I knew I had the record for sure,” he said. “I took it to Heritage Foods, put in on their certified scale, it was 2.39. I took it to Fish and Game and they certified that it was indeed a Utah chub.”
The fish was 15.9" long and 10.4" around.
The state’s Montana Field Guide website says the Utah chub is “considered to be a very undesirable fish.” But Hagen’s story shows even undesirable fish deserve a second look sometimes.
“I have it at a taxidermist now,” he said. “How often do you catch a state record?”