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A job switch four years ago provided the leisure time he needed to make up for the missed opportunities, and it paid off last week when he caught a state-record striped bass at Cecil M. Harden Lake in Parke County.
VanHook, 39, hauled in the 39.08-pound lunker on May 25, snapping the previous record of 35.395 pounds caught in 1993 by Tony Campisano on the Ohio River.
"It was fun," said VanHook, who now works as a police officer in his hometown of Rockville. "It's the best fish I’ve caught so far. If I had to say on a scale of 1 to 10, it would be a 10."
Harden Lake is a 2,060-acre reservoir constructed on Big Raccoon Creek by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s. It is located at Raccoon State Recreation Area, which is managed by the DNR Division of State Parks and Reservoirs.
The fish VanHook pulled out of Harden was 42.25 inches long with a girth of 30 inches.
He credits his friend Shay Vandivier, on whose boat he and another friend, Cory Hutchins, were fishing.
"Shay is the one who got me started on (striped bass)," VanHook said. "He's fished at Harden a long time and always caught 28 pounders. He took me there last year, but it was a little too windy and we really didn't get anything. This was the first time to get out this year."
The trio of anglers was trolling with planer boards and using bluegill for bait. Shortly after their first trolling pass at about 8:30 a.m., VanHook got the strike he'd been waiting on.
"It was kind of weird because we never catch anything in that spot," he said. "We got turned around and headed south, and all of a sudden (the line) started going, so I snatched up the pole. Everybody asked how long it took to land it, but I tell you, it was a blur. Shay said we were messing with it for 15 minutes."
VanHook said finding out how to enter the fish as a state record was easy, thanks in part to the new fishing regulations pamphlet the DNR put out this year.
"We got one of those, and it told how to go to the (DNR) website," he said. "Everybody was super helpful, and all the people from DNR were great."
DNR fisheries biologist Rhett Wisener said he’s not surprised by the size of VanHook’s striper even though since striped bass were first stocked at Harden in 1994 the typical fish collected in research surveys are much smaller.
"We've caught fish over there in the 20- to 25-pound range, but that, to be honest, is about the limits of our gear," Wisener said. “It’s not uncommon at all to see 30- to 35-inch fish, which is in the vicinity of 15 pounds.
"There are fish in there much larger than that, but they're difficult to catch in the gear we’re using. I’ve told some people we’ve still not seen the full potential at Harden. Maybe the limit is 39 or 40 pounds, but it could be bigger than that. We just don’t know. It's surprising us each year how it continues to produce big fish, particularly this year."
VanHook is eager to find out if there's a bigger one out there than the one he hooked.
"I want to catch his brother," he said.
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