Record brookie a work of art for Yacovella

Utica, N.Y. – Tom Yacovella’s love affair with brook trout goes
well beyond fishing for New York’s state fish.

The well-known Utica (Oneida County) wildlife artist, in
addition to his passionate pursuit of brook trout with rod and
reel, counts brookies among his favorite subjects when he puts
paint to canvas.

Now Yacovella has another brook trout project: painting the
mount of the new state record brook trout when he gets the form
back from a taxidermist.

“I’m going to paint it myself,” Yacovella said on the heels of
his 5-pound, 4.5-ounce catch from Raquette Lake on June 7 that was
certified by DEC as the new state standard. “I can’t wait to do
that.”

Yacovella was, in many ways, an unlikely angler to emerge as the
new state record holder, whose fish eclipsed the previous mark of 4
pounds, 15 ounces set in 2006 by Jesse Yousey of Croghan (Lewis
County). Yousey’s fish was caught on a remote pond within the Five
Ponds Wilderness Area.

For starters, Yacovella, now 71, rarely treks into those remote
backcountry waters known to hold big brookies. Instead, he often
trolls the big water of Raquette Lake in his 12-foot, shallow-V,
1953 Sea Nymph, spending many fishless days on the water as he
attempted to break his personal brook trout mark of 4 pounds, 1
ounces. That fish was caught many years ago and won the brookie
division in the last Genesee Beer fishing contest ever held.

“I’ve been fishing for them since I was 9 years old,” he says.
“It was a personal thing for me; I didn’t even know what the state
record was. I was just trying to top my own biggest brook
trout.”

Yacovella visits the big (5,263 acres) water of Raquette Lake
several times of year in pursuit of brook trout, which he also
fishes for bass at times. The record brook trout was his only
strike of the day, which isn’t entirely unusual; he often has a
difficult time finding a friend willing to go along and troll for
big brookies, knowing full well the day may end without so much as
a hit.

Still, DEC_Region 5 fisheries biologist Rich Preall says
Raquette’s big water is capable of producing big fish. “Big water,
big fish. That’s the basic rule,” he said. “And Raquette has always
had brook trout in it. There’s always been some wild ones and we
also stock the lake, usually with fall fingerlings and surplus
fish.”

Yacovella’s game plan when pursuing big brook trout on Raquette
revolves around fishing the proper depth. Too deep, and you’ll
encounter lake trout. Too high, and smallmouth bass will most
likely inhale the lure.

“I like to troll between 20-24 feet down,” he said. “And I use a
3-and-a-half-inch floating Rapala. It wants to go to the surface
and gives some great action.”

Yacovella also uses a long, steelhead rod of about 9 feet made
by Steve Payne of Cassville for good shock absorption; 6-pound test
line tied to a three-way swivel, with a pencil lead sinker and a
4-foot leader of 4-pound test line.

“I thought the fish was a smallmouth for sure,” he said of the
record brookie. “Then when I first saw her I thought it was a
laker. But then when it tired a bit I saw the red, white and black
fins and said a quick prayer:_’Please let me land this fish.'”

A couple of noteworthy catches earlier this spring turned out to
be not new record brook trout, but splake, a cross between a lake
trout and brookie. But there was little doubt when looking at
Yacovella’s fish that it was, indeed, a brook trout.

Yacovella, however, didn’t get the fish weighed on a certified
scale under two days later. That, most anglers and biologists would
say, probably cost him a few more ounces.

“I wasn’t thinking state record when I got him in the boat,”
Yacovella said. “But I definitely thought it had to be 5
pounds.”

It was DEC_Region 6 fisheries biologist Dave Erway who
ultimately certified the fish as a new state record brook trout.
That came after counting pyloric cecae – finger-like projections
from the small intestine – which is the only true way to determine
whether the fish is a brook trout, lake trout or splake.

Brook trout typically have 23-55 pyloric cecae; Yacovella’s fish
had 37.

Preall says now that the 5-pound mark has been topped,
Yacovella’s record actually has a chance to stand for a while.

“It will be hard for a small pond angler to top that,” he said
of Yacovella’s huge brookie, which measured 21 inches and had an
eye-popping 15-inch girth. “It could happen, but it will take a
really big fish.”

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