Like a walleye, only bigger? In North Dakota, record zander a jaw-dropper

North Dakota has long been a walleye-fishing destination.

A European cousin of the walleye has slowly been adding to the allure for anglers there, and a recent catch could fast-track that draw, at least on one North Dakota lake.

Sam Wenner, of Jamestown, N.D., caught what is expected to be certified as a state and North American record for zander while fishing Aug. 17 on Spiritwood Lake near Jamestown – Spiritwood and nearby Alkali Lake have the only verified zander populations in North America.

While they can grow much larger than walleyes, the fact that zanders look very much like their cousin made this fish an overwhelming sight: It weighed 15 pounds, 15 ounces and measured 35-5/8 inches. It also dwarfed the previous state-record zander, also caught in Spiritwood, reportedly in 2013, which weighed 11-3 and measured 32 inches long.

“I caught the state record zander! Stay tuned!!!” Wenner said on his Facebook page soon after the catch on Aug. 17.

Wenner said he’s fished the lake hundreds of times in the last decade, only catching a few zander – and nothing of note.

Until now.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department reportedly stocked zander in Spiritwood in 1989 – 180,000 fry and 1,050 fingerlings – but dropped the program the next year because of concerns from neighboring states Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana and Canadian province Manitoba. But they remain in the lake in small numbers, with bigger fish reported in recent years.

For the most part, it can be difficult to distinguish between a walleye and a zander, although zanders can get quite a bit bigger. The world-record zander was caught in Switzerland in June 2016 and weighed 25.3 pounds, and the fish reportedly reach an average length of 15-1/2 to 31-1/2 inches, up to nearly 50 inches.

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