John E. Moore isn’t content to catch a mess of fish out of a few honey holes.
The Mount Vernon angler prefers the thrill of discovery, catching a few fish out of as many waters as possible across Washington, North Idaho and northwest Montana.
He has files on 1,166 lakes, complete with fish species inventories, driving directions, photos, lake characteristics and fishing tips.
Along the way he’s weighed-in 10 state-record fish, three still stand.
Anglers can tap his obsession and itch to travel in nine fishing guidebooks that feature 880 lakes. The latest is “A Fisherman’s Guide to Selected Lakes of Northwest Montana, Vol. 2.”
“I’m really fond of Western Montana,” he said this week after returning home from a research expedition for the next volume. “It just takes time to see it all.”
Moore, 56, travels two weeks to two months at a time. He drives a pickup with an 81/2-foot rowboat on the top plus an inflatable raft for his backpack.
Since he began making meticulous notes in 1981, Moore has caught 78,692 fish of 42 species – not including subspecies such as cutthroat – in 570 lakes.
Critters such as moose and bear figure into every trip, sometimes at close range. Perhaps that’s fodder for another book.
The focus is on fins, he said, noting he’s caught fish from more than 100 new lakes in three different years, the busiest of which was 2009, when he scored in 112 lakes.
“My favorite lakes are high in the mountains where I have to hike in,” he said, noting that he’s caught 34,793 fish in high lakes.
Moore’s recon gear includes two spinning rods, a pack rod and a fly rod. In most cases at high lakes, he’ll use the pack rod to cast an Adams Irresistible fly-and-bobber combo into the lake.
“It catches fish dry, or on the retrieve it goes just under the surface and makes a ripple that attracts fish,” he said.
“If I don’t catch anything with that, I go to something totally different, like an all-white moth with black wraps. Next, I go to spinners.”
Moore, who retired in 2009, plots his trips by looking at maps for lakes he wants to explore. Some are accessible by vehicle; others require hiking up to 9 miles. Still others require serious bushwhacking.
As he checked off most of the fisheries in Washington by 1994, he began traveling farther east into Idaho and Montana.
The Idaho Selkirks have intrigued Moore because of the area’s wide range of lakes requiring short to long hikes. “I caught fish in 13 of the 14 Panhandle lakes I fished in two days one summer,” he said.
While he makes a point to visit new lakes every year, he also makes repeat visits to feed more information into his files.
“I was able to track different patterns such as times of year the fish are the most active, what they would hit one time of the year over another.”
Fishing in Pend Oreille County with Deer Park taxidermist Garry Blew, Moore caught the Washington-record westslope cutthroat in 2004 out of Muskegon Lake. That fish eclipsed the record he’d caught four years earlier in Halfmoon Lake.
Moore’s living room resembles the inside of an aquarium, with 41 mounts of various fish he’s caught.
Each salmon species is represented, plus trout – rainbow, cutthroat, tiger, bull, Eastern brook, golden and steelhead. The wall also features grayling, bass, bluegill, Dolly Varden, pike, mackinaw, catfish, sucker, crappie, sculpin and bullhead.
“‘Fish’ was one of my granddaughter’s first words,” he noted.
But he releases most of his fish and rarely uses bait. His spreadsheet shows he’s caught 50,752 fish on flies, 11,934 on jigs, 11,437 on spinners, 3,122 on spinnerbaits and 1,447 on other baits.
Those lures have landed him 56,007 cold-water species such as trout and grayling, 22,181 warm-water species and 504 scrap fish.
His books reflect the fluid landscape of fishing waters. “Things change,” he said, noting that fish management policies evolve, storms alter lakes, illegal fish are introduced, access is altered. “The details are only as current as my last visit. That’s the best I can do.”
Despite his research with maps and stocking schedules and his vast fishing experience, Moore is not immune to being skunked.
“I’ve had that happen many times,” he said. “At many of the lakes, I spent more time getting back to them than I did actually fishing. But at least I can say I’ve been there.”