Chattanoogan Steve Norris displays one fish that would be a world record if he had known the certifying process when he caught it.
He has a world record now, though.
And although the 24-pound, 6-ounce freshwater drum he caught May 19 on 12-pound-test line just below Chickamauga Dam soon will become the 30th trophy fish on the walls of the den in his home near Harrison, he seems more thrilled to have it part of the Tennessee Angler Recognition Program than a listing in the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.
“Oh, it’s great to have a world record, and I’ll probably never have another one,” the lifetime fisherman said. “But I’m just very excited about the TARP program.”
The TARP is not about records but big fish in general, and they don’t have to be kept to be appreciated. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has set minimum lengths for recognition for each of 24 species, and with proper documentation the fish can be put back in the water and the angler gets a colorful certificate that itself looks impressive on a wall.
Although he admits it tests his “old school” mentality, Norris has become convinced that releasing even big “keepers” is best for the sport he loves. The record drum, currently frozen, will be the first fish he’s put on the wall in about five years. It beat the TARP minimum of 28 inches by five inches.
“If parents take their children fishing and teach them the responsibility of releasing the fish unharmed,” Norris said, “our resources will be available for future generations of anglers to come. And if you take your children fishing and they catch a fish that qualifies under the TARP program, every time they look at the certificate they will remember the exciting time when they caught a trophy fish.”
Norris often went fishing with his father while growing up in Knoxville, and he cherishes those memories as he nears his own 62nd birthday.
Every time he goes fishing now, he has a wallet copy of the TARP length minimums — they’re in the Tennessee Fishing Guide — in addition to measuring equipment. He’s even aware of some records that may be available wherever he’s fishing, on particular test lines, but he insists that he goes out to have fun.
“My belief is when you go fishing, it’s a release. I almost always take a friend with me, and we have a great time,” Norris said. “I’m not out there trying to catch a record fish, but I’m mindful of what’s out there, what’s available, and I’m aware of what line I’ve got on the different rods and reels I’m using.”
His mounted fish — he’s done some of the mounts himself — came from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Michigan in addition to Tennessee. One is a 6-pound-12-ounce smallmouth bass he caught on 20-pound-test line, also below Chickamauga Dam, in the 1990s.
“I didn’t realize at the time that fish was a world record,” Norris said. “The record on 20-pound test then was something like 4-12 — and it’s currently 6-8. I caught mine trolling under a full moon early one September morning with a lot of fog.”
In September 1979 he caught the first golden redhorse recognized as a Tennessee record — it weighed 1-11 — and it held up as a state standard for about 15 years, he said. That one was caught just below Watts Bar Dam.
Now retired from the retail industry and occupied with lawn care, Norris fishes “at least two or three times a week” — more often in March through May and in September and October. On May 19 he had his boat tied off with a rubber strap at Chickamauga Dam when the big drum hit his Rapala Suspend R shad color lure.
“We had to pop off that rubber strap and chase that fish downstream,” Norris said. “We finally got it to calm water and got it up, but it took a while.”
Local fishing guide and television show host Benny Hull holds the overall world record for freshwater drum, a 54-8 monster caught in 1972.