Photo by Ryan Miloshewski
Paul Crews (center) displayed his Missouri state-record brown trout with the help of his fishing partner, Jim Rayfield Sr. (right) and marina owner Phil Lilley
By Brent Frazee
Let me introduce you to Frank, perhaps the most famous fish in the Missouri Ozarks.
For three years, the giant brown trout was just a fisherman’s dream—a missile with fins that would appear suddenly under the docks at Lilley’s Landing Resort and Marina on Lake Taneycomo in Branson, Mo. and stay just long enough to inspire excitement.
It even gained its nickname from the dockhands who had watched the giant come and go.
Many dreamed of what it would be like to have a monster like Frank on the end of their line.
In February, Paul Crews lived that dream.
Fishing with four-pound test line and a sculpin-colored marabou jig, he hooked that monstrous brown trout in shallow water and fought it for 20 minutes.
When he finally landed it with the help of his fishing partner, Jim Rayfield Sr., he realized he had something special.
Fishermen who watched Crews land the giant trout contacted Phil Lilley at Lilley’s Landing, the site of the tournament Crews and Rayfield were fishing in, and informed him they had a huge fish.
By the time they got to the dock, Lilley had a tank ready to revive the fish and keep it healthy.
When Lilley set his eyes on the trophy brown, he knew right away it was Frank.
“His shape is very distinctive,” Lilley says. “He has a high back and a hump, and his dorsal fin is small compared to the rest of his body.”
Once Frank was revived, he was transported to the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery to be officially weighed.
He tipped the scale at 34 pounds, 10 ounces—easily breaking the former Missouri state record of 28 pounds, 12 ounces caught at Taneycomo ten years before.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Lilley, Crews, and others worked feverishly to make sure Frank could survive the trauma of the day and be released in good health. They cradled the fish and ran lake water through its gills until he showed signs he was ready to swim off.
Then they watched as the giant brown descended with a flip of its tail.
Lilley, Crews and others who gathered assumed Frank would survive.
“I was hoping that he would make it, but you never know,” Crews said. “I thought he might swim off to deep water and never be seen again.”
But Frank has a flair for the dramatic.
Three weeks after he was caught, Lilley and Duane Doty, a dockhand and guide at Lilley’s, spotted the giant trout back in the shadows of their dock and even got underwater video of the fish on patrol.
“It looked like he was back in his routine,” Lilley said.
“Big fish are attracted to docks like ours because they’ll feed on the remains that are thrown into the water by people cleaning fish.”
“I don’t think he lives here. Some of these bigger trout will just make the rounds, cruising some of the docks, then dropping back to deeper water.”
When Frank shows up at Lilley’s, he instantly becomes a tourist attraction. Crowds gather on the docks to gawk and take photos of the celebrity fish.
Lilley doesn’t have to worry about anyone trying to hook the trophy brown. He doesn’t allow fishing under his docks or behind the cables. And he has security cameras mounted on the dock to discourage anyone from even trying.
For Crews, a veteran fisherman from Neosho, Mo., it was the unexpected fish of a lifetime.
He only fishes for trout one day a year, usually in the Vince Elfrink Memorial Tournament, named in honor of one of his former fishing buddies.
“I love fishing for crappies and white bass, but I don’t get out that often for trout,” Crews said. “I fish this tournament, because Vince was a good friend of mine.”
Just the same, Crews fought the fish with the expertise of a veteran trout fisherman.
“I had just caught a rainbow that was nothing special, and this fish felt the same way when he hit,” Crews said. “But once he figured out what was going on, he made a long run. The line was sizzling out of my reel.”
“I couldn’t do a thing with him. He was the boss.”
Crews and Rayfield used their trolling motor to chase the giant brown, which ran to the other side of the lake and then halfway back again. Finally, Crews won the exhausting tug of war.
He figures the fish he and Rayfield pulled into the boat was more than a mile from where it had been spotted at Lilley’s.
“I was just worn out; my arms felt like they would at the end of a race,” Crews said. “But the fish was worn out, too. I think I just outlasted him.”
Today, Crews is just happy that Frank survived and seems to be still living the good life at Lake Taneycomo.
“I didn’t want to kill that fish,” he said. “I’m glad all of the effort we put in to revive him paid off.”