Andy Moore simply slid the fish back into the water and watched it glide away under the ice.
It wasn't the triumphant ending many fishermen might have dreamed of after catching a potential state record, but it was the right one for Moore and his brother Scott.
“Qualifying a fish for a state record, you more than likely have to kill it,” Andy Moore said. “I wasn't prepared to do that.”
On a 15-degree day in mid-December, Moore pulled what he thought was a white crappie from an icy pond not far from Omaha.
The Moores shot some quick video of the fish being measured at 19 inches. After doing the calculations, they figured it weighed 5 pounds. The state record for a white crappie is 4.1 pounds.
With the help of Daryl Bauer, fisheries outreach program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks, the catch was later determined to be a black crappie. That record is 4.8 pounds.
To verify it as a record, the Moores would have had to drive about an hour to either the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium or to the Game and Parks office in Lincoln to have it certified by a Game and Parks employee.
Andy Moore figures he might have kept the fish alive on the way there but not on the way back.
He decided the fish and its future offspring were just too valuable to the pond. So he let it go.
“Any fish that's rare or a trophy fish or a Master Angler size always goes back (in the water) in my book,” he said.
“It's just good for the gene pool and good for somebody else if they catch it. I'm a firm believer in that. Too bad people don't do it, especially in our Metro lakes.”
Moore's roots as a catch-and-release supporter go back to the age of 6 or 7, when he caught a carp and brought it home.
“My dad was like, 'Now you have to clean and eat it,' ” Moore said. “I didn't want to clean it nor did I want to eat it. So I just caught fish and threw them back.”
His passion for fishing goes back even further. His mom, Dian Warren, swears it was the Fisher-Price aquarium in his crib that he watched for hours.
As a youngster growing up in Elkhorn, he fished nearly every day. His record was 349 days on the water when he was in college.
Moore, 43, couldn't major in fishing at the University of Nebraska, so the longtime doodler turned to art. He owns a successful custom art service that supplies decorative art and specialty finishes.
He recently began painting salmon flies. He has plans to paint fish closeups.
“Fish selfies,” he said. “Eyeballs or scales or just the color. That's my next venture.”
Despite running a business and raising three children with his wife, Shelby, Moore said he's out fishing two to three times in a good week. He's indoctrinating the kids, too.
He has fished all the public lakes in the area, and said he's pulled a Master Angler fish from all of them. He is a member of the Toads Angling Alliance club, which concentrates on fishing public waters.
Wehrspann is a favorite and so is Walnut Creek.
“Everybody in my club is a lot like me,” he said. “We understand what fishing does to the soul. It's not just about catching a fish and eating it. We're definitely driven differently. It's hard to explain.”
Moore understands why Game and Parks requires that state-record fish be weighed on a certified scale. You can't determine a record by length, he said, because all fish have different girths.
Bauer said unless you have a holding tank in the back of a truck, the fish is likely going to die during the trip to be weighed.
But the rules won't change, because too many anglers catch the big one that got away.
The Master Angler program operates on the honor system. State records do not.
Bauer supports catch and release. If anglers would measure a trophy fish and let it go, he's willing to publicize the catch as an unofficial state record.
“I have at least a half-dozen stories every year about fish that supposedly would have been big enough to be new state records, and for one reason or another they were never certified,” Bauer said. “In most of those cases, the fish were not close to being new state records in the first place.”
Moore isn't despairing about the state record. He knew what he was doing when he released it. Maybe the fish will weigh a few more pounds come spring, when it's heavy with eggs.
He'll be there waiting.
“Everybody fishes for a different reason. Some for food, fun, adventure or the experience,” he said. “I'm one of those that just likes the experience of fishing. That feeling you get when the fish hits.”
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Video: Moore's catch