Indianapolis, Indiana USA
Man holds state record 20 years after he hauled in a flier.
Harold Otte baits his hook as he attempts to catch a flier at the site where
he caught his state record fish 20 years ago. In the background, John Maxwell
of the state Department of Natural Resources also fishes for a flier. -- Rob
Goebel / The Star
By George McLaren
April 28, 2003
When Harold Otte yanked on his fishing pole one day back in 1983 and hauled
in 31/2 ounces of hard-fighting fish, he had no idea it had just earned him
20 years of fame.
Actually, "hauling in" might be a little overstated. The truth is, it didn't
fight that hard. And that fame thing? He never did land an endorsement
contract from Zebco.
But his catch was a state record, a real whopper.
Well, the story is a whopper. The fish was tiny.
And he has endured 20 years of abuse from his family and friends over it.
"I've never seen so much to-do about such a little fish in my life," is how
Harold's wife, Mary E. Otte, puts it.
Her husband's mighty fish -- all of 71/2 inches -- was a flier, a seldom-seen
species of panfish. It's so rare, in fact, that his little fish has stood
tall for two decades, making it one of the oldest records on the books.
It also has the distinction of being Indiana's smallest biggest fish, right
there on the list with the 106-pound paddlefish, 104-pound blue catfish and
14-pound largemouth bass.
But Otte didn't know it was a record at the time. Shoot, he didn't even know
what he had caught.
It was a weird-looking little dude, greenish and spotted, with rounded fins
that gave the fish the shape of a dinner plate.
OK, more like a saucer.
"I knew it wasn't a bluegill," Otte said recently during a visit to the site
of his famous fishing triumph on the banks of Mill Creek near Vallonia.
The fish even stumped the state biologist at the nearby Driftwood State Fish
Hatchery. He had to go look it up.
"It looked like a cross between a bluegill and a crappie," recalled Larry
Lehman, still a fisheries biologist at the Department of Natural Resources
"It was the first time anybody walked in the door and said, 'Hey, what is
this?' " Lehman said.
In more than 20 years on the job, Lehman says, he's seen only a handful of
the little fliers. Other state biologists have documented a dozen or so in
slow-moving creeks in southern Indiana. They are more widespread in Southern
states, but even there, records top only 1 pound.
Otte's "monster," as he calls it, probably swam upstream from the Muscatatuck
River, navigating a narrow creek but getting stopped by the dam at Starve
There stood Otte, an assembly worker for Cummins who lived in Seymour at the
time. (He's now retired and living in Greenwood.)
It could have been dinner
With his son and a friend fishing nearby, Otte was on the creek bank that
April 15, 1983, armed with his trusty Zebco 33 spincasting reel, his hook
baited with a worm.
He felt a tug, and after a brief struggle, brought in the puzzling little
fish. He put it on the stringer with the bluegills and others he was saving
Supper would have to wait. History was about to be made.
In fact, he still can't tell you how fliers taste -- he had this one mounted
by a taxidermist who had offered to stuff any state-record fish for free.
It hangs proudly on the wall in vivid fish pose, attached to a piece of
driftwood. The colors on the flier are a little off, but who could blame the
taxidermist? He'd never seen one, either.
Nearby are Otte's other trophies, including his 7-pound largemouth bass and a
31/2-pound crappie, both caught in an Indiana lake in the 1980s.
"I also caught a 7-pound walleye out of Hardy Lake," Otte said. "But I ate
Otte, now 72, has a little trouble hearing and a bum memory.
"I can't remember names, I'm real bad about that. But, hey, I remember fish,"
An angler today
He still casts out a line whenever he can and managed to pull nearly a dozen
bluegills from Mill Creek while being interviewed about his flier.
Back in '83, he remembered, there was a big stir caused by that little fish.
"There was a question, should we let a little fish like this be a record?"
"From my end," he said, "I was in favor of it. I said, 'Let's go ahead.' But
they had to mull it over a little bit."
In the end, the DNR bosses decided that the little flier was record-worthy
and wrote Otte's name in the big-fish book.
"My wife, she laughs at me," he said. "We've had a lot of enjoyment out of
that fish. People will call up and want to know what it is; they'll want to
know if they can come see it and stuff like that."
He doesn't mind showing off the trophy, and he pulled it from his red SUV the
other day to hold it up for pictures.
"Isn't that a monster?" he said with a grin as big as his little fish.
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