Caught on the Fly

Grant Martinsen of Grants Pass holds a 71 1/2-pound Rogue River chinook salmon that is a pending world fly-fishing record. Submitted photoJulia Moore

When Grant Martinsen gently guided the fall chinook salmon into fellow flyfisher Binky Castleberry's net on the lower Rogue River, he pondered whether to take his fly out and let his fish go free.

But a quick look at its bright skin revealed that the large male salmon — Martinsen figured it weighed maybe 50 pounds — would be perfect for the barbecue.

Jackson County's largest rainbow trout also happens to be a state record.

That belongs to Eagle Point's Mike McGonagle, who in 1982 caught a 28-pound rainbow trout in the Rogue River. The fish likely was a former Cole Rivers Hatchery brood trout released into the Rogue.

Here are some other largest big-game animal records set in Jackson County as recognized by the Boone & Crockett Club, which is the official keeper of big-game records:

  • The largest black bear killed by a bow and arrow was felled by John Souza in 2008. Its skull measured 21 12/16th inches.
  • The largest typical (or symmetrical) black-tailed buck deer antlers belong to a pair of antlers picked up in 1950. Their points and tynes cumulatively measured 178 4/8th inches.
  • For nontypical, or asymmetrical, blacktail antlers, the largest collectively measured 167 1/8 inches from a buck shot in 1971 by Richard Falls.
  • The largest non-typical mule deer shot in Jackson County scored 249 1/8 inches after it was shot by Meryl Loy in 1938. Eastern Jackson County is right at the western edge of mule deer habitat.

— Mark Freeman

"My initial thought was, 'That's not a big deal,' " recalls Martinsen, 65, of Grants Pass. "I wanted to take it home and eat it."

But Castleberry suggested Martinsen take the fish to Jot's Resort to get it weighed and earn a pin for catching a Rogue chinook more than 55 pounds.

"I never did get my pin," he says.

Martinsen instead took the ultimate angling prize — a world record.

That 711/2;-pound chinook caught that October day in 2001 not only is the largest chinook ever caught in the Rogue River Basin, it also remains the largest chinook ever caught on a fly.

And that's not a fish tale. That's verified by the International Game Fish Association, the keeper of real big-fish stories worldwide.

Pictures of Martinsen and the record fish ran Page One across the Northwest, thrusting the shy former Grants Pass High School football coach and biology teacher into angling's global spotlight.

Even the British Broadcasting Corp. called for a live radio interview.

The bright light those 15 minutes of fame shone on Martinsen remains a small bulb trained his way a decade later.

"Every few months you bump into somebody who remembers, 'You're that guy who caught the record fish,' " Martinsen says. "Well, I hope I'm more than that."

The 2001 run of fall chinook was loaded with larger-than-usual fish, with a slew of records falling during a two-week flurry before Martinsen's fish topped them all.

For his feat, Martinsen received a few Orvis reels and fly lines in exchange for the company's right to boast that the world record chinook was caught on their gear, he says.

His celebrity status, and that of the fish, still lasts today.

A life-size cutout of Martinsen and his massive chinook is the unofficial greeter in the Gold Beach Chamber of Commerce's tourist room in town. For years, the cutout made the rounds of outdoor shows, including in Medford.

"We took my grandkids to that outdoor show and while we were in there, they came running around the corner saying, "There's a great big picture of you over there,'" he says, laughing.

"I never did get a picture of me with it," Martinsen says.

Despite landing in the "-est" crowd, Martinsen never did parlay his feat into a local fiefdom like other outdoor record-holders do.

He still fishes regularly on the Rogue, but it's more about getting outside and catching fish than setting records.

"I fish for table fare," he says.

Martinsen says he hasn't dwelled on his status or that of the biggest salmon the Rogue Valley has ever seen come out of the river that runs through it.

"I guess it's a neat memory," he says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.