By Ethan Hunt/DWR
Photos by courtesy of Josh Dolin
On his second cast of the day into the Cowpasture River, Josh Dolin thought he had caught a trophy brown trout. “That fish hit and it was just screaming drag,” Dolin said. But when he landed the fish, it turned out that instead he had broken the state record for a different species. “I fought it and got it to shore and it was a big fallfish.
“I put it on my spring scale and it went past 3 ½ pounds,” Dolin said. “So I knew I had a potential state record.”
At the official certification with a Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Conservation Police Officer (CPO) witnessing, his fallfish weighed in at 3 lb, 9.5 oz—half an ounce more than the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) record and 4.5 oz more than the previous state record that had been set by Jerry Hall in 2021, also in the Cowpasture.
DWR started recognizing fallfish as a trophy species in its Online Virginia Angler Recognition Program in 2020, with the first record being set that year and another in 2021. Fallfish are the largest native minnow species in Virginia. “Attributes such as a torpedo-shaped body, large tail, and silvery appearance together with an impressive fighting ability as earned the fallfish the nicknames of ‘Shenandoah tarpon’ and James River bonefish,’ ” said Mike Pinder, DWR fisheries biologist. Read more about the fallfish in the Virginia Wildlife article “Fallfish: Little Tarpon of the Commonwealth.”
On May 6, the day of the record catch, Dolin still had a shad spoon rigged from his previous weekend outing fishing for shad. He said he wasn’t “super prepared to do anything.” But after the three-hour drive from his native Richmond to the Cowpasture River and one-mile hike to his fishing spot, he got straight to casting.
Dolin said he got three photos of his record fallfish “before the skies opened up with heavy, cold rain. It was kind of a unique moment.”
After documenting the catch, Dolin’ luck ran out as he hiked away from the river in the rain and then got a flat tire soon after getting to his truck. He was stuck with little cell service until around 9 p.m. So, it wasn’t until May 9 that he, with the help of CPO Justin Hall, could officially record, weigh, and process his catch with DWR.
To beat an IGFA record, a catch must weigh 2 ounces more than the previous record. Because of that, his fallfish tied the existing IGFA record, but Dolin, a Master Angler IV, isn’t bothered.
“I’m almost certain there’s a bigger one waiting to be caught, probably a four-pounder,” he said.
Prior to the fallfish catch, Dolin had been trying to catch the state record longnose gar. “I kind of want to up the ante. Instead of just the citation stuff, I think there’s a bunch of state records on the list that are doable,” he said.
The fallfish was his 23rd unique species trophy fish, placing him only two unique trophies away from Master Angler V status, something Dolin says he’s been working on since high school.
“When I graduated and got my license and got a kayak, I just started out kind of going after the citations and the master angler program and all that,” he said. “And it’s been just a steady climb over the last decade.”
Dolin said any other anglers trying to catch fallfish shouldn’t “try too hard.”
“If you want to catch a big fallfish, your best bet is to go trout fishing. Because then you’ll catch a ton of them,” he said.