The Equality State has their first "Ultimate Angler."
The first person to reach the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's toughest fishing challenge has an inspiring story to tell.
The Game and Fish Master Anglers program launched last year and recognizes anglers who catch fish meeting or exceeding a certain minimum length for each species. There are three different tiers anglers can achieve, Master Angler is for anglers who catch one fish of qualifying length. Trophy Angler recognizes fishermen and women who catch five.
But the "Ultimate Angler" top honor is the toughest of all. In order to qualify, fishermen must have at least 10 qualifying catches. The first angler to do it is 60-year-old Danny Kurttila, an angler with a lifetime of fishing experience.
But what makes his story even better is the fact he accomplished this while battling bone cancer. He first received that diagnosis four years ago, but it didn't slow down his fishing any!
"I didn't know if I was the first one or not, I just wanted to make sure I had enough entries before I sent them all in," Kurttila said in a Game and Fish press release. "When I was first diagnosed (with cancer) I was told I only had a few months to live. I guess the chemo worked well or I'm too stubborn because I'm still around."
Kurttila didn't just meet the minimum requirements, he exceeded them by catching 11 different species. His qualifying fish were brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, largemouth bass, northern pike, rainbow trout, sauger, splake, sunfish, tiger muskie and walleye.
The minimum lengths for some of these eligible species weren't easy. For instance, the minimum tiger muskie length is 38 inches and the minimum brown trout length is 23 inches. The 16-inch minimum may not seem huge for largemouth bass, but one must consider Wyoming isn't traditionally known as a bass state.
"Tiger muskies are the hardest," Kurttila said in the press release. "I've caught a lot of tiger muskies, but I've fished for them for a long time. That is my favorite fish. Northern pike is my second."
That tiger muskie catch came from Weston County's LAK Reservoir. Kurttila said he travelled to Park County's Sunshine Reservoir for the splake and cutthroat trout qualifiers and Crook County's Keyhole Reservoir for the northern pike.
However, most of Kurttila's catches came closer to his Riverton home, in Fremont County's Wind River drainage. What makes his feat even more impressive than the fact he was dealing with a major health issues is the fact that all the catches came in a five-month time frame.
He further told Wyoming Fish and Game that he plans to keep checking new fish species that meet length requirements off the list. It sounds to us like fishing was the best medicine for this guy!