Fish Story

by Matthew Schaefer

While re-processing the personal papers of Senator Bourke Hickenlooper, I came across a folder labeled ‘Fish, 1954-1966.’  This was an odd title, and less descriptive than one would hope.  Being a curious cat, I further investigated this fishy folder.  It contained dozens of letters, newspaper clippings, receipts and photographs documenting Hickenlooper’s landing of a behemoth rainbow trout while fishing in Bolivia.

Map of Lake Titicaca. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/south-america/bolivia/copacabana-and-lake-titicaca/

Acting in his capacity as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hickenlooper traveled to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru in the fall of 1954.  While there, he spent the morning of October 2nd fishing with former Ambassador Edward Sparks, William Dodge and Herbert Hoover, Jr. on Lake Titicaca.  Shortly after 10 AM, a heavy strike dragged his daredevil lure deep into the cold waters.  Whatever it was, it was big.  After a 20-minute struggle, during which the trout leaped fully out of the water six times, Hickenlooper brought the beast into the boat.  Hickenlooper had caught a 34-pound rainbow trout, one of the largest ever caught as reported by the New York Times.

Hickenlooper’s fish was no nine-day wonder.  In 1965, photo-journalist Loren McIntyre, retold the story in an article he was preparing for National Geographic.  The magazine’s fact-checkers, doing their job, contacted Hickenlooper to confirm details offered by McIntyre.  Hickenlooper dutifully edited the manuscript, modifying McIntyre’s description of the fish weighing 37 pounds to report its 34 pound weight – perhaps the first time a fish story shaved size off the fish.

Hickenlooper’s October 2, 1965 letter goes on to say: ‘It was alleged to have been the largest trout ever caught on tackle, and I have been told that is the largest ever caught in Lake Titicaca.’   An avid sportsman, he could not refrain from offering details regarding his gear: ‘I used a Peconic Bay Boat rod made by Horrocks-Ibbotson, a Shakespeare Service Star reel with 12-pound test Wexford Nylon Wonder Line.’  Piscatorial minds want to know.

Hickenlooper closes his letter with shout-out to another Iowa fisherman: ‘These rainbow trout were stocked in Lake Titicaca in 1931 at the direction of President Herbert Hoover, who as an experienced fisherman, realized the deep cold water environment would lead them to thrive.’  Invasive species had not been fully developed as a concept at that time.  Invasive species or not, at least one large rainbow trout would not top the Lake Titicaca food chain.  Hickenlooper has his catch put on ice, mounted and placed on display in his Senate office.

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