He broke a six-year-old state record with a 25-yard cast on a rod he built himself. And he’s just 13.
Sugarland, Texas, eighth-grader Nick Rizopoulos topped the existing state fly fishing record for common snook with a 29-inch, 6.5 pound fish he caught in the Brownsville Ship Channel Nov. 25.
It wasn’t the first of the 10 snook he caught during a two-day fishing trip with South Padre Island fishing guide Capt. Eric Glass, but it was the biggest.
“On that cast I got a big old hit and the snook just took off,” Rizopoulos said. “I hadn’t really grasped the size of the fish until we got it back to the boat. I was just really happy — it’s one of the best fish I’ve caught in my life.”
Rizopoulos measured the fish and then weighed it on a hand-held scale before releasing it. The scale has since been certified by the International Game Fish Association, making the catch eligible for both a junior division and all-ages state fly fishing record.
Because snook are a semi-tropical species with a tenuous, if growing, toehold in Texas, current regulations allow only one fish per day between 24 and 28 inches.
“We had a big discussion before we went and said: ‘If we catch a fish that’s in the slot, what do we do?’” said John Rizopoulos, Nick’s father.
His son’s answer? Let it go, whether it’s in the slot or not.
“I would have hated to kill that fish; it was so beautiful,” Nick said. “It’s so much better if you have the option to put the fish back in the water so it can live.”
The relatively warm waters of the Lower Laguna Madre offer Texans the best shot at a snook, and fish that nudge the scales into double digits are not unheard of. But the hard-hitting gamefish are elusive and are rarely caught by accident.
“I personally have caught or watched people catch probably a thousand snook on flies,” said Glass, who has guided anglers in the area for more than a decade. “I’d say they average maybe 17 to 25 inches. You probably have to catch 15 or 20 to get a 29-incher. It’s not an average-size snook. I think it’s an accomplishment for a 13-year-old to catch one that size on a fly.”
Rizopoulos caught the fish on a gray and white mullet imitation tied by Glass
The snook isn’t the angler’s first record. In fact, Rizopoulos now holds six of the nine junior division fly fishing records currently listed on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Web site.
Rizopoulos said he realized more than a year ago that a number of the fly fishing records in the junior division were either wide-open or beatable. During a 2004 Thanksgiving trip to the southern tip of Texas he set records for red drum, ladyfish, jack crevalle and gray snapper.
The day before catching his record snook, he broke the existing spotted seatrout record with a respectable 22.5-inch, 3 lb., 6 oz. fish. And he’s nowhere close to being done.
Rizopoulos said he is looking forward to coming out of the junior division at age 17 with a lot of experience and — as he put it — more money for better gear.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “It’s going to get much crazier.”
Glass said Rizopoulos is probably the most proficient young long-rodder he’s ever fished with.
“He’s a precocious kid,” he said. “I’ve fished with him since he was 9. He’s just one of those kids who’s good at everything he tries to do. He’s a great guitar player and an honor student. He decided he was going to become a really good fly caster and he has.”
Rizopoulos’ father, John, bought his son his first fly rod half a decade ago and watched him practice on ponds near their home. He credits his son’s success in part to Glass’ patient coaching, but also to Nick’s dedication and determination.
“When he puts his mind to something, he likes to do really well,” the elder Rizopoulos said. “He sets objectives and then he works really, really hard to achieve them.”
Nick said that, while the records pursuit is fun, it’s not the reason he fishes.
“If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be out there,” he said. “The records are nice, but I can tell you: the best sound in the world is a screaming fly reel. Holding a fish that you’ve caught — maybe after you’ve had a ‘skunk’ day — it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Rizopoulos ties many of the flies he uses — “Nick’s purple crab” has proved surprisingly effective on red drum — and he built his 9-weight rod from a Sage blank.
The only thing he said he doesn’t like about the sport is the lack of friendly competition: “I think more kids should get into fly fishing because I’m kind of lonely here.”
Not that the lack of company is likely to slow him down much. His next goal: a Texas tarpon. The fly fishing category for that species is currently wide-open, for both kids and adults.