Cale Sanders holds his record fish before he released it back into the lake. (Courtesy photo)
By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
Two years after his college football career ended, Cale Sanders made one of his most famous catches.
Sanders, a teacher and coach at Roswell’s Goddard High School, landed a state-record smallmouth bass Friday evening at Ute Lake.
“No one in the state has caught a bigger smallmouth,” Sanders said. “I was pretty blown away about the whole thing.”
The catch, verified in Logan later that night, was measured at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Caught on a crank bait in 11 feet of water, Sanders’ fish broke a record that had stood since May 15, 1999, when David L. Young reeled in a 6-pound, 14-ounce smallmouth at Navajo Lake.
Sanders said he was on the lake with his dog and pulled in the fish. He’d caught bigger fish in his life, but had a feeling this fish was different. After measuring the fish, he pulled out his cell phone. The call was to his father-in-law, Kyle Beckner of Portales, who told him the smallmouth bass record was 6 pounds, 14 ounces.
“I told him I’m holding the new state record,” Sanders said.
Since he wasn’t sure how to register the catch, he made a visit to Ruf-Nec Tackle, a bait shop in Logan. Ben Newton, the shop’s owner, said he was as excited as Sanders.
“For the last several years, we haven’t had any of the state records here,” Newton said. “This was really important for our lake.”
The fish, still alive, was placed in a 160-gallon reserve water tank normally used for live bait. Newton said the next step was to call Josh Waldrip, a regional game warden. A call was also placed to Eric Frey, Northeast Area Fisheries Manager for the Department of Game and Fish.
After the process had been completed, it was 10:30 p.m. The trip ended later that night at Ute Lake, when Sanders returned the fish to the lake.
Throughout his football career, Sanders felt the first thing to do after a touchdown catch was to hand the ball to the referee. With that in mind, he felt returning the fish was a similar action.
“I’ve always been taugt to act like you’ve been there before,” Sanders said.
Newton said he was impressed by Sanders’ choice.
“I told him he had every right to keep and mount his fish,” Newton said, “and nobody would have a bad feeling about it.”
“He said, ‘No, I just want a good picture.’ That’s class.”
Sanders said he tries to fish at Ute Lake 10 to 15 times a year, and in college he would schedule classes only on Tuesdays and Thursdays so he would have time for fishing trips.
“I fish every chance I get, ever since I could hold a pole,” Sanders said. “Other than playing football, that’s what I was doing (growing up).”