Laken Fleming, of Bridgeport, W.Va., landed a massive carp at Stonewall Jackson Lake, Sunday, June 5, 2016. The 33-inch, 14.25-pound common carp – caught on Fleming’s custom-made six-weight fly rod with a hand-tied cicada fly – is unofficially, but very likely, a new International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world record.
“When I had him on the line, I knew it wasn’t a guarantee that it was going to be a world record, but once I got him in the boat I could see it was evident this could be a contender,” said the 20-year-old West Virginia University senior and oldest daughter of Curtis Fleming, host of Fly Rod Chronicles on Outdoor Channel. “And then my mind kind of went blank. I mean how do you put into words that you’re about to break a world record?”
Caught on her sixth cast – at sun-up Sunday at Stonewall Jackson Lake – the 14-pounder didn’t just break the record; it shattered it.
The IGFA category, which Laken was out to beat, was a common carp (Cyprinus carpio) on a 12-pound-test line.
As verified by Jack Vitek, IGFA World Records Coordinator, the current women’s 12-tippet-class world record (fly rod) for common carp is currently 8 pounds.
“It was caught by angler Dotty Ballantyne on June 30, 2015, while fishing the Missouri River in Montana,” Vitek said.
After submitting supporting evidence including photos and the actual leader and tippet, Laken awaits approval by the IGFA.
“It’s a pretty complicated process,” Curtis Fleming said. “Although the official decision is pending, we feel really, really confident that she’s got the record.”
The petite, 110-pound fisherwoman said the carp put up quite a fight, which went on for about 20 minutes.
“I have fought sharks in the Bahamas and Belize, but I had yet to fight a fish in the U.S. that fought as hard as this carp did,” Laken said.
Accompanying her on the fishing boat were her dad, Curtis, and their friend, Rick Heim.
“Rick broke the record on the men’s side 17 years ago,” Curtis said. “He was with Doc (Frank) Oliverio who had taught half the state of West Virginia how to fly fish. He lived for this 17-year cicada hatch. He's no longer with us, so for Rick to pass this down to Laken is pretty cool.”
Laken Fleming (with the fly rod) keeps pressure a hooked carp, while her father, Curtis Fleming (middle), and family friend, Rick Heim, observe the ensuing battle between angler and fish. Little did they know, at the time, the carp at the end of the line was a potential IGFA world record. (Ben Queen photo)
Being the year of the 17-year cicada hatch is vital to the world-record attempt, Curtis explained.
“First of all, fish love them. They are filet mignon for them,” he said. “And they make the fish vulnerable. Carp are known as bottom feeders, but now that there are prime cicadas out there for them, they are looking up.”
The summer of 2016 is prime time fishing in the Mountain State.
“Our fish here in the State of West Virginia will all put weight on them this summer. It’s a great time to catch fish,” he said.
All components of the world-record attempt had a West Virginia flavor. Laken’s cicada fly was crafted and tied by Joe Messenger. Her blue, personalized high-end graphite fly rod was custom made for her small frame by Mark Crouse.
In addition to the potential record-breaking carp, Laken has a handful of memorable catches, including a nearly 5-foot black tip shark and several bone fish caught in the deep blue waters of the Caribbean and a 33-inch brown trout caught in southwest Virginia.
The whopper carp she caught was actually her very first one. She seems to have that kind of stigma in the world of fishing and hunting.
“This past December was my first bow kill and I got a 10-point whitetail in Kentucky,” she said. “And my first-ever kill was an alligator in Jupiter, Florida”
Laken has been fly fishing with her dad since she was about 10 years old. She remembers her very first catch.
“I remember I had big buck teeth and a gap between them and I was standing at a farm pond at 4H Camp in Randolph County, West Virginia,” she said. “I was taking a fly fishing casting class with my mom (Shelly) and my sister (Autumn). My first catch was a bluegill and I was very excited.”
Curtis said those 10 years have flown by, but they have groomed Laken to be a pretty serious fisherman. “She definitely has the bug," he said. She confirmed and she believes it’s a mixture of inheriting her dad’s passion and the environment in which she and Autumn were raised.
“One thing that is special about my dad’s job is that he always has the opportunity to invite us on these trips,” she said. “I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors and I’ve always said that when I’m on the water, I’m a happy camper.”
The June 5 fishing excursion at Stonewall Jackson Lake was filmed and will be featured in a 2017 episode of Fly Rod Chronicles on Outdoor Channel.
“The episode will highlight tourism and the state and show people that we have great fishing in the central part of our State of West Virginia,” Curtis said.
And he couldn’t be more proud of the 14-pound carp than if he caught it himself.
“I was even more excited than if I would have caught it,” he said. “I was just sitting back, taking it all in.”
In August, Laken will start her senior year at West Virginia University, where she is earning an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology. She thereafter plans to continue her education by entering the physician's assistant program at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W. Va.
Learn more about “Fly Rod Chronicles” at flyrodchronicles.tv. Keep up with “FRC” on Facebook and follow @FRCcrew and @Laken_fleming on Twitter.