He's traveled from the Columbia River to the Great Lakes in search of the walleye of a lifetime, and Saturday evening, March 13, Jared Shypkoski found it just a couple of hours from home.

Shypkoski, of Dickinson, N.D., was trolling crankbaits in the "Cannonball" area of the Missouri River south of Bismarck about an hour before dark Saturday when he hooked into a walleye that is North Dakota's pending new state record.

The behemoth fish measured 33 inches "on the money" and weighed 16.39 pounds on a certified scale.

"I knew it was big, because I could hardly reel on it at all," Shypkoski said Monday night in a phone interview. "I had my drag set where I could reel on it, and it was taking drag. And then it popped to the surface, and I could see it was pretty big."

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The big walleye weighed 16.42 pounds on the scale he had in his boat, Shypkoski said, and 16.39 pounds on the certified scale at Cash Wise Foods on the Bismarck Expressway. A game warden for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department met Shypkoski at the grocery store to witness the fish being weighed.

Social media exploded with the news.

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"It's pretty surreal, still, I guess," Shypkoski said. "I can't believe it, that's for sure. It's been my goal for a lot of years, and I actually didn't ever think I would achieve it.

"It was pretty crazy."

Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said the big walleye isn't yet an official state record.

"We'll make that determination in the weeks ahead," he said.

If it's confirmed, the walleye will break the current record, a 15-pound, 13-ounce walleye Neal Leier of Bismarck caught in May 2018 on the Missouri River south of Bismarck.

Neal Leier of Bismarck caught this 15-pound, 13-ounce walleye in May 2018 on the Missouri River south of Bismarck. The big walleye stands as the state's official state record fish – at least for the time being. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
Neal Leier of Bismarck caught this 15-pound, 13-ounce walleye in May 2018 on the Missouri River south of Bismarck. The big walleye stands as the state's official state record fish – at least for the time being. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

Behemoth walleyes and potential state record fish in North Dakota have been an annual occurrence since Leier's record catch, which snapped a record that had stood since 1959, when Blair Chapman of Minnewaukan, N.D., caught a 15-pound, 12-ounce walleye from Wood Lake in Benson County.

Steeped in controversy, the Chapman fish was the subject of much rumor and speculation over the years that it wasn’t caught on hook-and-line but instead was found floating in the lake.

Then, in April 2019, a Lincoln, N.D., angler caught a 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye on the Heart River that later was disqualified from state record status after the Game and Fish Department determined the fish had been foul hooked.

Last spring, outdoors TV personality Jason Mitchell of Devils Lake released a 34-inch walleye on the Missouri River south of Bismarck that was a full inch-and-a-half longer than Leier's 32½-inch walleye. Instead of keeping the fish as a potential state record, Mitchell decided to savor the memory and call it good.

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“I didn’t want to kill the fish unless I knew for sure,” Mitchell told the Herald in April 2020. “It was an incredible fish I’ll remember vividly my entire life.”

Before Saturday, Shypkoski said his biggest walleye to date was a 31-inch fish he caught on the Columbia River just a couple of weeks ago.

"We caught some big fish out there," he said.

Given the Missouri River's potential for big walleyes in recent years, it's possible Shypkoski's record will be short-lived after it's confirmed.

"I had a buddy tell me he thinks it could be broken a couple times this spring, so we'll see what happens," Shypkoski said. "If it is, good for them."