By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
TUCUMCARI — Two years after the end of his college football career at Eastern New Mexico University, Cale Sanders made one of his most famous catches.
Sanders, now a teacher and coach at Roswell’s Goddard High School, landed a state-record smallmouth bass on 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 weighed at 7 pounds, 3 ounces, measuring 26 inches. That weight 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.
According to a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish news release, Sanders caught the record bass on a white crank bait in about 11 feet of water.
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.
While Waldrip was coming up, Newton went online and downloaded the necessary application forms for the state record.
“They went above and beyond helping me out,” Sanders said. “They went out of their way, got the warden there and everything.”
Once Waldrip arrived, the application was taken and the weight was verified at Logan Food Mart — regulations require a measurement from a USDA-certified scale. After the weight was verified, Waldrip checked Sanders’ license and then allowed him to take pictures of the catch.
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 taught 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).”
A 1998 graduate of Goddard, Sanders was a member of the ENMU football program for six years. He redshirted in the 1998 season, and was granted an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA after suffering a season-ending injury before the 2002 season.