Unchallenged for 31 years, South Carolina's state record for brook trout was matched or broken twice in three weeks during late January and February.

The latest angler to put his name in the record book is Bryan Lee of Mauldin, who caught a 2-pound, 12-ounce brookie at Lake Jocassee on Feb. 12.

Lee's catch came three weeks to the day after 9-year-old Riley Dunn of Tygerville pulled a 2-pound, 6.08-ounce from the South Saluda River in Greenville County, matching the state record caught in 1979.

"Catching a brook trout is an honor, but catching a record brook is an even bigger honor," Lee said. "I've been out fishing a lot, but I wasn't looking to catch the state-record brook trout."

Lee was simply looking to catch any trout when fate and good fortune came his way while he and fishing partner Lee Sakovich were practicing the day before the season's fourth Lake Jocassee Trout Tournament. They already had reeled in several brown and rainbow trout apiece when the record fish swallowed a minnow that was drifting in the Toxaway River around 10:30 a.m.

"I thought it was another 2-pound brown, to be honest with you," Lee said. "I was kind of horsing him in, really."

Once in the boat, Lee soon realized that the final piece to his first-ever "Jocassee Slam" - a brown, rainbow and brook trout caught the same day - might warrant closer examination.

"The fish wasn't in real spawning color, and the sides were kind of silverish, but it did have these purple dots and a cheetah-type pattern on its back," Lee said. "That's when I knew it was a brook trout, so I put him in the livewell."

Matt McCreery, another angler who was fishing nearby, suggested they call the S.C. Department of Natural Resources after they weighed the fish at 2.7 pounds. Lee called Dan Rankin, an SCDNR fisheries biologist, but kept right on fishing.

"We were having too much fun, catching fish left and right," Lee said. "Why would I be in a hurry to get off that lake? It was snowing, and it was just beautiful up there."

They finally called it a day around 3 p.m., then took the trout to be weighed on official scales at Durham's Grocery in Six Mile. They then met Rankin, who confirmed the species and also discovered an added bonus - the brookie appeared to be a native fish rather than a stocked trout.

In 20 years of fishing at Jocassee, it was just the third brook trout that Lee had ever caught.

"They're rare and usually very small," Lee said. "Every time we've caught one they've been 10 inches or less. But this one was quite different."

Lee's record catch was 18¼ inches long with a girth of 10 inches.

A 33-year-old who owns his own heating and air conditioning business, Lee said his frequent treks to Jocassee are a welcome getaway.

"Fishing to me is a passion," he said. "I just love doing it - it's not something I need to be rewarded for."

But he'll take it. Lee plans on having a replica mount of the record fish made, but in the meantime he'll just keep on fishing.

"I guess that fish could have lost some weight in the livewell, but that's a chance I was willing to take," Lee said. "You have to understand me. I'm a laid-back angler, and catching a state-record trout isn't something that drives me. It's a great thing - don't get me wrong - but I'm just happy to be out there fishing on what I consider the most beautiful lake on the east coast."

Lee's catch is the sixth state-record fish to be caught at the deep, cold-water mountain reservoir, and gives Jocassee ownership of each of the three trout species in the record book, joining brown (17-9½) and rainbow (11-5). The lake also has produced state records for smallmouth bass (9-7), spotted bass (8-5) and redeye bass (5-2½).