"I knew it was the biggest one I ever caught," he said.
More than that, it was the biggest tiger muskie ever caught in Maryland.
On Tuesday Conner's record catch was commemorated when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources presented him with a fiberglass replica of the gold, tiger-striped fish at Greenbrier State Park. The state had two replicas made; the other will be used by DNR in its educational programs and promotional campaigns.
Despite the record, Conner couldn't resist telling a fish story when he looked at the replica.
"It seems to me it was bigger," he said of the original catch.
Conner caught the fish while standing on the West Virginia bank of the Potomac, just below Dam No. 5 south of Clear Spring. He said he was using a 15-pound test line, baited with a plastic worm.
The fish hit his line so hard, Conner's first thought was that he must have caught his hook on a tree limb or something else underwater. But then he saw the tiger muskie pass in front of him, the start of a back-and-forth fight that would last 10 to 15 minutes before Conner could reel in the whopper.
"He was putting up a struggle," he said.
Once on shore, the fish was subdued by Conner and a friend. It was later weighed to verify it was a record. The fish was killed and its skin is being kept by the state.
The previous record for tiger muskie was held by Richard "Yogi" Sword of Clear Spring, who caught a 27-pound fish measuring 46 inches.
The tiger muskie is a sterile, hybrid fish produced by crossing a muskellunge with a northern pike. The result is a fast-growing fish, tolerant of high temperatures that is easier to catch than a true muskellunge.
In 1989 the state began stocking the Potomac River with about 2,000 fish a year, with the goal of producing trophy-sized fish to attract sport anglers. Conner's catch affirms that effort, officials said.
"It means our program has been successful," said John Mullican, a biologist with the DNR's fisheries division.
Mullican estimated from the size of Conner's fish that it might have been swimming in the Potomac since the stocking program began, and he didn't rule out the possibility there are larger ones still out there.
Conner, an assistant manager at the Food 4 Less grocery store in Martinsburg, W.Va., said he'll probably show photos of the replica to co-workers and friends. The replica itself will probably be mounted on a wall in his game room.
Conner had thoughts about putting the fish on his living room wall, but that plan was nixed by his wife, Tracy.
"It doesn't match the decor," Tracy Conner said.