Fish This!

The two that got away


“Sometimes you get the fish, sometimes the fish get you.” –Anonymous fishing cliche
The above was certainly coined by a fisherman who had felt the sting of defeat at the fins of an aquatic inhabitant. If you read the words carefully, you can get a sense of the utter disgust and brooding despair he was feeling.
Obviously the saying caught on with other dismayed anglers who felt the hollow void of losing the product of their pursuit. So deep is the chasm of this lament, the saying is now a tired retread spoken in everyday vernacular by those left at the altar, making payments on a broken down lemon from a used car lot, or sitting alone at a black jack table at four in the morning with empty pockets.
Going back to the roots of this quote is impossible. The source of the saying chose to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, most likely a combination of self conscious humiliation and unbridled rage.
I have been unlucky enough to feel this unfortunate series of emotions.
Such was the case earlier this week on Memorial Day weekend in the Yukon –where the sun was shining, the fish were biting, and one angler did everything right only to watch events go horribly wrong.
It started at 5:30 in the morning on the brand new walking bridge in Carcross. Steel girders and pylons have replaced the rickety wooden span, which was closed off to anglers for a few years, lest someone painfully discover the structural integrity had been compromised.
This is progress in the Yukon, a multi-million dollar bridge spanning a section of river about 60-feet wide. It’s good to see their priorities are in the right place and money is being spent on what most self-respecting Yukoners truly love – fishing.
Before the old walking bridge fell victim to age, currents, sunlight, and random fires intentionally set by cold fishermen, it was a hotspot for lake trout throughout the summer. Most lakers would average three to seven pounds with the occasional trophy being caught, but it was the bridge which made it possible to target fish with regularity.
Strong currents run through the bottleneck where the bridge lies between Nares Lake and Lake Bennett. Fishing from shore made it difficult, if not impossible, to properly present a lure to hungry trout.
Grayling, ciscoe, and other smaller varieties of fish feed in the currents, using the structure of the bridge for protection. Trout know where they hide, and cruise the shallows like midnight shadows in a child’s nightmare.
In the bright, early morning light of a quiet Carcross morning I stepped onto the new bridge and peered over the side. Grayling were everywhere. In what appeared to be one massive school of fish numbering into the thousands, the sail-finned salmonids swam back and forth from the bottom to the surface attacking bugs falling into and swept along by the current.
It took a few changes of the lure, but within an hour I already had three grayling which would soon be coupled with eggs over-easy and a side of white toast.
As I cast into the school waiting for another bite, the grayling suddenly started acting strange. The school separated into two factions as though Moses himself had done the parting. In the no man’s land between, a hulking silhouette lurched along the bottom.
Moments passed before my brain made the connection as to what my eyes were seeing.
Lake trout – at least 20-pounds – change lure – move fast.
Even though my brain only speaks caveman at six in the morning, I was still able to scurry to my tackle box and tie on a large yellow spoon with poise and dexterity.
I cast to position where I thought the trout would be, let the lure sink, and gave the reel a couple of turns.
I was surprised when the trout hit without hesitation. Success on the first cast is rare, and some even claim it’s bad luck.
What I felt on the other end of the line was pulling back, but it did not have the heft of a 20-pound trout. As I worked the fish toward shore it broke the surface – a nice laker in the 5-pound range, perfect for the table.
I managed to get down onto the shore and as I reached out my hand to pull the fish from the water it made a twist and the hook fell free. I barely had time to curse before it swam out of sight.
When this happens I always think of another tired, old adage – “the one that got away.” It is a saying meant to rib fellow anglers who share their stories of large fish they tangled with, while producing no food for the table.
Some say it was an expression born from men who wanted to convince their wives they weren’t wasting their time while kicking back with the boys sipping brews for hours on end.
The saying actually has more merit than one might think. There are a lot of fishermen, and any fish who manages to grow to officially-sanctioned lunker size must have bested his share of weekend anglers.
So yeah, this was the one that got away. I could accept that and possibly even laugh about it a few years from now. But while I walked back onto the bridge there was only one thought pumping through my skull, and I remembered why obsessions can be unhealthy.
While one trout was sporting a sore lip, I had seen his bigger brother and I knew there was a possibility for a second chance.
A friend in Carcross sympathized with my lament and offered me a frozen ciscoe for bait after I told him my story of the one that got away.
I rigged it up to a double-hooked salmon rig and free-lined it into the current.
Other people were working their way onto the bridge by this point, and at times they caught a glimpse of the cruising lunker.
“It must go at least 20 pounds,” one fellow said.
“That’s what I thought,” I answered.
Still, an hour passed with nothing more than a steady breeze to make the line flutter. That is, until the rod tip began to twitch.
I lifted the rig in anticipation and as the line started to stiffen I released the bail, giving the fish more of a chance to swallow the bait. As the rod made one long, final sweeping pull I reared back with all my might to set the hook.
The rod bent double – this fish had some serious weight. The drag was tight, but it was still managing to pull out line in strong, short bursts.
An angler next to me saw what was happening and had the good sense to call out, “Fish on!” – a signal to other fisherman that it was time to reel in their lines and clear a path for the new predator on the block.
About 60 seconds into the fight the line unexpectedly went slack. All that was left was two bare hooks which once held bait. The same fisherman who yelled for the others to clear a path moments before said, “I guess he got away, eh?”
Exercising considerable restraint over my vocabulary and the sudden urge to hurl a Canadian into the cold Yukon water, I packed up my gear and made my way off the bridge.
It appears the trout are back in Carcross. If things keep going the same way for this embittered angler they will be for some years to come.