By Rick Fowler
I have landed many nice fish during the many decades I’ve been angling. A few come to mind: the 6 pound walleye taken off the end of our U.P. dock one evening. The 140 pound Black Marlin caught off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico and a 40 inch angry Canadian Northern Pike boated after a lengthy battle on skimpy 4 pound test line. Not true trophy size any of them, but to me, all were “fish of a lifetime” and each a memory of an exciting time spent on the water.
There are also recollections of big fish that got away by either slipping the hook, unraveling my knot, allowing too much slack in the line or me possibly just being unlucky. I can’t be the only one who has kicked themselves in the pants for losing large fish. I mean even Sheriff Andy Taylor in Mayberry failed to land “Old Sam” for numerous episodes. Also in the movie “On Golden Pond”, Henry Fonda’s character, after being ignored for years by his rival fish “Walter” finally hooks him. Then disaster strikes and there goes that fish.
It seems to me that whenever a huge “hit” occurs, I seem, more often then not, to be the only one within a hundred mile radius. Oh yeah, I can talk about the strike, the run, the head snap followed by the reeling in of nothing but line. I can relay the events that occurred as a very energetic steelhead swallowed my recipe and then went on its run before I heard the sickening SNAP! Yet the opportunity to compile new stories keep me going back to the river, the lake and the ocean.
Recently I became witness to my own version of “Old Sam” or “Walter” if you will.
Mr. Big was a brown trout
My Mr. Big was a brown trout that was indeed very big. I first noticed this master of the river as it stuck its head out one early morning feeding underneath the willow-laden river bank. Perhaps he was feasting on left-overs from a recent hatch, perhaps on drowning ants floating near his river bed. I like to think he was giving me notice that he was there. Whatever the reason, I did indeed spot this fine specimen and had it landed, photographed, and released even before my first cast set sail.
This then was the opening of man vs. trout school. Little did I know this event would be so humbling, frustrating, exciting and beautiful encapsulated within a few hours.
The available weapons to entice “Mr. Big” were plentiful. My vest pockets contained ample supplies of crawlers, spawn, maggots, spinners and salted minnows. Again, I was anticipating bragging about this brown over today’s coffee. How could I not win this battle? In addition to the plethora of bait I came armed with a spinning rod that had taken many smaller trout from this same area of the river plus a two-piece fly rod and enough flies to make a cow’s tail flick. Yep, I was ready.
The first cast was with a High-Vis spinner bait. As luck would have it, it drifted right in front of his nose. He didn’t flinch. Another six casts and the result-nothing! “Mr. Big” darted back to his hiding place. I tied on a spawn bag and let eight more casts fly. Nothing! He came back out and started finning himself. Maybe now was the time for a night crawler for this finicky fish. Nope, not even a crawler would budge this guy.
I kept up the pressure by drifting maggots, and salted minnows again right in front of his nose. With a sudden acceleration he went for the minnow. But, as luck would have it he seemingly only wanted a scent. He never really made a serious attempt to swallow. Dag nab it! This brown had to be a relative of “Old Sam” and “Walter”.
Minutes went by as I kept casting and drifting bait by his snout, by his den, to the left, to the right with nary a hint that any of my recipes were going to be irrestible. Yet I wasn’t ready to pack it in even after what seemed to be an eternity of casting, retying and rebaiting. After so many casts I began talking to “Mr., Big”. “What do you want brown trout? Show me what it is you would like for breakfast so I can learn something here.”
Then I realized what I could do to break this deadlock-my fly rod. However, there was no way I could effectively cast a fly from my current position. I needed to move to the other side of the river, but far enough downstream as to not spook him. With fly rod, a box full of flies and a camera I made my way across. There was a footpath of sorts that I accessed and gingerly made headway to the trout’s willow-laden home. Flipping open the fly box I caught a sudden movement from the river. There he was, just an arms length away.
I told myself to calm down, take a breath and make a decision. Should I tie on a fly, then cast? Yet this would take some precious minutes. My other option was to take a photo of this beautiful creature exposing himself to me near the rivers edge. I opted for the picture. One picture only since “Mr. Big” had been spooked and like a shot, went barreling up river.
For the next five days I came back to this same area hoping for another glimpse but there was no sign.
Brown trout school had been in session that day and I had flunked the first lesson. However, passing the class is the ultimate quest. Yes I still go back to the river in hopes of doing battle once again with this master teacher. Really though, catching “Mr. Big” is not the main priority now. It’s more about recalling the location of where he schooled me. But more importantly, to appreciate all that this one day on the river meant. Have you been taken to school by a fish? Was it a brown trout?