By ANDREW CREMATA
A silver torpedo. It appeared from the depths as I retrieved my spoon over a rocky ledge that yielded to the depths of the lake. This strangely colored laker followed close behind the lure, ready to strike, but I was running out of room. There was enough ripple on the surface of the water to conceal the exact size of the trout, but there was little doubt it would take some effort to land it – if I could get it to bite.
I did the only thing I could do – I stopped reeling. The sudden pause of the lure motivated the fish to surge and it inhaled the yellow spoon right next to my left leg. I pulled up to set the hook, and immediately loosened the drag to prevent the line from snapping. This was good because the fish turned without wavering and ran straight out toward the deeper water, the frail monofilament line slicing the surface in its wake.
It was then that the fish surfaced and tore through the water parallel to my position, waist deep in the shallows. The lake trout was bigger than I had expected, and its chrome flanks shimmered and glistened beneath a viscous brew of sunlight and water.
There is a fishing equation that measures an angler’s stress level when compared to the size of a particular fish. As would be expected, a fisherman’s anxiety grows exponentially in relation to the fish’s size. The subject’s sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate is often accompanied by stupid mistakes that lead to disappointment and foul language. Nobody is immune to this phenomenon – especially me.
When I saw that lunker trout and gauged its size, I started moving back toward shore. This is usually the right course of action because it’s important to establish a position where landing a large fish is possible. However, this is only true if the quarry remains near the surface.
I was about halfway back to shore when the trout sped back out over the ledge, rolled over and dove straight down toward the murky depths, leaving an eddy of surging water in its wake. Line started emptying from the spool at a dizzying pace before suddenly stopping.
They call it “angling” for a reason – the line that extends from fisherman to fish creates an angle. Some angles are better than others, but when the angle of your line intersects objects underwater this is a bad thing.
When I pulled against the weight of the fish I could tell something was wrong. It seemed as though I had become snagged on some underwater obstruction and this could only mean that the wily fish sought protection behind a boulder or submerged log, wedging itself within the confines of the steep ledge.
Fighting a fish, especially a big one, is an attempt to bring order to chaos, and there is nothing else in the wide world that matters more than each passing moment. In this state of mind the only enemy is expectation.
Back in June I hooked into a massive trout – easily 25 pounds. I know this because I worked the fish all the way to shore. When I reached out to grab the leader and pull the fish onto the beach, the heavy 40-pound fluorocarbon snapped with almost no pressure. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can protect an angler from defective leader material, so all I could do was helplessly ogle the trout as it spun around and hastily retreated.
Watching a trophy trout swim away after being within arm’s reach is sickening in a way that only an angler can understand, and it’s a feeling that can linger in your belly for months, or even years. The best cure is another large fish, so when that silver torpedo lodged itself in the rocks I could feel that rotten aching seep back into my veins.
In this scenario, there is only one course of action that has any chance of being successful. You remove all tension on the fish by allowing your line to flow freely from your reel. The hope is that the fish thinks the danger has passed and swims away from the protection of its hidey-hole.
This all sounds good, but the end result is usually written in stone. More often than not, you lose the fish, your lure and your pride.
Since there was really no choice I lowered my rod, releasing all tension on the fish, and then flipped my bail arm so that line could empty from the spool. Then I waited.
True patience can only be gauged by a person’s ability to act against his own will. This is when prayer comes in handy, and many a petition has been made by anglers seeking guidance or good will from some mystical omnipotent unnamed fish god.
My own prayer ended when the line started moving on its own. I bowed my rod toward the water, engaged the reel, and pulled back up with all my strength. Somehow, the trout remained hooked, and fortunately for me it turned back toward the surface and away from the rocks.
A few minutes later I dragged the trout onto the shore under a bright blue sky amidst the yellow and orange painted mountainsides. It was a 31-inch silver torpedo – long, thick, and powerful.
I didn’t think there was any way I would ever land that fish, but that just confirms the value of living in the moment with the resolute understanding that expectation is often the only obstacle to success.
Andrew’s column appears in the second issue of the month, April-September. His columns through 2013 are now collected in a new book: Fish This! An Alaskan Story available all over. Watch for book signings at the News Depot and elsewhere.