By Andrew Cremata
I’ve lost a lot of big lake trout over the years. Unfortunately, I remember them all.
There was a certain trout on Carcross Bridge. I saw the 45-inch long behemoth swimming under the walking pier. At first, I thought it was an otter. It took me only a few seconds to tie on a fresh piece of bait and cast out into the narrows. The laker hit almost immediately and even though I was using heavy gear, my fishing rod bent over double. The fight lasted less than ten seconds.
Then there was the trout on the shores of Windy Arm in Conrad. It was a gorgeous sunny day in mid-July. Mere minutes after casting out a chunk of bait and letting it sink to the bottom, I hooked up on a solid fish that ran to the surface and jumped entirely out of the water. The laker was easily 25 pounds, but its aerobatics were successful and the fish threw the hook.
Without hesitation, I reeled in the bait and cast it back out. The bait was still visible, barely two inches below the surface, when the laker swam back up to the surface and inhaled it a second time. Keep in mind that this rarely happens.
I was elated but my celebration was short-lived. Just as I was about to net the fish, it twisted off my line. To this day, it remains the only lunker laker I managed to lose twice.
Fortunately, I had a six-pack of beer to ease the pain.
There was yet another lake trout. The thought of it haunted me for years. This particular tragedy took place on Tagish Bridge about nine years ago. After two hours without a bite, something gently tapped on my line. Thinking it was a small trout that wouldn’t take long to land, I set the hook and started working my way to shore.
My rod suddenly began thrashing violently. Line started peeling off the drag at lightning speed. Over the next twenty minutes, every time I gained ground on the fish, it quickly regained the advantage by making another strong run.
The battle was epic. My adrenaline had taken over and I realized at that moment that I was having an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
During the fight, I worked my way off the bridge so I could land the fish from shore. Then I saw the trout and my heart skipped a beat. It was even larger than I’d anticipated and reminded me of the blacktip sharks I used to catch growing up in Florida. Not wanting to lose the fish in the final seconds of the fight, I waded out into the Tagish River and met the laker in knee-deep water.
My plan was to grab the leader and gently drag the trout to shore. The width of the fish between the pectoral fins was longer than my hand from wrist to fingertips, which means it easily approached 40 pounds. Maybe more.
When I grabbed the leader and pulled, the 30-pound fluorocarbon snapped in half. The big fish realized what had happened and she didn’t hesitate. A sudden thrash of the tail blinded me with splashing water. When I wiped my eyes, all I could do was watch as the laker of a lifetime disappeared under the rippled currents of Tagish River.
For years, whenever I pondered this particular Tagish trout, I justified the feeling of loss by telling myself I was going to release it anyway. Somehow, the pain of losing it still remained, which proves that ego often overrides reason.
What I really wanted was a photo to share – some memento of the grand battle between fish and man. Tangible proof that this event was more than another fishing story. A trophy in a picture frame hanging from a wall commemorating an achievement only important to me.
Yet the end result was exactly the same.
I enjoyed an incredible and rare fishing experience and the trout enjoyed living another day. It’s highly likely that I’ve been catching some of her offspring over the past few years.
Last weekend, I was back fishing in Tagish Lake, casting toward fall lake trout in chest-deep water. It was early and the sun hadn’t yet risen over the mountaintops toward the east. The air was cold and my hands numb. My dog Rufus sat patiently on the shore watching me cast and retrieve an assortment of my favorite lures.
An hour went by without a bite before the sun finally made an appearance. Then it immediately disappeared behind the only cloud in the sky. My mind had wandered far into the unknown realms of subconscious detachment when the first strike of the day caused the rod tip to twitch.
The bend in the rod confirmed that I’d hooked into a nice trout. Slowly working my way into shallow water, I steadily fought the fish, letting it run when it wanted to run and making up ground whenever it faltered. It’s the only dance I’m good at.
As the laker approached the shallows, I debated whether to land the trout with my net or simply drag it up onto the shore. The fish seemed as though it was tired from the fight, so I chose the latter option.
Then the lake trout did what lakers always do which is switch directions at the last possible second.
The hook fell free.
I could have lunged into the shallow water and likely grabbed the trout. However, the fish was around 26 inches long and in the Yukon, trout over 26 inches long have to be released.
So instead, I watched it wriggle its entire body around toward deeper water before thrashing its tail wildly and swimming toward freedom.
Best of all, I didn’t even care.
After all, when it comes to fishing, there is no possible way to lose.