The Big One that Got Away – I Didn’t Land the Fish, But What a Memory! (Part 3 of 3)

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II

Sometimes we regret the decisions we make. Many times, those regrets come later in life. The decision I made to not bring along my large landing net, I immediately regretted as soon as the large fish slammed my lure on Sunday morning, July 13, 2019. My rationale had been logical. I would only have a few hours to fish at our family reunion, I would be targeting small mouth bass, and I could hand land them and release them, no problem. The drawback was that 1% chance I could have a muskellunge hit my lure when I least expected it. Over my lifetime, I’ve landed dozens of smaller northern pike and muskies without a net. But I’ve found the odds of landing one of those toothy tornadoes greater than 30-inches without a net, and not playing them to a point of exhaustion that threatens their survival after releasing them, are extremely low indeed. While my mind was racing as soon as I felt the strike, I nonchalantly said to my Dad, “This is a big fish. I think it might be a muskie.” To which he calmly replied after looking at his watch, “It’s 8:50 AM, let’s see how long this takes.” I only had 10-lb. test monofilament line on my spinning rod, so there would be no horsing this fish into the boat. However, I’ve had previous success landing fish that outweighed the poundage my line was rated for; so, I knew if I set my drag properly and used my rod the right way for leverage, I had a chance of landing this fish. When it comes to fishing, experience teaches you can tell a lot about what kind of fish you’ve hooked into by the way it bites/strikes and how it fights once you have it on the line. I knew this wasn’t a bass, and while I’ve caught several carp on jigs over the years, this fish hit a 6-inch jointed minnow lure and it was much more active than any carp would be. I was able to bring the fish within 5-yards of the boat several times, but almost at will, it would streak downriver for 25 to 30 yards, and I would have to repeat the process of bringing it in again. The thought crossed my mind that I might have tangled with a large channel catfish or even a big flathead catfish (a species not native to the Susquehanna River drainage that inexplicably first showed up in Maryland in 2000 and by 2009 had spread upstream to Harrisburg, PA). The lightning fast runs that had my reel singing, similar to what a salmon can do, kept me thinking it was a muskie. I lamented to my dad regarding the murky water, which prevented us from seeing the fish at any point or any potential underwater obstacles. About 15-minutes into my battle, my cousin and her daughter headed out onto the river above us and we flagged them down, informing them we desperately needed a landing net. They didn’t have one, but they would go find one for us. Right after they moved off, the fish came up towards the surface about ten yards from the boat. Close enough its tail created a broad swirl at the surface, but not close enough to positively identify it. Then it happened. The large fish tangled my line with something on the bottom. I could still feel the fish pulling, but my line was remaining stationary under water. Another cousin arrived with a net, but it appeared for naught. After 10 more minutes, the situation hadn’t resolved itself, so it was time for drastic action. I lifted the anchor and allowed the boat to drift until we were right over the underwater obstacle. I had gotten lines untangled from rocks and stumps in the past, but the opaque water was a problem. I handed my rod to Dad and using the boat pole, I prodded along the bottom. My search revealed a sunken log. Dad could still feel the fish pulling, so using the boat pole, I wedged it under the log and pried it from the bottom as a last-ditch effort. The log was approximately 10-feet long, 6-inches in diameter, and shaped like a slingshot “Y” when it broke the surface. At some point in my lifting efforts, my line to the fish snapped at the reel, but miraculously, Dad grabbed the frayed end before it went through the bottom eyelet. Unfortunately, the line then broke at the tip and it was all over after 40-minutes. In the end, I didn’t land the fish; but there’s always the memory! God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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