The Ones That Get Away
The ones that get away can haunt us as anglers. The pull of the line, the bend of the rod and the thrill of what might be. Then the crushing feeling of the line going slack, the rod jumping back up into the upright position and the wonder of what might have been. We all have stories of the ones getting away. My grandpa told me a story of the one that got away from my great grandpa, a giant musky. He fought it for a half hour and when he finally got it to the side of the boat and it snapped the line. My grandpa said it haunted him for the rest of his life. My brother had a similar experience in Canada with a big northern pike, casting a spoon he hooked into a big pike and then it made a run under the boat as we were getting the net ready and one of the treble hooks hooked onto the stringer and it got away. Seeing the one that got away is painful, but in my opinion at least you got to see the size and species of the fish so you have a gauge of what you hooked into. For me the real heartbreak is when you do not get to see the fish that got away, because then there are always questions of what it was, how big was it?
The Ones You Never See
I have two memories of fish that got away that in my opinion were massive fish. The first happened while I was on a fishing trip in Canada, the lake we were on was deep and spring fed, perfect place for monster lake trout. I was trolling a purple hot’n’tot in about 130 feet of water with the lure going down to about the 60 foot mark. We had not had much luck until my 7’6” Cabela’s brand heavy action trolling rod bent in half, the drag screamed out as the line was taken off the reel like the spool was open. After gaining some line back there was another big pull and then the line went limp. The fish had cut through the line with its teeth.
The most recent one that got away was while I was fishing from shore. I was casting a white and red little cleo spoon into the river going after salmon. The rod bent over and at first I thought I had hooked into a rock so I gave a big pull back and then the fish went on a run, pulling the line out my reel screaming as the fish went further into the river. I gained some line and tightened the drag. Tightening the drag did little to stop this fish from taking line out as it made another run into the deeper faster running water. I could feel the pull on the rod and I had it locked between my arm and my waist. I adjusted my position to avoid some rocks and tightened the drag again. Getting very close to max drag as I was afraid of getting spooled by this massive fish. Gaining more line my excitement level rose, this fish had to be big. Then just as the tables were turning the fish must have spun or gotten the line through its mouth some-how as all the weight left the rod and I felt the line snap.
There are the times a jumping fish will shake the hook, launching itself out of the water and the lure will come loose as the line goes slack for the shortest of moments. This has happened to me as well, I hooked into a big salmon on the river and I saw it jump and in the air the spoon came loose and came back towards me fishless. It is hard when you feel as though you do everything you can and yet the fish break free.
What could I do?
When I do not see the fish I spend hours replaying what happened and if there was anything I could’ve done differently to have changed the outcome. Most of the time the answer is no, it was not user error, the error was in the gear, and as much as I try to avoid gear errors it can be hard when going for certain species of fish. Those two bite offs I had happened while fishing for trout and salmon. Two species of fish that are notoriously leader shy. While I have not tested this theory extensively almost all of the research I have done has pointed to that using a wire leader while fishing for these predators will result in not nearly as many fish compared to not using a leader. One memorable example of a gear failing is this. My family was fishing in a carp fishing tournament on the Mississippi river years ago. My dad hooked into a big carp, he was playing this fish for thirty to forty minutes. He finally got it close to shore and my uncle grabbed the net and tried reaching for the fish but the net was just a little bit too short and with one final pull the fish snapped the line. Needless to say the very next day we went out and got a longer net.
A Learning Experience
Fish getting away can always teach you something as an angler, everyone loses fish. I don’t know a single angler that catches every single fish they hook. What can you learn? For starters you know that whatever you were using works in that area. That there are fish in that location. And that the fish are biting. It also allows you to look into your gear. What part of the gear failed? What needs to be replaced or improved so that a fish does not break free again.
After a fish is lost I like to go over my rod, reel and line to make sure everything is in working order. If there are any kinks or abrasions in the line I will cut that section off to make sure the weak points will not break, I make sure the knot is still tight and secure.
Even though losing a fish can be heartbreaking, at least you hooked into a fish, and the ones that get away always make great stories.