A Trophy Fish

What is a trophy fish?  Those working at the Fall River hatchery will tell you that they consider any fish over 14 inches as a trophy fish.  That length is a good starting place but I think there should be other qualifiers.  I don’t need a stuffed fish hanging over the fireplace, or a fancy photo showing me with a big fish.  What I seek is a memorable fish.  A fish that gave me a hard fight and one I thought I could never put in the net.  But through the grace of the fish gods, and a little help from strangers, I managed to, once again, catch a trophy fish on the Fall River this year. 


I’d gone to the hatchery to refill some water jugs when I decided to throw some line, even though the fish at the hatchery are well educated about fisherman and can be very hard to catch.  I grabbed my rod and marched a good distance up river to get away from all the human traffic to an area where I’m usually alone. 


I passed two fisherman and minding my river manners, I asked if I could fish the water above them.  They said “go for it”, so I started casting to rising fish.  I soon caught a feisty twelve inch fish, lost another, and had a bunch of the usual rejections.  But then a big devil came from his hiding place and slammed my fly and we were on. 


He ripped line from my reel going upstream, then turned downstream and I had to pull line by hand to try and stay with him.  He made a jump or two and I realized the two fisherman below me had come up to watch the fun. 


There were comments of “what big shoulders he has”, and “that’s a really big fish”!  I already had several moments when I thought this fish will never see the net.  Now I had genuine problem; the fish was across from me but my line was fouled on river junk 30 feet upriver.  I could see the fish spinning and working hard against my 5X leader and wondered how long the leader would hold. 


I ran my wrinkly old butt up stream, across downed logs and through the brush until I could finally free the line.  In his struggles, the fish had managed to foul the leader in his pectoral fin so now I could not turn his head.  When the fish made a big run he could bend my soft four - weight rod right into the grip.  The fish made several reel screaming runs and in the quieter moments all I could do was hold the fish sideways in the slow current.  I couldn’t wade the river because the bottom was a soft goo and I would sink to my knees, and going downstream along the bank was no good because brush was so thick.  The fish and I were both stuck! 


Finally, one of the fisherman that was watching said that if I could get the fish a little closer to the bank, and if I wanted, he would try to net the fish.  My reply was to try and net him so we could get him free and return him to the river.  The fisherman busted his way through the brush and on his first attempt to net the fish, it was fish in and fish out of the net in about one second.  Three more attempts were made at netting the fish before he was successful on keeping the fish in the net. 


We quickly freed the line and fly from the fish, allowed him to recover and he swam (very fast) back to his hiding spot in the river junk.  Estimates of his size went from 18 to 20 inches.  Actually my guess was the 18 inches and I thought I might be a little long, but the other two fishermen estimated that he was closer to 20 inches.  We will never know for sure his exact size and there is only a poorly taken photo of the fish before his release, (see below) but in my mind he was and will remain a true trophy fish.