“If you are really lucky, you might, once in your life, have a day of fishing that clearly transcends any you may have had, or are likely to experience.
Not just a day where you catch more and bigger fish than you ever have – but also a day when the weather was perfect, you were in good company, and you knew without a doubt, that something special was happening - perhaps never to be repeated again…”
It’s fair to say that over the years I have had some very good days on the water. Caught more than one hundred walleye in a day more times than I can remember, fished in a place with so many lake trout, they would school in the wash of your propeller, and together with a long time fishing buddy, caught and released 188 pike in just over six hours. While those were certainly great days, nothing – and I mean nothing - tops July 19, 1991, while fishing in MacIntosh Bay on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories.
The day was sunny and warm, and there was barely a ripple on the water when out floatplane touched down.
We decided to start by fishing the shallow sand flats on the east side of the bay, My partner, Dr. Bob and I were going to start fishing at the north end of the flats, and work our way south, while good friends Dr. Art and Rodney the body shop guy, were going to start at the south end, and with any luck we would meet in the middle, have a sandwich, and swap fish stories.
We had not been fishing more that five minutes, when Dr. Bob uttered what was to become a familiar refrain that day – “fish on!” Because we were fishing in not more than ten to fifteen feet of perfectly clear water, I could see the trout swim by the boat with Dr. Bob’s lure in its mouth. While I was admiring Dr. Bob’s fish, our guide Andrew quietly muttered, “Holy shit,” and when I looked up, he was pointing to a spot about twenty five feet behind Dr. Bob’s fish.
Swimming lazily along behind his fish, were three really big trout. I quickly made a cast just ahead of, and to the left of the trio, and all three fish immediately charged the lure, but unfortunately didn’t connect. Yelling at Dr. Bob to take his time bringing his fish in, because it was obvious that his friends would hang around as long as his fish was in the water, I made another cast, and this time got a hit. When we finally netted and released them, we tallied a twenty and twenty six-pound double header. Not a bad start, but I was anxious to get back at it, because the twenty six pounder I caught was the smallest of the three, so there were at least two bigger ones still out there.
After that it was just one twenty pound plus fish after another, including several more double-headers. Whenever one of us brought a fish in, there were invariably two or three others of equal or greater size in pursuit. The other boat was having just as much fun – at least Dr.Art was - because Rodney was having reel problems, and we gave each other constant updates over our two-way radios every time someone landed a fish over twenty pounds.
I had already caught several fish over twenty, including a forty and forty-one pounder, when I got what felt very much like a snag. That seemed odd, because we were fishing a large sand flat with only a few small rocks scattered here and there. “Snag,” I said to Andrew, and once he slipped the motor into neutral, I noticed that we appeared to moving backwards. I looked over at Andrew, who said in a matter of fact sort of way, “That’s no snag, it’s towing us backwards.” Andrew slipped the motor back in gear and turned the boat towards the fish, so that Moby Trout (I named him sight unseen) could tow us along a bit more easily, and thereby put less strain on my tackle. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally began to gain some ground, when all of a sudden, the line went slack. My heart began to sink, and I managed to squeeze out a few appropriate expletives when Andrew yelled, “Take up the slack, it’s running towards us.”
I bore down and cranked for all I was worth, and sure enough, in a few moments I regained the tension on my line, and watched as Moby swam by the side of the boat. Seeing your fish, which in the water appeared to be about half the size of our sixteen-foot boat, casually swim by is a moment of both pure ecstasy and absolute terror.
All I could think about, now that I had seen it, was how much I was going to hate myself, and probably everyone else around me if I lost that fish. But today was going to be my day, and after what seemed like several hours – in reality it was about twenty minutes - we had Moby in the net. It was all Andrew could do to lift the net and the fish out of the water, and after attaching the scale; he managed to grunt through clenched teeth, “forty nine pounds.”
“Cut me some slack Andrew, its only one little shake away from fifty.”
Looking at me as if I had just asked him to enter the priesthood, he replied,
“Nope, it’s a solid forty nine, you’ll just have to catch a bigger one.”
Once we got Moby back into the water, I immediately grabbed the radio to transmit the good news to Art and Rodney. Truth was, I fully intended to rub it in, because until then, we had been out fishing them. Although we could clearly see the other boat, and despite trying several times, I couldn’t raise them.
Dr. Art finally radioed back and said, “Can’t talk now, Rodney’s fighting a fish.” Knowing Dr. Art, the reason he couldn’t, or more particularly wouldn’t talk, is that he was likely filming whatever it was that Rodney had on the line. When it came to taking pictures and/or videos, it didn’t matter to him if it was one or one hundred pounds, he was going to record every infinitesimal moment of it for posterity.
Not letting Dr. Art’s attempt at invoking radio silence deter me, I called back and said, in a matter of fact sort of way, “We just landed a forty nine pounder.”
After a brief pause, Dr. Art’s guide Noel radioed back, “It’s in the net and bottomed out the fifty pound scale! – It’s a monster! – It’s Moby Trout!” So they managed to steal my fish’s name and my thunder, all in one fell swoop.
We all pulled into shore, and once we figured out how to use two fifty pound scales in tandem, so we could weigh Rodney’s fish – which by the way was his first of the day – it came in at a rather astonishing sixty six and one half pounds. A couple of months later, Moby Trout was certified as the new IGFA All Tackle World Record for Lake Trout.
While we were chatting and taking some pictures, Noel called us over, and pointing to the fish’s mouth said, “You guys have got to see this.” Sticking out of the mouth of this monster of a fish, was the tail of another rather large trout. By measuring the tail’s fork width, we estimated that the partially ingested fish weighted around fifteen to sixteen pounds. It was rather sobering to think that all of those “teenagers” we had been catching, were nothing more than bait.
Not letting a mere world record deter us, Dr. Bob and I went right back at it, and the fish picked up pretty much where they had left off. We had another dozen or more double headers, including several in the twenty to thirty pound range, together with an occasional fifteen to eighteen pounder to fill in the gaps between the bigger fish.
By about three pm things had slowed down some, so I switched over to a different coloured lure to see if that might not stir things up. After dragging it around for forty-five minutes or so, with not so much as a hit, I decided to haul it in and change back to the one I had been using all day. As the lure was coming up to the transom, I slowed my retrieve down, knowing that it was not unusual for trout to follow a lure right up to the boat. As I peered over the transom, there was “troutzilla” casually following my lure, with its nose not two inches from the rear treble.
So now what? Should I speed up the retrieve – slow it down – let out some line – what? The fish was not more than six feet behind the boat, and the prospect of “short lining” a fish of that size was not all that attractive. I should mention that both Andrew and Dr. Bob were unaware of my predicament, as I was too busy trying to figure out my next move to engage them in a strategic discussion on how to approach the situation. If I reeled in a little, the fish followed, if I let the lure drift back a bit, so did the fish. Realizing that it was unlikely that I could simply coax the big trout onto shore, by leaving the lure in the water, I put my reel into free spool, dropped the lure back about twenty feet, and then cranked like hell.
The fish reacted just as I had hoped, and engulfed my lure in one gulp. I set the hook, put the reel back in free spool, clamping down on the spool with my thumb, and yelled at Andrew, “Big fish, right at the boat, neutral!” Fortunately, Andrew was one of those act now, ask questions later sort of guys, because the moment he took the motor out of gear, the fish took off with a vengeance. It put up one hell of a fight, and weighed in at a hefty fifty-one pounds – no bouncing of the scale required.
By the end of the day, not including the countless “teenagers,” between our two boats we caught thirty fish that weighed a total of 901 pounds – or just over thirty pounds per fish on average.
I managed to catch a twenty, twenty two, twenty three, twenty six, twenty eight, twenty eight, twenty eight, forty, forty one, forty nine and fifty one– Dr. Bob contributed a twenty, twenty, twenty one, twenty four, twenty seven, thirty four and thirty eight – Art added a twenty, twenty four, thirty two, thirty two, thirty six and forty two, and Rodney, in addition to his new World Record chipped in with a twenty, twenty one, twenty three, twenty five and thirty.
It truly was an amazing day. We fished in what could be best described as a giant aquarium, where you could see huge trout swimming beside your boat, just about every time you looked down into the crystal clear water. The weather remained calm and sunny, and with Rodney’s fish, we witnessed the making of some angling history.
There is a postscript of sorts to this story. As our plane was likely en route, we were just about to head back to the pick up spot when I got a really solid hit. I played the fish for a while, and from my previous experience that day, I knew I was onto another good one. When it came up beside the boat, the three of us just stared. Although it may not have gone sixty-six and one half pounds, it had my fifty-one beat by a country mile. Andrew had just dipped the net, when the fish suddenly turned, catching the lure on the rim of the net, twisted, and was gone.
I looked up at Andrew, and while there were a number of things I probably could have said, what came out, as I shook his hand was, “Thanks buddy, this was my best day, ever.”