“What’s the one fish that got away that you most wish we caught?” I asked Dad while fishing on the river the other day. We’ve invested countless hours in trophy fishing, which means we’ve suffered from many a trophy fish that got away oh-so-close to the boat.
Rather than lamenting the big one that got away – a painful yet inevitable exercise – Dad flipped the question on me in a way that demonstrates his positive perspective in fishing, and life in general.
Sure, we’ve had whoppers on the line we arguably “should” have caught were it not for some bad luck, Dad reasoned, but we’ve also landed trophies we probably shouldn’t have where fortune was on our side. It’s easier to remember the ones that spit the hook a few feet from the boat or broke free due to something fluky than to recall those trophies we had no business catching, but stumbled into due to pure luck.
“The better question to consider,” Dad countered, “is what’s the one fish you’re most glad we caught that we probably shouldn’t have caught? The best ‘bonus’ fish.”
It was a simple enough redirect, but it speaks volumes to Dad’s positive outlook, and it underscores a bigger point: Why focus on your instances of bad luck, when you could focus on your instances of good fortune? Nurture an attitude of gratitude, as they say.
With Dad’s words swirling in my head, I dropped my jig and minnow down to the river’s bottom and thought about some of the luckiest fish I’ve caught. I soon called to mind my two favorite “bonus” fish, which happened to take place back-to-back days on a memorable fly-in fishing trip my dad and I took to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge in Manitoba, Canada.
It was a walleye trip a few years back, and a special one for both of us. After a lifetime of Dad taking me on drive-in fishing trips, I was finally treating him to a fly-in adventure at an all-inclusive, five-star luxury resort, to boot – a far cry from the Boundary Waters (northern Minnesota) camping trips of my childhood when fishing was sandwiched between canoeing, portaging and alternating between setting up and taking down the tent, usually in the rain (though on an aside, those were fun trips).
The entire Aikens experience was remarkable, and the fishing was good enough to provide me with two of my favorite “bonus” fish.
The first was a trophy pike that came just before a rain storm. We were catching a fair number of nice-size walleyes in the 18- to 24-inch range, when a hard rain started coming toward us from across the lake. Dad set his pole against the gunwale as he walked to the front of the boat to pull out his rain gear. I noticed his rod twitch, so I picked it up and set the hook.
Instantly I knew it was a big fish, so I offered the rod back to Dad, who graciously declined. Dad was only one 26-inch walleye away from an Aikens “Century Club” (four walleyes caught by one person totaling 100 inches in combined length, which earns you bragging rights, a mug detailing your catch, and entry into a drawing for a free trip back to Aikens). Our guide kindly joined me in trying to persuade Dad to take back his rod and possibly make the Century Club, but Dad always put his kids first, so he insisted I have the fun of fighting the fish, which we eventually came to discover was a Manitoba Master Angler pike.
The 41-inch beast, fortunately, didn’t cut the 8-pound monofilament line we had on with no leader. Oddly, it jumped out of the net back into the lake after we landed it the first time, but it stayed on the line, allowing me to successfully land it during a second attempt. And so, by pure luck, I caught one of the biggest pike of my life.
The next afternoon, in the same spot amid a similar flurry of low 20-inch walleyes, I set the hook on another fish that immediately felt like a rock. This time, the fish didn’t go on long horizontal runs but rather hugged the bottom, diving straight back down every time I pulled it up a few yards.
“I hope we get to see this thing,” Dad muttered after 7 or 8 minutes. Finally, the fish tired and I pulled in a beautiful, 32-inch lake trout. Dad and I were ecstatic! We had never before fished for lakers, though over the years we had discussed going on a trip someday to specifically target these deep-water submarines.
Now, once again by dumb luck, Dad and I had caught our first-ever lake trout – while jigging walleyes in 23 feet of water in the middle of August, no less.
Isn’t that the way it goes? Sure, there are always a few fish that get away, including a handful that haunt you. But aren’t we also the beneficiary of Mother Nature’s sporadic kindness?
Oddly enough, this paradox is almost always true in any scenario – fishing or otherwise: Things could be better, but they could be much worse.
At Dad’s prompting, I try not to dwell on those trophies that got away. Instead, on those sunny afternoons when the bite slows and my mind wanders, I make a point to think about the good fortune I’ve enjoyed on and off the water.
Happiness in fishing, my dad has taught me, is all about perspective. Come to think of it, the simple fact that Dad is still my fishing partner after all these years is more than enough luck for me.
My next trick, now that I’m on the market for a new fishing boat, will be to persuade my wife to adopt another of Dad’s brilliant philosophical perspectives: “Any money spent on fishing is money well spent.”
Editor’s note: Like the author, OutdoorHub Managing Editor Dave Maas has fond memories of big fish caught at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge in Manitoba. Click here to read the story of his two monster northern pike (45 and 47 inches!) taken on the same day!
Images by Tony Capecchi