A lot can happen in the great outdoors, much of the time all good stuff, but sometimes it all goes wrong. With fishing even if it goes wrong, its not always bad.
My first close encounter with losing ďThe Big OneĒ came early in my ongoing fishing education. I started driving at 14; by 15 I was taking off to the lake on my own. Outside Wichita was a favorite place, Lake Afton.
I had been going to Lake Afton on summer weekends for years, mostly swimming at the beach, picnicking, it was about 20 miles outside town and is now a Sedgwick County park. My first times fishing alone are fondly remembered at Lake Afton.
On this particular trip I went out early one morning and learned first-hand how ďif no one else saw it, it didnít happen.Ē I had been fishing for a while with my only rod and reel, a pistol-grip Ugly Stik and a Zebco 33 with factory spooled 8 lb. line, walking down the bank and fan casting out to brush stick-ups or along the shore line ahead.
At the mouth of a small cove, where the bank had eroded away and made a two foot drop to the water line, I cast out to where the cut tip of a log was sticking out of the water at an angle. An immediate strike brought the rod up and early wrinkles on my forehead as I knew something had me, I didnít have it.
The fish fought hard and I could feel the line rubbing on parts of the log or brush under it, but I eventually began to bring it closer to shore. I had not seen it and did not know what was on the end of my line. Up to that point I had not caught anything that day except small bass and some crappie and bluegill on marabou jigs. I was hoping for a larger fish, but this would be my largest ever!
Finally I was getting it close to shore, but the water was so muddy and the fish splashed so much it was hard to see what it was, and frankly, I still donít know. I was surrounded by heavy brush and the bank was a straight drop to the water and two feet high, I did not dare try and lift the fish out of the water with the rod and light line, so I reeled up tight and kneeled down to reach out.
Three times the fish brushed my fingertips, only to surge again and take out line. On the final time, with me stretched out on the dirt, the rod in one hand, tip up high and line tight, and my other arm stretched out to the water and ready to make a grab, the fish made one great splash that sprayed my face and sunglasses, turned and broke my line!
I was dumbfounded and dazed. What had just happened? It seems like forever now, but it was likely over very quickly. I looked from the end of my lure-less fishing line to the now calm water with the expanding ring of ripples gliding away from me, right where the fish was last seen, willing it to return to me, just so I could hold it, see it clearly and release it, treasure it forever.
Iíve written about this fish before, and likely will again down the road, as it comes to mind sometimes. The muddy water and flailing fish was either a big largemouth or wiper, today Iíd guess around 7-8 pounds. But I do treasure that fish. It lives in my memory forever as the big one that got away. I saw it, brushed it even, came ever so close to catching it, and I still see it in my dreams, my memories, but the action never slows down enough for me to see exactly what species it was.
I was disappointed at the time, but now I realize one thing: sometimes missing the catch can be just as memorable as landing one. Iíve caught a lot of fish and I remember many of them, and I bet I remember a lot more of the ones that got away; they are still surrounded in mystery.
An avid angler and writer, Jeff started tournament bass fishing in 1990. While his first love is bass fishing, he also enjoys fishing for other species including fly-fishing and saltwater.
Jeff is active with area bass organizations and has held most officer position at either the club or state level and has been a frequent State Team Qualifier. A guest speaker for the Bass Pro Shops Spring Fishing Classic, Jeff has presented numerous seminars and tank demonstrations and is dedicated to promoting the sport of fishing through education and youth.