You know, sometimes you eat the bear, and other times the bear eats you.
We were shore fishing one day on Crow Lake in northwestern Ontario. It was in late May and the ice had gone out about a week before. There had been a few warm days with lots of sun and a modest breeze that encouraged all those little ice particles to recede back into the lake. The air was still crisp, but only required a light jacket over a long sleeved flannel shirt.
I was in my “guide mode”, having picked up a party at Green’s Camp in Nestor Falls. We trailered the boat to Crow and by around 8 in the morning were on the lake looking for shallow lake trout.
I’m a bit unclear about the party I was guiding, but best I can remember it was a couple of seasoned spring fishermen who knew the ins and outs of fishing for lakers this particular time of year. Not sure, but I think one was a doctor of some repute and the other perhaps his son.
They knew lakers were shallow just after ice out and insisted on casting Johnson silver minnow spoons. Great baits, but lakers this time of year tend to bite short, so with a single hook these spoons were tough to get a solid hook set on, especially in a tough mouth fish like a lake trout.
We headed toward some rocky shoals where I knew big fish liked to hang out. As soon as my guests were set up I tied on a no. 5 Mepps white bucktail spinner with a treble hook followed by a smaller stinger treble.
It didn’t take very long for the hits to begin, but “bring ’em in the boat” hook sets were another matter for the spoons. I was kept busy reeling in my casts quickly without any tempting retrieve so, if one of my fishermen did get a hook set, I could be ready with the net.
Eventually I persuaded them to let me install a small treble hook as a stinger on their spoons. The action was slightly compromised, but that just didn’t seem to matter to these hungry spring fish. Just a few casts after my modification we had a nice laker with a solid hook up.
Spring lake trout are serious fighters, but in shallow water they aren’t able to make the long, deep runs that are common later in the summer. In just a few minutes we had a nice 6 lb trout in the boat. Perfect size for shore lunch, which would be a fish boil with lots of butter and a little salt and pepper.
About noon we pulled in to the back side of a beautiful little island. The wind was to our back and with the sun beaming down provided a warm, calm respite for all of us. I cleaned the fish, prepared the camp fire, and in no time we were enjoying some of the best eating on Crow Lake that afternoon.
Now I don’t know about you, but even at my young age I had what is now referred to as a “bucket list” for specific species and size I had as a goal for myself. As far as lake trout were concerned, I had set my mark at 20 lb. Catch one of these guys that went that size or larger and it would end up on my wall.
Most fishermen I guided would take a break during shore lunch and, if they didn’t take a nap would shore fish from the bank as I cleaned up the shore lunch site and washed dishes, cleaned the pots, and put the boat in good order for the afternoon’s fishing. These two guests were of that school and soon were casting from shore for whatever would be attracted to their spoons.
I finished up my chores, but they seemed content to continue fishing from shore in the warmth with little or no breeze. So I joined them with my as yet unused Mepps spinner.
I loaded my rod as much as possible a let fly a long, straight cast. Just as I began my retrieve BOOM! I had a strike that was like hooking on to a freight train! This was a b-i-g fish!
My drag was screaming as I fumbled to tighten it down. The fish was running out to deeper water – fast! I pumped and made little progress. Another pump and the drag stopped screaming, but the fish wouldn’t budge, so I took a few steps toward the water. Then it happened.
My feet flew up, my butt flew down and I skidded into the lake butt-first, twisting on to my stomach as I settled into the water. The cold water shocked me, but I held on to the rod and reel, although I don’t really know how. I was wet, basically upside down, and had some monster fish on the end of my line. Probably, I thought, at least 20 lbs!
All this was going on while my two guests were staring at me in what could best be described as shock and disbelief. There really wasn’t much they could do to help, at least as long as I insisted on holding on to my rod. I squirmed around in the freezing water, doing all I could to hold on to my rod while trying to keep the line tight.
Suddenly the fish turned and the line went slack. laying in the water like a pig wallowing in mud I surely was sight to behold! My feet fumbled for a rock or some bottom that wasn’t slippery. Finally I got one foot on something solid and then found a home for my other foot. Slowly I lifted my wet, soggy body up, but as resumed my retrieve my heart sunk. The tension that had pulled me into the lake was now missing. Only the slight resistance of a Mepps No. 5 spinner was there.
Once I had the spinner close to the rod tip I handed the rod to one of my guests and literally crawled up the rocky bank. “You O.K.?”, the older guest asked.
Embarrassed and disappointed I said with a smile, “Yea, this happens from time to time.”
That afternoon was cold and miserable given my wet clothes and fractured pride. I put on my rainsuit for warmth and we actually finished the day with a couple of nice keepers. I’m guessing that along with the two nice fish my guests brought home was a great story about a clumsy guide they happened to engage on their latest trip up north. My story was a bit different and included details about a “bucket list” fish that got away and how I got eaten by the bear that afternoon!
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