Ever hear the saying, “Sometimes you eat the bear and other times the bear eats you”?
We were dropping 1 ½ oz. jigs for lake trout in Whitefish Bay on Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario about 15 years ago. Fishing was tough as it was hot and there was absolutely no breeze whatsoever. The sun was beating down on me and fishing pal Keith and the temperature has hanging in the mid-nineties – a real heat wave for that far north.
The thing that makes jig fishing for lakers so effective is decent boat movement, usually propelled by a light breeze. This allows the jig to be retrieved at a slight angle. If the jig just comes straight up this method just doesn’t produce many fish, and when it does they’re usually so small that they’re just not worth keeping.
So here we were, cooking in the sun with no breeze, our jigs coming straight up and getting no strikes. Keith, always the innovator, suggested we cast out and then let them free fall after they hit and then retrieve which would create the necessary angle. We had never tried this, but it made sense to me and was sure as hell worth a try given our luck so far.
I have to tell you that casting a 1 ½ oz. jig on a 7 ft. medium power, fast action casting rod and a low profile reel that was far more comfortable with a 3/8 to ½ oz. jigs was a bit daunting. Add to that 12 lb. test monofilament line and you were knocking on the door of a potential problem. And perhaps something even worse.
For Keith and I, being fishermen and obsessed with catching more so than fishing, it probably took about a nanosecond for us to decide in the affirmative. The idea of showing up at the government dock fishless just wasn’t something we wanted to do. After all, at this time we were pretty well known as one of the best lake trout fishing teams on the lake. We had a reputation to protect, never mind our pride.
I gave my rod a subdued but firm toss and the jig launched forward like a cannon ball out of big barrel. I thumbed the reel, hoping to avoid any backlash that would be caused by the rather abrupt stop of the jig when it hit the water. Keith gave a swing in the opposite direction at about the same time. So far so good.
We both let the jigs free fall until they hit bottom, which as a bit more difficult to ascertain when not dropped from alongside the boat. Eventually we both started our retrieve, reeling moderately fast so as to entice the trout to think these bright white jigs were baitfish. Nothing.
We kept this up for maybe a half hour with the same results. Then Keith suggested we needed to cast further out to increase the retrieve angle. I was game, but recognized that the further out we threw these monster jigs the greater the potential for trouble. But it was worth a try as what we were doing wasn’t working.
Remember that bear? Well this is where the bear entered the picture. Big time.
Keith had cast way out and was letting his jig sink to the bottom. I gave my rod a whip and the jig sailed out like the proverbial cannon shot. It hit the water just about the same time I developed what could conservatively be called the world’s greatest backlash. Perhaps the backlash from hell. Maybe the backlash of the century. Or worse…
Well, as you might have guessed Keith hooked up with a damn nice laker. It hit hard and he was all over it, working the drag and trying to make some forward progress. Me? I was fiddling with my backlash when, of all things, I got a serious hit and hook up as well.
When you’re fishing summer lake trout you really do need two men in the boat. One to bring the fish up and the other to net him. So Houston, we have a problem. Keith’s working the fish toward the boat and I’m just trying to figure out what the hell to do. Cut the line? Throw the whole rig in the lake? Hand line my fish in? Crap!
I decided on hand lining which, even if I do say so myself, was pretty stupid. I mean, it’s 12 lb. mono, no drag, and what feels like a pretty big fish. A real feisty, pissed off fish. But I tried and somehow managed to get both my hands tangled up in line, all the while as Keith had what he described as a “trophy” alongside the boat. Ever see any keystone cop videos? That was us. Or at least me.
Keith kept yelling for the net, I kept trying to get my hands untangled, and the fish kept getting more pissed off. Finally, and I do mean finally, I managed to get one hand free and reach for the net which got hung on a boat cleat which caused me to fall down into the boat floor. It gets worse. As I drug myself up I poked my “good hand” into the sharpest stinger hook on one of my spare jigs. And my other had was still wrapped in monofilament line with a thrashing fish on the other end.
So here we are with 2 fish, a net hung up on a boat cleat, blood from a hook leaking out of my hand, and no idea how we will get either fish in the boat.
Finally I managed to grab the net, and with an almost unworldly swoop had Keith’s fish in the net. The trick with lakers, who like to roll when you net them, is to flip the net and get the fish on the boat floor, unencumbered by net, as quickly as possible so he can be released. How I managed this with one hand still eluded me, but I did. Now it was all Keith’s. I had my own issues to deal with.
I grabbed my line again and slowly, excruciatingly, drug my fish in. Lo and behold it was a northern who had grabbed my jig as it began to sink. Great! All this for an OK northern. Maybe 5 or 6 lbs. Not a laker. A northern.
After maybe 30 minutes we got the boat, the net, my reel, my wounded hand, and my demeanor straightened out. And then we started laughing, recounting just what a circus it had been only minutes ago. Even if Keith’s fish was our only fish, this day would be remembered for a long, long time. The day that I was eaten by the bear.
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