Greatest Fishing Story Ever
This true event from my life was instrumental in shaping me into the fisherman that I am today.
It was a July of 1979, Moorse Lodge Resort on Leech Lake in Minnesota. I was a scrawny kid of eight that idolized his Grampa and Grampa’s friend, Mac, for the incredible fish they brought in every morning. As our week stay was nearly over and the lodge’s video games had all been played away, one midday I ventured to the edge of the resort’s marina, with its thick weeds, blue gas spirals on the surface, and stained water. Sure a few kids had caught bluegills there during the week, but nothing was caught to speak of. The marina had one opening on the right side that allowed lake water in with a U shape to the enclosure. From the resort side to the rocky lake side of the enclosure was a pathway on the left with a four-foot grassy slope that angled sharply down into the water. Standing at the top of this perch, I made my casts.
With a daredevil lure my grandfather had earlier discarded as too bent to go on and a push-button rod and reel from a Green Stamps Store, I threw my lure repeatedly into the watery forest. With each retrieve, I invariably hooked into monster weeds and used my imagination to haul in the giant fish. Again and again, I pulled them in with my rod bent over.
On one cast the weeds fought back and began to move. So impressed was I with my own imagination, I hauled in these weeds with the courage of an Alaskan fisherman. The weeds boiled to the surface, and with a mighty splash, flipped and plunged their tail. I gawked into the water to swallow the reality. Gaining my composure, I yelled, “Fish! I need a net!”
A man heard me and came running – but without a net. I hyperventilated with every struggle of the reel shaking and frantically pulling the northern pike toward us. The man coached me, “Son, you can do this. He’s almost here.” As it thrashed the murky water and weeds in all directions, it was there, right below us now but too far down to reach. In my strain to lift it out of the water, I turned to pull it out. In that hasty moment, my foot got too close to the edge, and I slid down the slope into the water next to the mighty fish. The man grabbed my rod, and now he was fighting the pike.
I should have been scared or wanting to get out of the fish’s way. Instead, I did what a little boy fisherman with the heart of an angler does. I grabbed that fish by “the waist” in a bear hug face to face. It bucked and flapped every which way. “Give me your hand,” encouraged the man as I looked up. The bottom held my feet like suctions and the northern’s immense frame jerked me towards its world. In the moment of my lifetime, I pulled through that water to the slope’s edge and released one of my hands from the scale-slicing grip and pinned the beast against me with my other. I was close to freedom as I took one last step towards the man. The pike lurched again to propel out of my other hand. I threw my other arm back and squeezed the fish toward me as I fell back into the water.
In the chaos, I held on for the glory. I held on for the moment. I held on for every love of fishing that anyone can eat, sleep, and breathe. My head came out first, soaked and exhausted, I heard the man say, “The line broke.” I still clenched that fish and had one last chance. With hands acting like eagle talons, I again trudged toward the bank. His hand held true for me. I reached for the hand to forever pull me and my companion to glory. The fish jolted forward again, and I fell back. Through the water I felt it slip my grip.
The man pulled me to safety. I cried like I hope to never cry again. The fish had done a number on me with bloody hands, arms, and legs. Imagine my family’s wonder as the soaking wet little boy staggered home holding a fishing pole, and telling a tale of sorrow. Looking back, I would like to think that the fish was ten pounds, but it was probably more like seven. The man supported my story to the tune of twenty kids casting in that marina all the next day. The fish was never seen again. Maybe it’s survival of the fittest. Maybe it was meant to be. If that fish hung on my wall today, I doubt my love for fishing would run so deep within my veins. I would forever be a fisherman for life.
While not the size of northern pike, some of the sunfish and other panfish we catch these days are over a foot long.