Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Fish Story

What do ya do when you've got a case of writers block ? Well, fall back on the age old credo that writers are taught - write about what you know. And for me it's that four letter word that starts with F, I got some great fish stories. A lot of people like me have a large fish mount collection. My old friend Bert Holtan had 100 I'd guess, but me, well I've got just 4...and they're the 4 most exciting fish I've ever handled out of the thousands we've tricked.
That fish on the right is to surf casters what a perfect game is to a baseball pitcher. It was at the end of our Mazatlan trip in 2007. My friend Rich Uberaggea and I had been out in the Panga boat  the day before with a skipper named Juanito and we had caught 2 roosters on live mullet, but we hooked 15, landed two, you figure it out. But, where we caught them was just off shore from a boulevard 1 1/2 miles from our condo. "Meet ya in the morning Rich, we're going to be there".

So being how we are we 're sitting on a retaining wall waiting for it to get light when I tell Rich that it's light enough for me and I'm going to go catch a Roosterfish. I've got my 1st surf rod, a 13 foot cheap Daiwa and a Daiwa reel with 30 pound Fireline and of course my favorite lure of all time, a chrome 3 ounce Ranger.  I chuck it hard and instantly....I can't believe....I got him....1st cast....I've never had a fish pull so hard, it's smoking off line and's gone. I tell Rich it's spit the hook but when I get reeled in the failure is clear, its me, I guess I had a bit of buck fever and had not closed the snap. It was straightened out, ranger gone, fish gone.

But the roosters are really in and they attract a crowd. I  cast and cast and watch as maybe 15 are caught. They're chasing the lures right onto the beach and you can see the silver flash of the fish riding the crest of the waves as they trap mullet against the beach. My new friend Slah catches 3 and I can't get a bite. The frenzy is cooling down and about 9 am I can see just the dorsal fin of one about 75 yards offshore, he's not chasing like all the ones I've seen so I cast at him and miss by 30 feet.....AND he turns.....he's full up to speed when he hits my red/white Ranger Lure, I got him. This fish is incredible, he runs parallel with the beach so I have to go over and under several fisherman. then he runs straight out, he pulls out 100 yards of line, I feel and adjust my drag and 20 minutes latter he's on the beach. Now I know why they call them the 'minute a pound fish'. The best part was taking him home in a cab, he's the only rooster I've ever killed, all the ones I've caught since have been released. My friend Bernie Pendergast mounted and painted him for me, just a gorgeous creature and one of natures wonderful gifts. The lure in his mouth is one of Slah's home made top water lures.
Now what kind of Kenai river guide would I be without a mounted King Salmon ? It was 1986 and my friend Marty Holleran and I are drifting spin glo's through Fall-in-hole and he hooks the biggest salmon I had ever seen up to that point. As they often do this baby jumped eye level right off the bat and gave us a good idea of what we were up against. As we fought him down towards Honey Moon Cove he kinda got us out to the middle of the river and just as I told Marty we needed to pull hard to keep him from going around the shallow side of the island he made one strong run and did exactly that....To tell you the truth I had never run a boat around the inside of this line of islands but there was only one thing to do, trim the motor up and follow. So Marty gets this fish well played out as we clang a clang along the island in 18 inches of water. When he comes to the net we have a new problem....the waters not deep enough to get the net under the fish. Yikes. Every time I  stick the net at the fish the leading edge bottoms out, the fish is lying on it's side in no water at all but finally the boat floats to deeper water and ol slimey is so tired he doesn't even quiver as I force the net around him....our first gargantuan. I learned a lot, Marty is tired, the fish is pow and everyone on the river sees us come around from the backside of the islands taking pics. He's a Hunter Fisher skin mount that was repainted by Mark Oslund several years ago. Beautiful, theres no fish in the world like a Kenai King.
Every year I make a list of goals, it helps me keep on track even when some of the goals are so large I just kind of whittle away on them from year to year. But I set the goal of a 20 pound Corvina , they are a white sea Bass and the favorite prey of my friends with Team X. But this day I chose not to go north with the team as I'd seen some roosters the day before and that's my deal, love those roosterfish and fishing the topwater. I'd walked from our place several miles north and had only cast a few times as I just wasn't seeing what I wanted. So mid morning I took off the Ranger and started to blind cast a 2 1/2 ounce Krocodile... I feel something heavy but he doesn't have the speed or strength of the rooster....but....he's heavy and shakes his head real well as I gently pull him onto the beach. It's low tide and I'm all by myself so I need to drag him up out of the wave break when he spits the hook....I run and get my body between him and the surf and then use my hands to push and throw him up the beach farther....when he's finally safe I'm surprised by his size. The Corvina make a good initial run and then kinda come in easy. There's a Mexican family watching and I ask them to take picture and of course the kids have to be in the pics, that's the most important thing. This fish I took home on the bus, the driver acted like it was an everyday experience having a huge Corvina on the bus...all the passengers looked at me like I was Roland Martin....Now my goal is a huge Robalo to go with my huge Corvina. I ordered the blank from my friends at New Wave Taxidermy in Stuart Florida. They didn't have a Corvina blank so they took the largest sea trout they had and added the right fins to make it a Corvina, my friend Mike Dinkel put it together and painted it.
My first few years of guiding I could only afford to guide June  and July for Kings. I needed to work and it still hadn't sunk in on me that I could actually make a living do this thing I love. So it's a September weekend and my friend Neil Arthur was living on the river and renting from Les Anderson who later went on to catch the biggest salmon in the world. Neil invited me to go silver fishing with another friend Carroll Eby who came down river to Les's and picked us up in his Hewescraft. It had a top on it and it was the first time ever I fished in the rain from anything but an open was great. We stopped at a place Neil calls the 'buck hole' and the bite is on. We had 2 on at once, we had 6 in the boat in the first 20 minutes, the fishing was so good we never even opened up the Lucky Lagers we'd brought along.
So that silver salmon is one of the many we caught that day. It really represents what this passion of mine is all about. Friendships, living in the moment, creating memories that will live on with us as we journey around the sun. Just the other day I went to Neil's 60th birthday party. I see Carroll all the time, we're all still friends and we all share a bit of that slimey....When we run into each other it often goes like this...." do remember the time......" and I say " of course " , how could I forget. That's fishing.

And the coolest part is that long after I'm gone somebody is going to have these fish. I hope it goes like this...."man that's a huge salmon"...."yep,  my great great grandpa caught it back in the 1900's, guess he was a hell of a fisherman".


  1. No doubt my dad had an obsession with mounting fish. You summed it up well: it's not about the fish per se, it was the memories and stories associated with it. His favorites were caught on trips with you, Jethro. I've inherited his kings, silvers, and pinks. My favorite story had to be the big old nasty humpy that he kept. Classic Kenai memories...

    Keith Holtan

  2. Thanks for the nice thoughts remember his counsel when we were out in the lightning storm that day ?

  3. Do you mean when we were in the Big Eddy holding on to 8 1/2 graphite rods and Bert says that he always fished
    in lightning storms in Minnesota? Yeah, right. There's the right way, and then there's the Norway....

  4. Nothing like a fish hanging on the wall to start a conversation. My first fish was a 14 pound northern pike. At 19 years old I only had enough to mount the head, it was $25.00 and I still have it today. It's an old Wisconsin bar mount, heck most people don't even know what it is!

  5. I'll bet that Pike is kinda knarly in a cool way. Keith had me take them pike and pry their mouths open and nail them to a tree next to my gutting table...I've had many a fisherman admire those 'natural' fish mounts.

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