I’ve been very lucky to have landed some nice fish, however I have to admit that in the back of my mind I’m still haunted by vivid memories of epic battles and subsequent near misses on what I believe were huge fish. Yes, haunted is the right word. Even though you have your suspicions about what you had on, you’ll never know how big they were, for sure, this side of heaven!
It’s the shoulda, coulda woulda thing, one that you recall in Technicolor detail for the rest of your life. Why did you lose that “monster fish?” Deep down, you know it was probably the one that would have put you on the cover of the fishing magazine, even if your good buddies rib you and disagree. A “bucket list” leviathan opportunity was lost and in the back of your mind you still kick yourself for messing up the chance! Been there done that, and I have buddies who still lament the loss of their own dream fish, too. Many anglers seem to remember the one that got away a lot more than the big ones they did catch!
It’s the not-knowing that gets us every time. Until you bring it up to the surface, it’s sort of like opening up an Xmas present that you are excited about. I think it’s normal for most of us to want for our dream to come true. In some cases, the anticipation, intensity and adrenaline of the situation can lead to exaggerated stories and memories – but that’s part of the game!
After losing a possibly big fish, the pain seems to linger for years, even decades … maybe a lifetime. Just ask any angler who has experienced it, and you will get a detailed and exhaustive blow-by-blow replay of the event. It’s burned into the angler’s memory. It may hurt to relive it, but many times it’s also a Pyrrhic victory for an angler who sees the near catch as the apex of his fishing career! On the other hand, some questionable anglers make a career of talking about the monsters they lost, each, of course, bigger than anything you’ve ever caught! (Or so they imply, making it a win in their book.)
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Three years ago I had an experience that still irks me. I was fishing San Luis by myself and had just caught and released a huge 30-pound striper on my big pole. Excited, I looked at my plug and all three 1/0 treble hooks had been bent out from the powerful battle. In a hurry, I decided to just replace the front and back hooks with stronger tackle, but left the damaged middle hook on after some straightening .
Five minutes later I get another solid hit, but this one ran flat out for more than 80 yards – twice as far as the earlier fish! I couldn’t stop it until it slowed up and submarined itself down to the bottom. Whoa! I had waited a couple of years for this kind of hookup! It was just bulldogging me about 200 feet away on the bottom. “Work him slow,” I told myself. Over 40 pounds?
We are 3-plus minutes into this fire drill, but all systems go, when I felt the line let out a sickening pop, pop … then nothing! Argghh! The adrenaline was pumping and I was ready to smash my pole against the boat! (Didn’t.) “So close,” I thought, as I reeled in the rejected lure. That’s when I noticed that the middle hook and split ring, the one I didn’t replace, had been torn off the lure completely! Double ouch! My own stupid haste had led to this. I knew better, too. I had looked at the lure earlier, wondering if not replacing the middle hook was a smart thing? Delayed intelligence alert!
How big was it, really? I’ll never know. I confess I still beat myself up at times when I think about losing that fish. I still feel it coming off. Bet you carry around the memory of a lost fish that nags at you, too, most of us do! Haunting is the word. I also believe that’s the very fuel that drives us to keep going. Your monster is waiting! Victory! Never give up!