Hunting Fishing

The one that got away is usually more entertaining than the real thing

Roger George, The Bee’s fishing columnist, shows off one that didn’t get away, a 20-pound striper he caught in February 2013 at San Luis Reservoir.
Roger George, The Bee’s fishing columnist, shows off one that didn’t get away, a 20-pound striper he caught in February 2013 at San Luis Reservoir.

About two weeks ago I was trolling San Luis Reservoir when I felt like I was hooked on the bottom. I tried to jerk the bait free when the “ bottom” decided it was time to head north. My reel was screaming, the rod was completely bent over and it had taken out about 30-plus yards of line, never even slowing, when, “bink!” the fish was gone. No! I was irked for a good two days.

It turned out that I had a nick in my line that had given out as the fish was running. It wasn’t my knot, and obviously the hooks hadn’t pulled out. The fault was mine, To save time, I had selected a pole with lighter line than I normally use. I had been lazy, and I knew better. “Delayed intelligence” had hit me again where it hurt!

A lot of normal fishermen things went through my head on the trip home. So how big was it? Had I had it on long enough to be able to say it was a big striper, or was it just my excitement in the moment ? This was going to be one of those fish I was going to be wondering about for a long time.

Throughout my fishing life I’ve had other “fishing encounters.” I think about those “coulda been” near-misses more than I do the actual big fish I landed. And I don’t think I’m alone. Most anglers have two sets of tapes running in our minds. The first is the actual big fish we caught and what an awesome fight and victory it was. The other is the haunting times where we had possible glimpses and battles with what we suspect could have been huge or even epic fish.

What do anglers say when comparing stories? First they tell you about their biggest catch as they dig into their pocket to pull out a well-worn picture of their “baby.” After they tell you all about the incredible fight and how they ended up victorious, they will lower their voice to tell you about the one that “could have been.” All you can do is nod and agree and wonder.

Losing what you’re sure is a “big one” can hurt for a long time. I can tell you about several hookups that I’m sure were huge, but just as I can still vividly see the line peeling out, I can also recall the moment the line went slack, and the sick feeling that followed me for a couple days. How long do you beat yourself up? Some of the lost fish going back to my childhood bring up fresh and surprisingly strong irritated emotions.

What if you had gotten to really see that fish you’re sure was a monster – would it be as big as you imagined or would you have been disappointed? Or was it even a fish? (Sorry , I had to say that!) I have one of those stories.

Several years ago I was trolling at San Luis when the line began screaming. I was locked in battle for five minutes. It had to be a 40-pounder! Then I noticed the guy on the shore 150 yards away with a 10-foot surf rod. Every time I pulled hard, his friends would let out a howl as the pole surged. We had each other. It had been a good fight! We laughed, realizing it would have been an epic fish story of “ the one that got away” if we had pulled loose earlier.

Maybe someday in heaven, we’ll get a chance to see the “ones that got away.” Never give up!

Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at,

at and @StriperWars on Twitter.