Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Indiana State Record Atlantic Salmon

Well, I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.  I contemplated spending the rest of the day staring out of the window, imagining fishing trips and fish that never had happened, and probably never would.  But the cobwebs started to clear, and I figured I might as well go fishing.  I loaded a new two-hander in the car that I’d been meaning to finally master. This time of year, the fish – smallmouth bass, mostly – are sluggish and hold deep. So I had low expectations for fish, but just wanted to get out there and throw some line. I had an old Atlantic salmon fly, a “General Practitioner”, that I thought might be a reasonable crayfish imitation, so I tied it on, and let ‘er rip.

I’d been fishing for maybe 20 minutes, if that, when I had a socket-wrenching tug on the line.  I have to be honest with you: I have never experienced a strike like that, in 30 years of fishing. Then followed an immovable line, and so I began to question whether I’d actually felt something pull back, or if I’d simply hung up a rock. But I wasn’t stripping the line at the time, so it had to have been a fish.  It was then that the line started slowly moving up and to the side.  I realized that I was, indeed, attached to a fish and in that instant, it seems the fish came to a similar conclusion for it shot straight up river, emptying my reel of all the fly line and much of the backing before I had realized what was going on.

And the end of this sprint the fish revealed itself to be a leaper and this was indeed apt because despite the distance the fish had put between us, there was no mistaking that this was a large Atlantic salmon.  In fact, to be honest, it was massive.  And try as I might to simply focus on the now questionable task at hand, even at that time, my mind started to do the math.  This fish could not have come in through the St. Lawrence River because the river I was now standing in, the White of central Indiana, was not connected to the St. Lawrence or even to the Great Laurentian Lakes or the rivers that flow into them.  This fish clearly would have had to have come up the White from the Wabash, via the Ohio River. And to have entered the Ohio, it must have come up the Mississippi, which it would have entered after first navigating south along the Atlantic Coast and then around Florida, before heading north through the Gulf of Mexico to enter the river in New Orleans.

While my brain multi-tasked between contemplating this incredible journey and landing the protagonist of said journey, I heard a voice behind me. 

“That’s quite a salmon.  If you’d like, I can try to net it,” she said.

I turned to see a woman in waders (but, oddly, with no fishing pole) holding a very large landing net.  “Do you know what you’re doing?” I asked.

“It will be the largest Atlantic salmon I have ever netted, and the only one from this river, I might add – but yes, I am handy with a net,” she replied, with a smile.

“I’ll never land it without help, so if you see the opportunity, go for it,” I said…nervously.

After several more long runs, and several spectacular airborne acrobatics, the fish began to tire and I managed to steer it into some shallow water.  Approximately 40 minutes had passed since I had hooked the fish.  To be totally honest, at this point I still had little faith that I would land it. I had never even seen a live, wild Atlantic salmon before, much less one as enormous as this one. While upright, the fish’s broad back was stunning, but when the fish finally rolled and we got a look at its depth, we were both momentarily speechless.  Luckily, the woman snapped out of the salmo-stupor in time to net the great fish, and together we pulled it ashore.

Much whooping and hollering ensued, while she congratulated me on the catch and I thanked her repeatedly for netting it.  She then produced a scale from her kit and we weighed and measured the fish. The salmon taped out at 49 inches, and according to her scale, which she said was certified, the fish weighed 47 pounds and four ounces. She used my camera to take several pictures of me with the fish, and we then discussed what to do with it.  We accessed the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website via her smartphone, and could find no reference to any regulations concerning Atlantic salmon other than those that come from Lake Michigan or its tributaries, which this fish most clearly did not. So I dispatched the fish quickly with the priest she had, and we made love several times in succession, taking yet more photographs.

When I woke up an hour later, she, and the giant salmon, were gone. I gathered my things and drove straight to the fly shop. I told the story to understandably skeptical ears, but then remembered my camera.  I said “I’ve got pictures!” and immediately turned on the camera. To my horror, she had deleted all of the photos of the fish!  Luckily, still on the camera was a single photograph. It was a photo of me, asleep on the ground, which she must have taken after our lovemaking.

“Look!” I shouted, and thrust the camera at the fly shop employees.

“What’s this?” replied the manager.

“It’s me,” I said.  “After we caught the fish and I had sex with the woman who netted it.”

“How is this proof you caught a 47 pound salmon?” said the kid behind the counter, clearly quite skeptical.

“Well why in the hell would I take a photograph of myself?  And how could I?  I was asleep.  Look!” I said, waving the camera before him.

The kid raised his eyebrow and exchanged glances with the store manager and the other clerk. Much glance exchanging ensued.

The store manager then reached over the counter and held out his hand.

“Mister, that is one hell of a fish.  That’s a record’s gonna stand a long time.”

We printed the photo on the fly shop’s printer, and they hung it up on the braggin’ board, next to the old and weathered photographs of fishermen of by-gone days.  For their generosity, I let them keep the General Practitioner, which they pinned to the board as well.  The shop manager called me just today to tell me they can’t even keep those flies in stock now.

New Indiana state record Atlantic Salmon, upper right

[This piece was published in a slightly different form in the Fall 2013 issue of "The Drake" magazine.  Thanks to Tom Bie and "The Drake" for putting it out there.]