Here’s another fish tale ’bout the one that got away

The tools of the struggle… Staff photo by Will Harmon

Perhaps I am being too cynical when I say, “Every man has a story.”

Well, it’s true. Okay, most men have a story. You know what I’m talking about – that week-long fishing trip and those giant 20-pounders that somehow outsmarted and outpowered you, snapping the line and swimming off to be caught another day.

I believe instead of a fish tale or outright lie most men prefer to call it something along the lines of having a wild imagination. You know, “Honey I’m not lying – you know me better than that – I’ve just got a wild imagination.”

In all due defense, because I fit into that category of most men, it is quite hard to properly size a fish in the heat of battle and, for that matter, after he’s been caught. But first, you have to catch him – and that’s the kind of story I’m talking about today: the all-faithful, ever-moving tale (entirely true) of the one that got away. Absolutely no embellishment involved.

In the beginning of the spring, I traveled to my grandad’s pond in Lexington as an avid flyfisher for bass and bream. While living on the lake, it makes for good change at times to mix up the odds by fishing in a pond. My grandad’s pond is a crystal-clear, spring-fed pond that is perfect for the kind of sight fishing I find irresistible.

Around mid-afternoon, I marched down to the pond’s glassy smooth edge and over to the hillside that provides an ideal vantage point for fly casting. With a hand-tied red cricket at the end of my tippet, I made my first cast and several more after that.

From where I was fishing, the hill leads down a steep inclination to the pond’s edge and looks across a thicket of lily pads to the abyss of the green field. Gradually working my way around the pond to the head where the spillway and dam are located, I caught several small bream and more than a few low-hanging branches before making my way over to the edge of the field.

Casting the 5-weight line with great fineness, my line rolled out perfectly in presentation on the clear smooth water beside a large lily pad. Suddenly, my line unexpectedly jerked in my hand, prompting me to reel in a palm-sized bream. Best catch of the day, I thought, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up yet.

Returning to the hillside and my favorite vantage point, I made a carefully predicted cast in between a large lily pad and an old oak tree.

After the last length of freshly waxed fly line slipped from my grasp, rolling out perfectly on the water, the cricket rested effortlessly at its tip. In a burst of water, I last glimpsed the red tail of my cricket as it disappeared below the glossy surface of the water. The top of the pond seemed to instantly reseal the gap where the monster fish had disappeared. However, underneath the water, a battle was underway – a battle between the largest bass I had ever caught on a fly and the strongest cricket the bass had ever caught in between his choppers. Finally directly under me, the bass burst through the water in a final plea for help.

Unable to bend down far enough to pick up the bass, which weighed at least six pounds, I heaved on the line. The end of the line immediately gave way beneath the enormous strain suddenly thrust upon it. The behemoth fish lay gasping for breath in the edge of the cold depths, and I scurried to rescue my catch.

As I reached down to retrieve the monster in his own right, he swam off, carrying a tornado of dusty pond bottom in his wake. As the fish swam off, I caught a glimpse of the small red fly still snugly placed in the corner of his mouth. Then I had a sudden thought: “No one other than myself had even seen the fish.”

My grandad had been soundly asleep on his porch when I cried out for help during the heat of battle, nor had I so much as a thought of that portable pocket camera everybody carries nowadays and calls a smartphone. No one would even believe me, but I guess that’s what fishing is all about – the connection between man, gear, fish and the occasional tree limb. Then when no one else sees the fish, there is always that chance for the occasional over embellishment – the age-old fish tale.

One day, years down the road, someone is going to catch a 12-pound bass in the very same pond – and in the edge of his mouth, there is going to be a little red cricket.