Diversity and the King
Aren't Alewives just a super bait??? I mean what fish in their right mind could resist something as shiny and quivering and luscious as a beautiful blue backed herring? Yes alewives are members of the herring family. They are, in my neck of the woods, the single most productive trophy trout bait. The strikes are frequent and furious. The results can leave you with the trout of your life. Stick with alewives and you will have your best chance at that "Wall Hanger" that you have always dreamt of..........or do you???
I love being the first guy on the lake. As my boat cut through the morning fog and the cold temperatures, I was confident that on this early June morning........I fished alone! After annoying Newtown Bait and Tackle owner Gary Pepe at 5 am....I took the electric alewives he sold me .....refreshed their water, and decided to drift them in a Ala Natural fashion...no weight....live lined, on a slow, early morning , breeze.
The smallmouth bass had been tearing up these spectacular baits and today was no different. I lipped a 4 lb bronzeback and took some kind of goofy picture before I let it go. THERE IS NO REASON TO KEEP ANY FRESH WATER BASS!!! It takes them a very long time to grow under these New England conditions and for the most part they taste like mud anyway. These are not stocked and will not be replaced after you drag one home. Use a camera.....not a knife.
Eventually, the hypnotic drift brought me to the far end of the lake. The lake is part of the resources that come when you are a member of Newtown Fish and Game Club...a re-knowned sporting organization for over 50 years. I reeled up the two drift lines and drooled over the upcoming, magenta , sunrise. I intended to start the motor and ride back up the lake to re-drift my baits, but the morning was too magical. It looked it....I felt it....I sensed it. So I sat there in the boat before the little run back, and LIVED the moment, instead of just being alive. It was all mine...alone in paradise. The fact is that we are never alone in a paradise. All paradises have those living things that deserve to be there. Today that was me....and an enormous largemouth that I spotted just sitting on her bed, in shallow water, right near the bank. I stood up in the boat to try and get a better look at this monster. Sunrise can distort reality.....It can make your glances into dreams.....It can turn hope into unqualified anticipation. None the less, as I stood up in the boat , with my Ray Bans on, that fish still looked mammoth. It was like I was in the Bahamas and casting to a bonefish. I could see the quarry and although her back was to me, I wondered if she could see me too?
A big bass does not like ANY other fish near her bed and will kick their ass to prove it! Yet as this monster slowly swayed her tail, there were many small trout near and around her nesting area. She did not seem perturbed by all of this. I stared and wondered why. I needed to analyze the setting a little more for all the hidden info that might explain this untypical behavior. Lets see....she was under a tree limb, that's typical. She is in shallow water, that's typical. She is near the shore, that's typical. But she also made her bed at the mouth of a small feeder brook that rushed cold water into the lake.....that is NOT typical. I allowed the boat to drift even closer to her...an inch at a time. Why were those trout there??...They were oxygenating in the highly charged water that flowed into the lake. The boat was even closer now..25 feet. The bubbly water seemed to intoxicate the fish as they all faced the incoming flow. Just as the sun rose just a hair higher...and the light got a hair lighter, the huge bass became properly identified. It was a HUGE BROWN TROUT. My state of mind went from curious to heart stopping excitement as the image became clearer to me...this was a MASSIVE HOLDOVER. I had fresh alewives, the ultimate brown trout bait. Backing the boat up, I was hoping the big trout would not hear my heart beat, and when sufficiently away from the fish, I planned my strategy on how to attempt to catch it.
The more I looked at the silhouette of this fish, combined with the onset of complete daylight, I knew it was without question, a trophy. Twenty four inches at the least and although excitement can add size to an estimate, my years of fishing qualified my guess. When you see a fish, it is less of a surprise when it bites, but rest assured that seeing it does not mean it Will bite....at that point the wait can be agonizing. But I had alewives and NOTHING is more effective with huge browns. .......nothing! I knew that I had the best chance to catch a fish that eluded 400 members for many years. First guy on the lake....early morning...total silence...This was my chance. Every thing had to be perfect, because an errant cast, or a big splash, would send this specimen back to the depths where it had remained a recluse for years. I shook loose my thought patterns from one of hope, to one of focused skill. Challenging a fish like this, is FISHING INVENTORY. Composure equals success. ...lack of composure equals failure! Taking in deep, slow breathes seemed to calm me down and from that point on, it was all business.
I had to position myself so that the motion from my cast or the affiliated shadows, would not spook the fish. I judged the sun , etc. and set the boat up for my delivery. Alewives area big bait and can leave a big splash if casted improperly. I decided to skip the bait into the area instead of landing it there. I also decided to hook the bait under the dorsal fin and not the lip. This would present the alewives in more of a distressed posture, making it easy pickin's for the whopper. Although it seemed like an eternity for me to organize myself, it was probably only minutes....but I knew that if that fish returned to the depths of the lake, it would surely live another season, because in the deep water it is KING.
Because of the amount of great smallmouths in the lake, I had brought ultra light equipment to enhance the fight. After all, if they did get away, others would bite before the day ended. My tiny Penn reel offered some integrity, but the old , flimsy, Berkley , rod I had snitched from my brother, seemed like a limp piece of pasta for Ol big brownie. It was my best rig.... it would have to do! I made some very light"practice swings" like a golfer does, and then I put on the smallest alewife I had.....took a deep breath and skipped that blue backed herring to within 12 inches of the trophy....with hardly a ripple. Time stood still.....BUT THE HUGE TROUT DID NOT!!!!. He bolted as soon as the magic bait began to quiver, which I had assumed would entice this beauty into a tug of war. Fishing can plummet your emotions. When the biggest brown trout of my life rocketed into the open water, my stomach actually became nauseous. I had failed! I reeled in the single casted alewife and was so stunned , I considered going home.
I glanced back at the remaining smaller trout, to see if any were worth another cast. At this point they all looked dreadfully small and their size matched my enthusiasm.....tiny. BUT SUDDENLY, out of no where, as fast as he had left, HE WAS BACK!!!! He took the same posture as before and it was as if I had been given a second chance. Nausea turned to adrenal overflow and the hunt picked up where it had left off.
I know alewives are brown trout caviar, but if the big bait spooked the fish again, I knew there would be no return trips. My only approach, that might work , was DIVERSITY.....and that is not the name of a new lure!!!
DIVERSITY means change...or another way. When I fished Lake Ontario, on a couple of occasions we used chunk bait. This is similar to fishing for stripers with mackerel chunks etc. I took the original alewife and cut a nice tail piece from it. Then I hid the hook inside it. I would again skip the bait into the brownies lair. I know alewives are the ultimate brown trout bait and one smell would assure me a nibble....right?? The cast.....the skips...8 inches from his mouth.....and nothing. I waited......for more nothingness. The thought that the fish was oxygenating and not feeding was becoming more apparent but my diversity was not tapped out. I reeled the chunk in. ...and the big brown stayed there. Now what? Do I risk another cast with the same bait, or do I continue to use diversity? Marc Gold wrote a famous book in my chosen profession as a lifetime SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER...."Try Another Way". Is it obvious that I took that advice?
Lets see, its springtime and the small white bucktail has always been a classic lure in trophy trout lakes. I dug one out and retied for this new approach. I would now appeal to its reflex to react to motion. I flipped the jig underhanded and it landed in front of the feeder brook. A snappy jig motion lifted it from the bottom and hopped it right within clear vision of the brownie. I tried a very tiny hop once more. Keep in mind I am watching all of this from a standing position in the boat. The tension was knotting!!! Now the jig landed with 2 inches of his mouth. Nothing, again. I eased it from his vision and reeled it back in to take its place where I had found it. My tackle box. Now what?
I had never caught a BIG brownie on a worm, especially in the club lake. Rainbows and brooks yes....but not browns. They simply favored the gorgeous alewife. None the less, I brought my boat into shore, aways down from our lunker....jumped out...and began rummaging in the cold, early June Humus, in hopes of any resemblance of a worm. The tiny ones I found were simply that. They were worms, but so small that they literally were resemblance's of true worms. They would have to do.
I stuffed the 3 scraggy worms in the pocket of some workout pants that I had worn, and decided that this time I would wade out into the shallows and pursue my dream on foot. The first week in June assures ankle numbing cold water....and mine were aching even before I got to where the fish hovers. The real down side of this was that I had to go as slowly as possible so as not to spook Ol' Mr. holdover!
Still there. My shaking fingers from nerves and cold , baited the hook and the rig was virtually weightless.......bad news for a spinning reel and a 5 ft rod. As predicted my first cast was short of brooks mouth and caused a gasp of breathe due to the spooky nature of the trout. I tried again.... and again short..........more rings funneled out. When will he bolt?. How many more failed casts will he tolerate?
The over hanging branch was the issue. The big trout was facing the brook and had its back to me. I had to cast over her...and not into the branch. ...with almost no weight. The best help I could get was a made up prayer. After the silent recitation, I banked on this one cast. So I threw it with a "full cast" intention but hopes of only achieving 25 ft..........it landed as if God had dropped it there! The worm settled on the natural delta of the little brook and it slithered towards the flow. Keep in mind that trout see upwards very well. The small trout also saw the worm and my hopes of getting it past them, to the KING, were slim. As soon as the worm crept near the hungry fingerlings, I skipped it a mere 6 inches past them. They still attacked it and the big brown did not challenge the small fish. I saw the first half go to a greedy fry, but the remainder slid within inches of the trophy........and I saw it eat the remains. MY GOD- IT ATE IT!!!
It did not pull.....at first, but I was so tuned in , I felt the connection threw our pulse. So I pulled , instead of him. When he felt the hook sting, he erupted into the 3 inch deep brook. Realizing that he may beach himself, he spun around and propelled by me at dam near the speed of sound. Remember, I am standing in the ice water at this time. The spool on my Penn emptied so fast on the first run, that I saw layers of line that had never seen the light of day. I was down to a quarter of a spool in seconds!! The flimsy rod was arched to breaking point , even though the drag was set for 6 lb test mono. It was bent so far over that it was in -effective for slowing or steering the fish. Any..I stress, any amateurish move at this point is a guaranteed line break. The trout was far to much for the gear, so I just stood there and held him off the best I could. I know my lake very well and have looked at its depths many times with a depth finder. The huge trout went right to the 20 ft water area. ...went right to the bottom..and stayed there! The fight stood still. If I leaned back, the drag slipped out. If I tightened it, it would snap the line. Besides the rod was bent over so far, that the angle it caused was also a liability if there was any hope in landing this. So, I just stood there..and he just laid there. I watched the tip of the old Berkley throb as the fish decided it's next move. The throbs changed after a while, and I watched the tip begin to rise and I felt him move off of the bottom. The next move was even worse as he decided to get deeper water and hence use more.or all of my line. This is where the equipment is to small and the trophy stays a trophy and gets off. I made a sincere attempt to stop the screaming line from empting my spool, so for the first time, I leaned on the rod.... it turned him! And the line held. As it attempted to figure out its new position, I gathered as much line back as I could and it seemed to even out the war alittle by relining alot of my spool. Now it was a fight. Left to right....right along the surface....ripping a boat-like wake through the water. Unfortunately , that run was also towards me and instead of straining my gear, it allowed me to gather even more line back. I had him on 40 ft of line when I saw him roll over.......a monster...THE KING! The remaining 40 feet came to me in one inch increments and when it was within 10 feet, I saw the fragile hook set in its mouth. It was not solid and I knew one lurch would be freedom for the trout. Sometimes, some fish just cannot be landed. This seemed like one of those times. But the KING was tired .and when he rolled over for the second time, I to advantage of its "on the side p" position and slid it up onto the shore. ..and laid my body on top of the fish . I had thrown the rod to the side but that was insignificant now. I had the fish.! Another club member was yelling and ran down from the road where he saw the fight. He watched me measure it. ......27 inches sand get this, 17 inch girth!!! I held up the trophy and he snapped the photo you see before you. I was shaking like a leaf and made him take another to be sure.... because after that. ....THE KING WAS SET FREE. It was a magnificent and moving gesture. I felt wonderful. Two old veterans had gone to war and both lived to tell about it. The member that took the photos nearly passed out when I let the fish go, but the measurements and photos are enough information for an exact mount if I want one. There is no way on earth , that I would have traded that spiritual feeling of freeing such a classic fish, for a dinner or a stuffed memory.
After the photos were developed, I hung one at my local tackle shop and showed alot of other members. The consensus was across the board. .........HUGE. Estimated weight.... conservatively, 9 pounds! Time passed and a couple of weeks later, I was at the boat launch by the lake and an old time member spoke with me. I saw that picture of the trout you caught. It was a beauty. I thanked him. You know, I have been affiliated with this club since its birth.over 50 years ago. I may not have seen all the great trout caught during that time, But I have seen many of them. I dare say, Mike, that may be the biggest brown trout I have ever seen from this lake. Maybe it was the KING , Mac? That was quite a compliment from such a club historian. Just as I was finishing packing up my gear, he said. By the way, what did you Use to catch it?. ....After a thought out pause, I replied "DIVERSITY".and I may have been wrong, but I swear, as I got into the Jeep, I thought I heard him say..."DIVERSITY, is that a new lure?"............Don't just fish!....Figure out how to fish!...be diverse!!!