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Trophies by Mick McBrien

A cold grey winters day, one of those days where the south-westerly wind buffets the car and your expectations as you get that first glimpse of the lake through the rhythmically beating windscreen wipers.

I had the lake all to myself, sensible people were all home warm and dry. I contemplated this sitting in the car watching the white caps careering across the lake. The showers eased but the wind persisted, at times like these leaving the warm shelter of the car to rug up and rig up is a process best not rushed. That essential ingredient, angler’s optimism, can be a tenuous flame, easily extinguished by sudden exposure to chilled south winds.

The rugging up was fast, the rigging slow. It pays to take the time, opportunities can be few and the fish large in this lake. A rushed knot with cold fingers can be a recipe for a disaster of epic proportions. The fly, a Tom Jones by loose description, is my favourite nondescript workhorse, looking like nothing in particular but suggestive of many of the creatures frequenting the weedy margins.

I headed along the windward shore, less comfortable for casting, but working on the theory that the wave action stirs up the weed beds dislodging food for prowling fish. That's the theory anyway, 11m not sure what the fish think of it but it works for me. Having waded out into the waves scanning for fish the theory started looking pretty thin, 'less comfortable for casting" being code for hard testing work.

Sight fishing on this lake is hard even under ideal conditions, probably because the trout don't need to move about much for food. Blind searching isn't my favourite form of fishing and after an hour or so I slipped into autopilot just moving along quietly casting to gaps and edges. A few pelicans were out fishing, surfing down the wind along the outer edge of the weed bed. It's always reassuring to see that the pro's are out, exercising that typical anglers optimism that thrives on signs and portents.

My mind started to wander, considering the things I could or should have been doing, most of which involved proximity to warmth and shelter. The mechanism by which fish sense these mental lapses is beyond me, but the uncanny way that they choose just those moments to appear makes you wonder. The slow twitching retrieve came to a sudden solid stop, a reflex lift, still in automatic out to lunch mode. Everything jumped back into focus as the line went screaming off toward the centre of the lake.

This was the largest and strongest fish I'd ever tangled with and the fight that followed was mostly on the fish's terms. After a couple more searing runs and some desperate moments around the weed beds the struggle started to turn my way. No net, weed everywhere and a serious fish, the "don't panic stay calm" only marginally effective when I got my first good look at the fish. Dark backed, broad and deep, all gold, olive and big.

How big? Somewhere between 5 or 6 Kilos would be my estimate, comfortable double figures in the old scale, but I'll never know for sure. For just as suddenly and inexplicably as it started it was over. The line went limp, a couple of desperately hopeful strips, and up came the fly with a tiny sliver of white flesh decorating the barb. I sat back on a rock massaging my wrist and forearm grinning like an idiot and yelling WHAT A FISH to the cruising pelicans. After the adrenalin subsided I began to wonder just how big the fish was, wishing that 11d been able to land it. But what if I had? After a few more half-hearted casts I continued to ponder this as I walked back to the car.

The recollection of an earlier conversation came back to haunt me. It went something along the lines of fishing for pleasure and not to prove anything by mounting carcasses on the wall to prop up my ego. The discussion of fishing ethics in a comfortable bar with a few single malts under the belt can get a bit pompous. It's healthy, if a little discomforting, when reality jumps up and deflates the rhetoric every now and then. You see no matter how hard I tried to kid myself I knew that, had I landed that fish, I wouldn't have been able to resist the temptation of bringing home the evidence. One of those thorny moral dilemmas that crop up from time to time to nag at you in quieter moments.

Another lake on a less than perfect day, and after an hour of fruitless searching anticipation starts to wane and with it that vital concentration. That's when it happened, from the dim dark corridors of memory, that fish cruised up over the edge of awareness. With renewed intent I fished on, a few more casts to the edge of the drop-off, that gap in the weeds, and always lurking just one more cast away that fish.

With hindsight I now realise how lucky I was not to land that fish. My mythical fish, that monster that we all believe lurks in some secret lair wherever we fish. You see I've met mine, given it form and substance and learnt from it an invaluable lesson. I now realise that's what trophies truly are, lessons and moments to be hung in the halls of memory.

If we should meet again, that fish and I, I know that the outcome would be the same regardless of which of us prevailed. I've resolved the dilemma, adding a camera to my essential gear, in recognition of that all to human frailty.

 

 

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