I could tell this was going to end badly, I was losing my grip. I couldn’t believe it but it was happening no matter what I did to try and stop it. The slippery, powerful brook trout slid quickly through my fingers and fell three feet back into the deep, calm, dark waters of the pond. I wanted to just jump in after the trout and never be seen again rather than have to explain what just happened to the ecstatic man who caught the beautiful fish. I still could not believe it just happened; and even more importantly, I could not believe I had to tell Jeff I just lost the first fish he had caught in nearly thirty years–and she was a beauty at that, the biggest one we’d landed this evening.
But I digress, let me start this story at the beginning where all good stories must start…
Jeff is a close friend and we are usually attached at the hip doing Lord knows what throughout most of the year. There are, however, a few things I enjoy that Jeff is typically not really interested in doing, and I would usually do those things alone or with another witting accomplice, then Jeff and I would catch up upon my return and pick up where we left off–causing trouble. Things like fishing, hunting or hiking come to mind as things he no longer really took part in. Jeff had done these sorts of things when he was younger but had grown away from them as the years had passed. Well this particular evening I had talked him into going fishing with me, this is significant because he hadn’t been fishing in something like thirty years. While I’m at it I should come clean here–I wholeheartedly wanted his company during some evening fishing, but I’d be lying if I said it never crossed my mind that with him coming along on my fishing excursion we can get twice as many fish…and since he doesn’t like to eat them I get to keep his fish too! So as you can see, not only did I enjoy his quick wit and sarcasm throughout the evening–it was a tactically astute business decision also (for me anyway!). Honestly, I was stoked to finally get him out here doing something he used to do years ago with his dad but had lost interest in doing somewhere along the road called life. Now here we were, in my secret hot-spot, about to hopefully catch some really big brook trout.
We had landed in the small pond about three hours before sunset on a warm and still July evening, the kind of summer evening no one ever wants to see end and makes you happy to be alive. The fish were just starting to bite a bit more enthusiastically and with no wind Jeff and I were fishing from the floats of my seaplane–affectionately known as the Green Machine. Now a Piper Super Cub is known as “the go-to” bush plane performance-wise, able to get you into some normally inaccessible places that are far too small for most other planes. However, one thing a Super Cub is not known for is its roominess, and standing out on those round-top EDO floats was a prime example of cramped quarters with space being a premium for either one of us. Given the narrow floats we were moving about on while fishing, and the fact they were not flat on top but rounded, we had to be very careful of our movements in order to not perform an embarrassing–yet entertaining, unplanned excursion into the water. I might add this is something most seaplane pilots do at least once during their flying career but I was determined to be the statistical outlier.
The evening was coming along nicely with Jeff and I conversing about this-and-that when he hooked into a gorgeous looking brook trout that appeared to be sixteen or seventeen inches long and quite fat…I was super happy for him given how long it had been since he had last been fishing. Unfortunately I had forgotten to put the net used to land the fish in the plane this evening–a big faux pas since it was quite difficult to get any trout we caught out of the water and into our hands before they spit the hook and got away. The all important fish net was safely stowed right where I had left it…in the back of my truck where it would do us no good tonight. With my absentmindedness I knew it was up to me to hold on to this beauty and not let it slip through my fingers. This task was a lot easier said than done due to this type of fish being quite slippery with a light coat of slime covering their bodies to keep ham-fisted fisherman like myself from getting a good grip on them. This spirited fellow was no different and fought with all he had from the minute I got him out of the water and removed the hook. I told Jeff to retrieve the cooler from the backseat of the plane so we could put him in the ice filled container keeping him fresh longer. She was definitely the largest fish we’d caught so far this evening, nothing record setting but a very nice native Maine brook trout nonetheless. I was perched precariously on the airplanes floats in about ninety feet of water with the very strong, active and slippery trout ever so slowly getting closer and closer to slipping out of my hands and back into the ponds mirrored surface.
Now dear reader, keep in mind we are both quite excited with his catch and we are attempting to not fall in the pond while moving about on the round tops of my narrow floats. The fish was already giving me the dickens using every bit of its muscle and slipperiness to escape my grasp; which was tenuous at best because I was now trying to slide one hand into position to slip my fingers in the fish’s gills and get a much better grip. During this time I was telling Jeff to hurry because I felt I was losing my grip–while internally I was thinking I wasn’t sure if I could hold on to him much longer. Jeff climbed into the cockpit to retrieve the cooler laughing, telling me “Don’t let him get away I almost have the cooler!” I think he thought I was teasing him about possibly losing the fish back into the water. I wish I was.
It happened in a flash? No, it really was happening in slow motion for me…almost as if it was Karma showing me I was helpless to stop the trout from making his escape. What seemed like a minute actually was probably more like seven or eight seconds. When the inevitable happened the trout wasted no time swimming quickly out of reach at near light speed. Jeff didn’t even hear me mutter some colorful, sailor lingo as I nearly fell off the floats trying to reach into the water for the fish. When he turned around and saw me standing there fish-less, his expression said everything…”I can’t believe you really dropped my fish back into the pond (he was holding the cooler of course–he upheld his end of the bargain). “You did it because it was the biggest one of the evening and you didn’t want everyone to know I came along thirty years later and beat out the pilot/guide with my first fish!” Well, he may not have said this verbally…but that is exactly what I read on his face! I wanted to slide off the floats into the dark, cool waters and never be seen again. There was nothing I could do to convince him that I really didn’t do it on purpose. I felt horrible but since we always use sarcasm in most everything we do that is exactly what we both reverted to with him telling me I did it on purpose and me going along with it and saying it wasn’t big enough to be a keeper anyway so I let it go!
Jeff had his line back in the water in record time, he was determined to show me he could do it again and would land his own fish this next time, taking me out of the equation. Over the next few minutes I ended up catching a large brookie myself and this only fed fuel to his sarcasm and desire to catch another bigger one since mine was in the cooler! As we sat there fishing and ribbing each other about the “one that got away” I could see something floating in the water about fifty feet or so in front of the plane, and every so often it would move for a second or so but otherwise it remained still for a minute or more. The water in these ponds in central and northern Maine is very clean and rarely do we see anything foreign floating on their surface so this really had me eyeing it suspiciously. Within seconds it dawned on me, could this be Jeff’s fish? Could we have stunned it enough so that it didn’t fully recover and was floating belly-up on the surface?
I immediately stood up and looked from a slightly higher vantage point, there was no doubt…it was a trout wounded on the surface and we had to get to it immediately lest it get away a second time! I pointed to the fish and told Jeff I could see his trout so we’d better get our butts in gear and go get it. Once again we were clamoring over the narrow floats trying to get our lines pulled in and not fall over each other while stowing the rods. I told him to grab the paddle located under the plane on the float rigging and start paddling us towards the fish, which he did quite passionately. There was a problem however, as he paddled the plane it turned continually towards the left and no amount of paddling on either side of the right float (the float we were both on) could overcome the hydrodynamics of the floats and make us go straight towards the fish. At this point I had an epiphany, I climbed partially into the cockpit and put both of my hands on the rudder pedals situated on the floor near the pilots seat. As Jeff was paddling I was moving the rudders right and left with my hands, while laying nearly prone with most of my body hanging outside the cockpit! Surprisingly we were not only moving towards the trout but we were able to steer easily in the fish’s direction as he attempted to get away!
Now you must picture this–if only someone had been there to video us two buffoons clamoring around the plane chasing down a wounded trout on the surface in this most unorthodox manner. Until you do it or see it done this way you’ll never truly appreciate just how ridiculous it looked! With my expert rudder work and Jeff’s handiness with the paddle we were able to bring the trout right up against the side of the float and he reached down and pulled it from the water before it made a second successful get away! Neither one of us could believe the good fortune we had in getting this fish back but Jeff’s first words after getting the trout safely in the cooler was, “So now you let me recover my fish since yours is slightly larger!” Not being one to get in the way of a good story I agreed wholeheartedly and we both laughed at the insanity of the nights events.
We ended up both getting our limit of trout on this particular evening and they were all very nice sized fish. Seeing the excitement in Jeff’s eyes each time he caught another fish really topped off the night for me and we both remarked that his success was probably due to his dad looking down on him from above. His father, Wayne, recently passed and the last fishing he really did was with his dad so the significance of the night’s great fishing was not lost on either of us. I feel pretty confident that Jeff’s father was looking down on us and smiling knowing it may have taken thirty years but we were doing the same thing he and his son had done three decades ago.
Of course we had fun that evening making memories that would follow us to our graves. I am sure however, that neither one of us expected that evening to bring some wonderful old memories to the surface–memories now forever entwined with each other within the fabric of each of our lives.