Landing The
Big Ones
April 2004


   Official IGFA World Record Steelhead
                28.5 Lbs. on 8 Lb. Line

As the paddle on this fish crashed the surface of the water for the second time, I heard a voice from behind me yell, "Are you kidding me?"   He's right, I thought to myself is it another 30-pound steelhead attached to my line? As a great 20th century philosopher named Yogi once said, "It was deja-vu all over again.  My first thought thereafter?  One word-strategy.  I had to develop one fast, and actuate it even more quickly.  Should I simply hold on and wait and see?  No way!  The show could be over before the curtain is drawn.  I had made that mistake too many times, and now I was going to consciously avoid it.

The initial surveillance of my surroundings identified only a few places this behemoth steelie might attempt to take me in order to free itself. It was up to me to not allow the fish to take me there.  I was resolute in my conviction that it was to be mine-landed, photographed, and released unharmed.  The picture was in my head.  Letting the fish call the shots and just hanging on for dear life is not the way to get the job done.  Too many times I have witnessed fellow fisher-people get taken to the shed by a huge steelie or even salmon, because they just stood there and hung on for the ride.  I'm a firm believer in taking it to the fish as soon as your heartbeat settles down from the initial hook set.  This aggressive approach can only be engaged if you have determined your strategy
and can visualize what your bruiser is likely to do.  How will I keep it out of that log jam?  What can I do to keep it away from that ledge? Those rapids across river look imposing, how do I keep it out of there? Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate, then move and react on your hunches.

When I am in the strategy phase of the fight, I have to consider my equipment as well as my ability.  What have I been able to get away with while using my 7 1/2-foot
G.Loomis HSR 9000?  How much pressure can I really put on this fish while using a Shimano Stelia 4000 while loaded with only 8-pound line because of the clear water conditions?  I also have to remind myself of the astonishing fact that I'm getting older, and here I am in the river up to my waist.  I can't run with it downriver unless I back out, and only then if I have a shoreline that permits me to go with the fish.
 Sometimes it pays for me to back up am, as far away from the river's shore line as possible and conduct my fight there. I just might have a better shot at landing the fish if it's in tight versus mid river.  I contend, most of the time, landing the big one (20s-30s) involves very little luck.

Let's go back to the beginning of this particular battle and I'll set the stage for you.  The long, dark-shaded slot all the, way up against the opposite bank was where I had made my original presentation using my MondoFly. Over and over 1kept pounding the same spot while moving a little upriver every few casts, then backing up, moving adjacent to the slot for a few.  I even stepped downriver.   I was not going to leave this kind of water until I was satisfied no one was home.  On about the twentieth to thirtieth cast, there it was. First lesson here: always look for this kind of water on the opposite shaded bank for unmolested, undisturbed fish. Finding the fish in the first place is the biggest challenge. No matter how much I think, I know, there's a lot more that I don't. Therefore, I have become a student of the game as you should.  I watch others, ask questions, and I read this magazine from cover to cover picking up pinches of wisdom from anyone willing to tell their story.  All this and then some to gain any advantage in learning how to better read water, and better understand where "It" is likely to live.

Although this riverwqas new to me, I had seen similar water scenes on other rivers throughout the years.  Douring the last 10 to 15 years  I have become extremely adept at filing in my brain the
places I have hooked up or have seen others do so. These mental notes are pictures I recommend you take and store in your mind.  Steelles like similar water from river to river, and while approaching new water like this big B.C. river, these snapshots were invaluable on this particular day.

Once I was hooked up, bringing it all the way across the river back to me using 8-pound Ande tournament line was the challenge at hand. Many large steelhead lost throughout my career have freed themselves one way or another, oftentimes while I was standing still and in the same spot where I had set the hook. Armed with this knowledge and with Mr. Hogito dancing on my line, I began to move and change my body and rod positions often. I believe that in doing so the fish cannot determine,


" When he swam away with viqor,
a chill of awe and respect
 sent me back to the boat
 with tears in my eyes "
Armand Castagna

where the pressure is coming from which can cause it to make a move on you.  I would move in towards the fish, then back-up slowly.  I would sometimes hold the rod straight up while pulling on the fish, and sometimes hold the rod parallel to the river over on its side. Over the years, many folks have asked what the heck 1 was doing, suggesting I look like I am sword-fighting with the fish. Whatever it might look like, this technique has worked for me over and over again. The key is to be patient and keep your strategy in mind. Slow everything down. Don't rush, breathe deeply, and enjoy. After all, this is why we're here in the first place, isn't it?   How many times have you seen someone just keep cranking on the reel as if it were a wench, only to spin drag, and eventually break the fish off?  Go easy and be calm. It's possible to be in this fight for an hour or more.

This particular fish had a paddle on it that appeared to be at least 12 inches wide. My mind flashed to a steelhead I landed on the Mattole River that used his tall to kick the barbless Gamakatsu out of his mouth.   Immediately,  I decided that once I had this fish in close, I would lead it and allow it to flop around as little as
possible.  I  then had a moment to ask CatMan Catanese to bring the Boga-Grip scale, camera and landing gurney (not a net), from the boat.  The vessel was a couple hundred yards upstream and I figured that's what  friends are for, right?   The thought occurred to me that  perhaps he should also bring the boat downriver in case I would have to follow and chase the bruiser, as I have had to do with others so many times in the past.  But it became immediately clear no boat.  It was going to be a, make-or-break endeavour within the 100 or so yards of gravel bar I had above and below me.  This was the challenge I chose for this particular day.  The river configuration and lack of obstacles made this choice a lot easier.

Like all giant fish, once they tire, they can knowingly, or not, use their thick girth in the current to break you off.  Anticipate this action and don't let the fish do this to you.  This time, I was able to stay below him.  His sheer buoyancy allowed me to move him down with me.  No net was to be used here.  Taking the protective slime off these fish is something we all need to avoid.  I would do my best to tall him in water about a foot deep.  I kept looking downriver for a good runway.  I had seen such a place 20 minutes or so into the fight.  With good friend and guide extraordinaire Justin Geiger of  West Coast Fishing Adventure steady on the video camera, I slid Mr. Steelle gently up the runway.  He was now mine for this magical moment in time.  I could barely get my hand around his wrist as the barbless Gami slid out of his jaw nearly effortlessly.   While constantly providing him with a drink, we measured and photographed this fish of a lifetime.  I had attempted to weigh two other 20-pound-plus fish on a Boga Grip scale on previous trips. In both cases, I very sorry to have weighed the fish while it was suspended on the scale by the jaw.  After the second one last year,  I decided right then and there, no way ever again, no matter what.  So this time we carefully slid the fish onto a gurney and then used the scale gripper on the gurney handles. All 42 3/4 by 23 3/4 inches of him bottomed out the 30-pound scale in a fraction of a second.  This is now the official IGFA World Record for 8-pound line.  The thought that poundage would be taken off because of the gurney weight never bothered me, knowing in my heart and mind that I had done the right thing for the fish.  Twenty- eight pounds, eight ounces was good enough for me, although we all saw a 30- pound-plus fish once again.

When he swam away with vigor, a chill of awe and respect sent me back to the boat with tears in my eyes. Although we had at least three hours of fishing left in our day, 1 was done; never to make another cast that glorious day. It all began with the belief that the fish was there to be found, once again in the dark slot of the opposite bank, and ended with the implementation of a strategy, derived from personal experience and a lot of watching, reading and listening.

We don't always have a lot of choices to make while landing the "Big Ones.  But, when you are given that opportunity, develop your strategy, implement it while taking it to the fish, then carefully revive the fish with TLC after a photo or two. Most importantly, release it gently "to fight again another day"    ●


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