Some time ago on a beautiful September day, my brother Pete and I and our friends Van and Mark gathered for fishing on Little Whaley Lake. This lake was chosen for the fishing trip because Van claimed that the fishing was very good, (“Out of this world” as he put it) and besides, he owned an old cottage on the lake. The lake is very remote and can only be reached with a four wheel drive Jeep. Also true about this lake is that there are only 4 cottage on its shore, one of which is the 30’s built cottage of Van’s family.
The plan was that we would meet in Pawling at the Main Street Bar and then drive together to the dirt road that led to the lake. As planned, we reached Pawling about 3 in the afternoon, had a couple of glasses of beer and then headed for the lake. We reached the lake with enough time to get settled, prepare dinner and assemble the fishing gear for the next morning. It was near sun down when we finished preparing the fishing equipment. As darkness slowly fell, I asked that someone turn on the lights and TV. It was then that I was told that there is no electricity at the cottage. For a few minutes we pretended that candle light was enough to socialize and tell stories. But, quickly we all decided that sleep was better and besides, we were expecting a great day of fishing the next day.
We were all rolling out of our sleeping bags as the first light of the dawning sun broke over the neighboring hill top. As usual, Mark was first to leave the sleeping area and begin preparing a fire for cooking breakfast. In a very short time, Pete and I reached the kitchen and began gathering fresh water for the morning pot of coffee. As the coffee perked away over the glowing embers of the fire, Van began carrying food to the kitchen for Pete to prepare for breakfast. The smell of fresh bacon filled the kitchen, the cottage, and the lake front. By the time the bacon and eggs was reaching our plates the eastern sky was clear and bright from the rising sun. Quickly, we devoured our normal morning breakfast, washed the dishes and stored the uneaten food.
Moments later we were all at the lake side choosing the craft that each of us would use for the day’s fishing. I took the Kayak, Pete took the canoe, Van and Mark shared the row boat. I was unfamiliar with the lake because I had not been there before. For this reason, Pete agreed to lead me to the “good” fishing spots and then leave me to fish as best I could. Together we navigated toward a small cove for what looked like a good fishing spot. This fishing spot was still sheltered from the rapidly rising sun and had numerous banks hanging over the water. Although Pete and I were in the cove, several hundred feet separated us from one another. As I recall, it took me much longer to rig my fishing line than Pete spent doing roughly the same. As I looked up from the tedium of stringing my pole, attaching a swivel to the end of the line and securing a spinning lure, I could see Pete holding high his fishing pole and frantically reeling to retrieve a fish on the end of the line.
Pete had just lost a very large fish in his area of the protected cove. I decided to paddle my kayak over to his area and try to get one of those big fish
that seemed to be over there and not where I was. After a very short time in Pete’s area, I had a massive strike asI was retrieving a cast. At that very moment, I thought that I had snagged a log or big clump of sea weed. Without warning, the tug on the fishing line overcame the drag of the
reel and line started to strip off the spool of my reel! At this time I knew that I had a “nice one” on the line and I was in for a real fish fight. At first the fish just swam away from me, pulling more and more line from the spool of the reel. I kept the tip of the pole tight and continued reeling as the line went out (that way the fish is running only half as fast as he would like to run). This went on for what seemed like an eternity but it was actually about five minutes. Finally, the noise of the reel drag mechanism stopped and I was now gaining as I was starting to retrieve the Big Fellow as I reeled in the line. Only moments passed when that fish began to turn toward my Kayak which created a great deal of slack fishing line gathering on the kayak floor just beneath my reel. This slack in the line is just what it takes to give the fish a chance to spit out the hook and break free. To overcome this slack line, I frantically cranked the handle of my reel faster than I have ever cranked before. The movement of my hand was a blur as I reeled faster than I imagined possible.
Just about the time my wrist and arm were going to fall from my arm socket caused by that frantic high speed reeling, the big fish turned ninety degrees and shot out of the water! “Oh my God”, I thought to myself, he is going to spit out the hook. I don’t know what I did that second of time or the two seconds that followed, but the very next thing I remember is the pull on the tip of the pole and the drag of the reel was screaming again and the tip of the pole was bending down, almost touching the water! The Big fellow was heading down to the weed bed where he very easily could tangle the line in the weeds, create some slack in the line and spit-out the hook! Instinctively, I pressed my thumb on the drag control button and increased the resistance while at the same time cranking on the reel and pulling up on the pole. Exhaustingly, the Big Fellow and I struggled for another couple of minutes as he would try to go deep again and again, and fail. Failing to reach the weedy bottom, he would reverse direction and head for the surface. Then before breaking water, he would turn around and head deep. We played this up and down game for another couple of minutes and then the Big Fellow turned and started to swim left, then right. I still kept up with him by maintaining tension on the fishing line and I noticed that he seemed to be getting sluggish (I remember that the only sight I had of him up to this point was the big white flash and splash of water that came when he first broke water). The Big Fellow was weakening and he was getting closer to my kayak. I figured that I was about to get a glimpse of him. All of a sudden, I saw this huge fish in the water and at that moment I think he saw me, and he started to go deep again. This time I couldn’t stop him and into the weeds he swam.
I didn’t give up and kept the rod tension as strong as my aching arms could manage, pulling on the pole as I reeled in the line. I could feel his movements but his weight seemed to increase significantly (What I didn’t know at that time was that he had succeeded in wrapping the fishing line around a bunch of sea weed and I was now pulling the Big Fellow and a clump of weeds). I pulled and pulled as I retrieved fishing line in an attempt to get him close enough to slip a net under him. The Big Fellow turned right, then he turned left but he did not dive for the deep. It was about five minutes later that again I saw the Big Fellow and the clump of weeds. I quickly reached for my landing net. I knew that I had to land this guy soon because if he were to go deep again, the line would probably break from the extra weight. Slowly I maneuvered my pole to guide the Big Fellow closer to the kayak and be able to net that huge fish. The only problem was that I was trembling all over from the excitement.
The next thing I knew, I was sliding the net into the water while the water current guided the kayak. At this point I think I was holding my breath. The next thing I knew, the Big Fellow was in the net and my left arm was trying to raise the net and fish combination out of the water. For a split second I was not able to lift him out of the water with the net (my moment of weakness!). But suddenly I found the strength and I raised him out of the water and into the kayak, right in front of my feet. MY GOD HE WAS HUGE! I put my foot on him to make certain that he didn’t flip up and out going back into the water.
It took me fifteen minutes to remove the hook from his mouth and jaw, the web of the fishing net and the fabric of my pant leg (I was using a fishing lure that had three treble hooks on it and when I got the Big Fellow into the kayak, some of the hooks caught the netting and my pant leg). So about fifteen minutes later I had both of us free of the hooks. I carefully put the Big Fellow on the fish stringer and secured the stringer to the kayak. NOW HE WAS MINE! Brother Pete didn’t witness the event because his canoe had drifted out of sight.
I wanted to be real calm and collected about the event so I tried to continue fishing. I didn’t want my fishing buddies to see my excitement until I was on land with them. But, my attention was not focused on my fishing but rather on the fish stringer secured to the Big Fellow. It was no use pretending that I was just fishing the waters between the cove and the cottage. So I carefully paddled back to the cabin anxious to show-off my trophy. Pete and Van were at the cottage when I reached the boat dock. Carefully, I secured the kayak, removed the fish stringer and walked up the hill to the cottage. “Did you get anything!” was the call from the cottage porch when they noticed me coming up the path. “Yeah, I got one.” was my answer. Hearing the good news, they both moved to the porch railing to look down and see my catch. “Wow, that’s a beauty”, was the first cry. “That’s some fish”, was the assessment that came from my Brother Pete’s lips. After a few moments of gawking and touching, we weighed and measured the Big Fellow. The Big Fellow was seventeen and one half inches long and weighed eight pounds.
That wasn’t the end of the trip. We stayed a total of four days. We had great fun catching more fish and eating all of them. The weather was terrific and the fishing continued to be outstanding. But, my most lasting memory is of the Big Fellow and his struggle to remain a Big Fellow in the lake. Let me tell all of you reading this story; that fish gave me the biggest and most memorable fight of any fish that I have caught in my life.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Paul Zakriski