A Fish Story That Tops Them All
by Gord Deval
Although after hearing and reading about what must have been several thousand fish stories, several of which that I had previously already designated as easily my personal number-one, all time favourite, this one tops them all. No adjective to describe this story could be considered more incredulous, or ridiculous. However swearing on a fifty-foot stack of bibles, I swear that the experience is absolutely true and actually happened as reported here. My sworn witnesses, long-time fishing buddies and expert anglers, Paul Kennedy and two other fellow witnesses, Lee Pantridge and Brian Farrugia, were also fishing with us nearby by when the mind-boggling event occurred.
In a previous book, Fishin’n Tales, written some twenty-five years ago and once again documented in a sequel, Magical Waters and Memories, a chapter from that book, entitled Tedious Lake, continued even after all those years, easily deemed by the book’s other readers the most unbelievable story ever. Until now however this true tale topped them all.
A little background to the account of writing about in this experience should be added in order that the most pertinent details are not overlooked when being summarized. Like most ‘fish’ stories it is easy to over-estimate the true facts in ‘fish’ stories. We all fishermen are prone on occasion to colour to their stories, believing as most that their listeners will automatically deduct fifty per-cent from the reality of their tales. They then believe that it becomes necessary in order to retain the status-quo in their stories.
In 1961, my fishing buddies of that era had our initial encounters with the monstrous residents in that wondrous body of water, the
Broadback Riverin far northern . The result was a record-size, twenty-nine inch speckled trout falling to a one of my freshly-tied Despair Flies, a feathered creation originally fashioned by our first fly-tying instructor, Jack Sutton. I believe that this fly fishing record still stands today, forty-seven years later. Another Broadback Quebec Riverrecord, although somewhat different, may soon be toppled.
My confreres working these far northern waters are certainly familiar with the huge pike that often emerge from their lair to steal one of our flies or spinning lures. With their razor-sharp teeth, they are normally no match for those toothy lure thieves. Frail leaders, usually disdained in order to increase the chances of attracting and catching the more satisfying fish in the swim. Larger brook trout, present an even greater challenge.
Nevertheless even thirty-pound pike are not particularly exceptional and if happened to have been hooked externally or near the lip, rather than drawn into their giant maws, it is a relatively easy matter to boat them. It only requires a little patience because of their occasional bulk and size. Unlike big brookies, old Essox Lucius, seldom has a bag of tricks in store to contend with. Pike simply seem to resort to the old adage, ‘brute force and ignorance’. They are generally a bit of a nuisance taking up valuable real fishing time from the prime purpose in our being there, hopefully finding and catching record speckled trout.
About ten years ago I did manage to catch another fish that was also declared to be some sort of world. It was an eight and a half-pound fallfish, several pounds heavier than any existing record that author and good buddy, Paul Quarrington and I were able to locate. He insisted that thing should definitely be declared a world record. Although he was so insistent about that, the ‘world record’ in short order was proven that the fallfish actually…….belonged an extensive family of minnows. I certainly did not that to remain on the books somewhere that Gord Deval had actually landed ‘the world’s largest minnow, a fallfish.
This year, 2008, after considerable persuasion from all quarters, mainly though from good buddy, Paul Kennedy and another veteran of our Broadback excursions, Rick Matusiak, it was decided that we would seek out new waters. The thought was that one of us working in new waters might finally catch ‘Mister Big’. The seemingly almost untouchable world record owned by the good Doctor Cook, fourteen and a half-pounds has belonged to him since well back into the last century. It is considered to be the ‘Holy Grail’ by trout fishermen everywhere. This would now be our return to what we refer to as the Deval territory, fished almost exclusively by our crew.
After poring over maps in the last couple of years, we finally settled on a somewhat different venue, still on the
Broadback, but a slightly different watershed. Its headwaters were on a fairly large lake and offered the opportunity to fish, both a smaller stream, the main river and the lake, itself. We had agreed that the most potential for a successful mission lay on the much discussed plan that we were attempting to follow. River
The first day once camp was set up was almost a total washout because with only our two small folding boats it quickly developed that fishing would be too dangerous until the winds, as we hoped they might, subside. Overnight the temperature plummeted and the winds did dwindle. Paul and I tossed our gear into the first boat, while Lee and Brian pushed off next to join them and battle.
Shortly thereafter Paul hooked and released a number of ‘hammer handles’, well known designations often applied in derogatory fashion to ‘Great Northern Pike’. We were beginning to wonder whether pike, not brook trout, might show up on the menus if we were unable to things around soon and find the specks. Then a little frustration began set in because my fly box seemed to have disappeared.
“You probably forgot and left it in camp,” Paul said, continuing to toy with a succession of eight and ten pound pike.
He asked, “While don’t you just pick something out of my fly box and use it until we get back to camp later?” he offered, “You can have it back later if you can’t find yours.”
Angrily, after he also searched through my old tackle bag again and this time on my behalf, all to no avail, I finally said, “The Hell with it, I’ll just toss a tiny spinning lure……E.G.B. or something for now instead.”
“You might never get your fly back,” I said, “should I happen catch M. Big on it, you know.”
Paul had just paddled us out fifty feet or so in the same direction where Brian and Lee, too, had been catching one hammer-handle after another then I made a casual cast in their direction immediately latching onto something much heavier. We soon knew we were fast to a ‘biggie’, but wondered whether it was, a lake trout, huge pike, record-size, brook trout or perhaps one of the sixty-pound sturgeon known to be occasionally found in the Broadback. Meanwhile the other men followed us around catching periodic glimpses of whatever it was while filming it and soon confirmed that it, too, was simply a monstrous pike.
As the ‘struggle’, which didn’t take long to discover, was close to an hour of valuable fishing time forfeited to the fish, simply because we had hooked a very large pike and not wanted to lose the lure while also being careful not to lose the fish, just in case it did turn out to actually be a trout. However we were able to eventually confirm as it lolled around that it appeared to easily be at least thirty pounds and more than forty inches long.
The problem was that the hook on the tiny lure had reached the end of its strength and as we maneuvered the brute into position to apply the coup de grace, the single treble hook straightened then let go with a parting flourish of its giant tale. This fish could hardly be classified as a ‘hammer handle’ but catching big pike has never been a problem for the men in our crew. While actually seeking a record brookie during one of our former trips, there have been at least a half-dozen other giant pike that were brought to heel in our territory on the Broadback, a number that weighed more than thirty-eight pounds.
Not wanting to sacrifice another E.G.B. at this point and not willing to borrow one of Paul’s proffered, flies tied by him, I decided that I would fashion a ‘fly’ on the spot. “You’re crazy!” he said “You would drive and fly a thousand miles to get here to go fishing…..forget to bring your fly box….then stubbornly refuse to borrow one from me.”
“Nothing against your flies, old buddy. I’m sure they would work just fine here.”
“Hey,” I continued, “didn’t you take your own biggest speck ever on one of your own flies just last year up here? I think it was caught on one of those over-sized Muscarovitchs you make, wasn’t it….one you threw together yourself on the river.”
“You want one, Gord?” he asked, “help yourself,” he volunteered, tossing his fly book in my direction.
Thanking him but only considering his offer only a moment or two, I said, “Isn’t that big Muscarovitch you use made with orange nylon wool? I think I’ll tie something up for myself.”
Our wading staffs were still on the bottom of the boats, as we use them to negotiate the slippery rocks on shore when climbing into the boat. Looking at Paul with a yard-wide grin, “Do you think I could cut three or four inches off the nylon lanyard he inquired?”
“Help yourself,” he said,” he said, “what the heck are you going to do with it? Tie a fly or something?” he continued, “You haven’t got any of the stuff in the boat here that you would need; thread, hook, material and so on. Why don’t you just take one from my tackle bag and stop fooling around, eh. You’re just wasting time,” he shrugged.
This entire exercise seemed foolish but is would not be the first time that I followed up on a hunch and it paid off for me handsomely. On that occasion on a previous trip, before the sack, I blurted out, “Heh guys, I’m going to throw a Despair together before I go to bed tonight and tie it without using a vice.”
Then ignoring the groans emanating behind my back, I presented the offer, “Okay gentlemen,” I said, “I’m willing to bet twenty bucks that tomorrow morning, this being our first day up-river from our camp, I will use the Despair I tied last night and making my first cast there, trying to catch at least a four pound, or larger speckled trout.”
“All right then,” I said, ‘presenting the challenge, any takers?”
That time everything worked in my favour, the trout did strike on the first cast as was ordained, was hooked, played carefully, netted, weighed and witnessed by a couple of buddies. They paid off the wager later that evening back in camp. This sort of thing doesn’t always work or course, but it was actually more than just a stroke of luck……..it’s really more than experience simply plus playing the percentages…..and having been there…..done that before and so on.
We will never know if I had so graciously accepted Paul’s offer to let me borrow one of his specially fashioned Muscarovitch Flies. I certainly would never disdain the offer simply because I did not like the fly. The truth was simply that a very strong urge to do something absolutely foolish while different and possibly exciting had overcome me. After spending almost an hour earlier, after hooking a huge pike on a tiny spinning lure, I thought that something else might also possibly develop into another interesting situation.
I unfurled the orange nylon material, trimmed it then combed it out to the best of my ability and began fashioning the world’s first ever wading-‘staff fly’. I used leader tippet material from my fishing vest to bind the flies’ head then brushed the nylon place. Still not satisfied with it’s appearance and the way it looked and swam when it was played out alongside the boat, I fastened a couple hitch’s to re-shape its configuration to that of a another somewhat similar old pattern, the Humpy.
Still shaking his head at all the nonsense while Paul paddled us closer to shore so that we both could be within casting distance, I fired out t a sixty-foot cast then he tossed out a spoon in a different direction. The first cast seemed to be hung up immediately but with no suggestion at all of a strike. Believing the fly was momentarily snagged on a weed, a firm yank is usually all that’s necessary to free it from the obstruction…..but that was no obstruction.
I could sense immediately that it was not one of the irritating hammer-handles that usually frequent the edge of the weed-line. This fish had size and bulk written all over it. It barely budged from its holding spot in the cover when the irritating pulling on it free didn’t seem to work it free.
“Heh, Paul!” I yelled, “We have got ourselves a biggie!”
We had no idea whatever it was but, hoped that maybe it just might be a huge brookie, or possibly a lake trout, believing there was no way that a pike would have been interested enough to nail the apparition that we had created with the ‘Staff Fly’. Without my having to ask, Paul immediately began furiously in the direction from which we had come, as I struck hard again a couple of times to assure the hook had been properly set. With a quick check to make sure the line was free to run and not tangled we were ready to begin the fun.
It was obvious that this would be a big fish….a really big fish! It disdained any external stimuli that I attempted to a spark with it into a little movement other than it slowly and heavily head out to the middle of the lake. Therefore, luckily for us where we would have had to deal with the weed-beds, is simply became which had the more patience, the fish, or I. Although many would argue that the advantage of having a slipping clutch to work with in a situation like this would believe that the advantage is there’s. I believe that it actually belongs to me as we know it’s possible to create tremendous leverage with my nine foot fly rod, which in addition also works as shock absorbing factor working in my favour.
When the other fellows came in close to observe the fun and games while trying to catch the odd glimpse of the massive fish, we finally discovered, it was not a laker or brookie, but just another giant pike like the one we tamed earlier when we first tried to hoist it into the boat. The difference however with this one was that this time the brute was hooked on a fly….and not just any old fly, but one created right in the boat out of this and that and most importantly…..a bit of material removed from Paul’s wading staff.
Another half an hour or so after of having with Paul’s help and firing up the motor when the fish tried several times to empty the reel’s spool with rather surprising, full-bore lunges across the lake, that became necessary to avoid not only losing the fish, but the fly line and backing. Fortunately the big fellow had been solidly hooked and it was only necessary to maintain the pressure until it tired and succumbed.
There it could be brought to shore in the knee-high water more appropriate to stepping out of in the water on the rocky shore, where a battery of cameras awaited the customary photo session.
Temporarily becoming lost in all the excitement of the entire two or three-hour adventure became redundant when the measuring tape was extended to more than forty-two inches and the scale bottomed out to its maximum. Later in the evening after sitting around the campfire when we thought about it all for a moment, the pike was deemed to probably be a new fly-fishing record and one tied and created in a boat on the water. The result would become forever known, in at least our own circle of friends and fishing buddies, the ‘Wading Staff Fly’.
The Reel Thing