Every fisherman has at least one story of ‘the one that got away’. A lot of these stories may only be memorable for a week or so, long enough to tell the story to all your friends. On the other hand, some of these stories live in your memory for years to come, haunting you as you relive the moment in your head over and over thinking of what you may have done differently to land that trophy fish.
What constitutes an experience worth remembering whether good or bad? For some it might be about the length of fight, class of line, structure being fished, a technique being used or even a location. Really, it’s a personal thing and the reasons can be endless, others just might not get it but it doesn’t matter if they don’t. On the weekend just past, I had an experience which I think will be haunting me for a time to come, well at least until I can get out there again and overwrite the loss with a memorable capture. For me, there are a few reasons why this particular fish was such a memorable loss and it still has me reeling (pun intended) every time I think about it.
This season I have been in search of the big, wild creek bass; armed with rods and reels loaded with 20lb braid, 20lb leaders and locked up drags to muscle these fish to the bank. These bass, even the smaller ones, don’t yield an inch and some of the terrain we are generally fishing is overgrown. Often we are lucky to have a track or to follow one made by the local cattle or kangaroos, or wading muddy banks in order to get close enough to the waters edge. Other times we’ve found ourselves carefully pushing our way through the overgrown lantana and blackberry bushes to find tiny pockets of water laden with trees that have been swept down the creeks in floods or fallen from the eroded banks, creating the perfect ambush spots for the bass beneath the surface. This type of fishing isn’t your average land based stroll and probably one of the main reasons this loss is so raw right now.
I’ve been putting in a fair bit of time recently chasing these wild river bass. This particular session commenced at about 2:30pm and it wasn’t until about 4:00pm that the fish began feeding actively and more aggressively. Fishing hard all afternoon, moving up and down the creek like a mountain goat, we managed to pick up some decent fish here and there. But it wasn’t until about 8:00pm when I could barely see the lure dangling from my rod tip that this particular encounter occurred and no more than 3 metres from my feet. We were heading home, on our way back to the car and this fish would have finished the session off nicely.
I already had one other missed opportunity playing on my mind for most of the session. About midway through the afternoon I had one of those ‘heart-in-mouth’ moments. I had climbed down an embankment and crawled my way into an opening on the edge of the bank, it was large enough to stand on and inside what can best be described as a tunnel of forage formed by the trees, blackberry bushes, lantana and other ground cover right over the creek. I pitched my frog down the creek about 10 metres, deep into some nasty cover formed by a semi-submerged tree. As it hit the water and I ripped the lure back, a flash at my feet caught my eye. A bass that looked to be around 35-40cm in length, charged towards my lure at great pace. Seeing this fish, the direction it was travelling towards the lure and the bow wave it created, I froze, well at least until it exploded out of the water as it attempted to engulf my lure. Unfortunately, the fish didn’t hook up nor did it return for a second shot, and this, became the ‘fish that got away’ for the rest of the afternoon, well until later in the session anyway.
From all this, you may ask, what is it about this fish I lost that makes it so memorable? To be honest, each factor on its own probably isn’t much but when combined, the effort and thought that goes into the hunt, the difficult terrain, the amount of time spent and the lost fish along the way, not just from this trip, would have made the capture just as much of a memory as that of the loss.
It was a wild river bass I failed to land. Hooked in about 1 foot of water at a super skinny section of the creek we were fishing which was only about 3 feet wide and no more than 5 feet at the widest. I had cast a frog 3 or 4 metres up the creek and almost instantly it was hit with an explosive force. All I needed to do was to retrieve a couple of metres of line and swing the fish up the bank. With the drag locked tight, I cranked back the line, lifted the rod and started swinging this 40+cm bass to the bank when the hooks pulled. The bass hit the edge of the bank and I was ready to dive down in an attempt to get a hand on it, trying to stop it from rolling back into the creek, but it all happened so quickly before I knew it, it was gone. This bass had won its freedom before I could claim the capture but gives me more reason and motivation to get out there and do it all again; except next time, hopefully it won’t be the story of the one that got away, rather the story of how it was caught.