Feeding Kings and fueling tomorrow’s memories

Throughout my three-decade run on this earth, I’ve certainly taken my fair share from the outdoors. Nature has supplied me with delicious food, relaxation, and more memories than I can count.

And while it sounds cliché, to be sure, enjoying the outdoors is a give-and-take situation.

This is particularly true on Lake Michigan. You see, the overwhelming majority of salmon and trout that call our local Great Lake home are stocked. There is little to no reproduction of these species. It is a bit depressing to think about but, to a large extent, the fishery in Lake Michigan is little more than an enormous fish farm, at least as it pertains to salmon and trout.

When referring to the trout and salmon populations on the lake, a local fishing guide once told me “these fish are basically put in here for us to kill. That’s really about it.”

That blunt assessment stuck with me. Though I have a hard time arguing with the logic, that statement made me think long and hard about my place in the food chain.

Of course, there are many benefits to aquaculture on this grand of a scale. Charter fishing is a significant part of the economy up and down the lakeshore. Not to mention the thousands of anglers from near and far who enjoy the angling opportunities that come from the presence of these large, hard-fighting fish.

My family and I are proud members of that extensive cohort. My late grandfather often said some his fondest memories in life were made out on Lake Michigan.

Each year, we pull a couple dozen fish from the cold local waters and enjoy the bounty at family gatherings and simple dinners at home.

Recently, I was given the chance to give back to the lake that has given so much to me and I knew I had to take advantage of it.

It all started with a post I saw on a Lake Michigan fishing Facebook group. A local club, Great Lakes Sport Fishing Club, Ozaukee Chapter, was assisting with the stocking of 69,000 King Salmon and they were looking for volunteers to assist in each aspect of the process. Folks were needed to help with everything from getting the holding pens in the water, to feeding the fish prior to their release.

I always knew, at some level, that local clubs often assisted with fish stocking efforts. But I had no idea the extent of their involvement, in some cases. I had assumed the Department of Natural Resources basically handled almost everything. Though that is frequently true, I quickly learned that is not always the case.

Despite my hectic schedule, I wanted to make time for providing as much assistance as I could. I signed up for morning feedings, not knowing how many shifts would be required or how many people had already signed-up.

But, as I discovered, there was much work to be done before feedings could take place. A large, coordinated effort was required to get the holding pens in the water prior to delivery of the young fish. These pens would help the new members of the ecosystem get acclimated to their surroundings before being sent out on their own.

Once in the water, the three pens were stocked with the small salmon a couple days later. Then, the pens were towed by boat from the drop-off point to their home at the end of one of the slips in the marina.

The feeding process occurs twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, until the fish are ready to be released.

It’s a pretty simple thing, but the feedings do require some training and elbow grease. Food is measured and placed into zip-top bags. Each pen receives one of those bags per feeding. Before the food is dispensed, however, measurements of water oxygen content and temperature are taken with a special tool and recorded via an online form. This feedback is closely monitored and helps ensure the fish are being put in a position to flourish.

When I arrived at the Port Washington marina for my training session, I was greeted by an unseasonably chilly morning. Though the sun was shining bright, temperatures were below freezing and that is never a welcomed feeling in late April.

I met up with Mike, a club member who was responsible for the morning’s feeding. Naturally, we talked fishing as we gathered the necessary equipment and headed down to the end of the slip. He walked me through the measurements that I needed to take and showed me how to gather the information in the most accurate manner possible.

Next, it was time to dispense the pellets. I reached into my plastic bag and grabbed a handful of feed. I sowed the pellets into the first door of my pen. Instantly, the water exploded with hundreds of fish vying for nourishment at the water’s surface. It was quite the site to behold.

I continued working up and down the slip, doing my best to evenly distribute the food. Once everyone was fat and happy, we collected the empty feed bags and packed away the measuring tool. After a brief rundown of the reporting process, we went our separate ways.

The work is far from done, though. Feedings will continue for the next month or so. I have a pair of shifts remaining on my calendar.

Once the fish are released, the pens need to be towed back to the boat launch and taken out of the water. All of this requires even more volunteer hours (not to mention boats).

This experience has opened my eyes to the amount of effort it takes to make one of the fisheries I enjoy a reality. And so much of it is driven by volunteers who invest immeasurable time and energy into tasks such as planting fish they may never catch for the enjoyment of people they may never meet. I am incredibly grateful that such selfless folks exist.

Though it is likely impossible to quantify the impact I have been able to make through my small actions, it is nice to know that I am getting closer to balancing the scales of my symbiotic relationship with this beautiful lake.

Maybe I will even get to encounter one of these fish again someday. If I don’t, that’s fine too. It just feels good to try and do my part.

When the cable doesn’t work

It was a pleasant spring Saturday evening in early April when I sprawled out on the couch and turned on the TV.

My plan was to turn on the Milwaukee Brewers and enjoy a quiet night at home enjoying one of the first baseball games of the season while mulling over the joyful thoughts that accompany the promise of warmer weather and longer.

It had been an enjoyable but long day. I arose a couple hours before dawn to go fishing and catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I was lucky enough to score my second brown trout of the year and was grateful for the relatively steady action we encountered. I was satisfied with my time in the outdoors for the day and was looking forward to calling it an early night and catching up on sleep after the game.

That plan was quickly foiled, however. I couldn’t get a picture to come through on my TV screen. The cable box was on, but nothing was showing up. I spent a few minutes tinkering with inputs and triple-checking connections. Growing frustrated, I quickly threw in the towel.

I went out the back door and grabbed the dip net out of the garage, determined to make the most of my night. I tossed the net in the back of my truck and headed for one of the bridges that stretches over the Pigeon River here in Sheboygan County. With the baseball game dialed-in on the radio, I was off in search of a few spawning suckers.

It was still at least an hour before sunset, long before the best action begins. The plan, as it always is with dip netting, was simple: lower the net down to where I believed the fish would congregate and then give it a pull every few minutes.

My net is a five-by-five-foot mesh setup that is supported by four umbrella-type metal rods with an old boat anchor rope attached to the top of it.

It’s hard to place a finger on exactly why, but dip netting is one of my favorite activities. Maybe it’s the simplicity. Perhaps I enjoy it because it’s one of the first outdoor activities I partake in during the fresh season. Maybe I just find joy in having an excuse to be outside before properly-nice weather arrives. In all likelihood, it’s a combination of the three and then some.

The intent of this activity, as I understand it, is to remove “rough” fish from the local waters. There are few laws governing dip netting. You don’t even need a fishing license.

Though the limit, the last time I checked, is 600 suckers per person, I rarely keep the fish. It seems silly, I know. But I just like seeing and interacting with them. Most of the time, I get my kicks by slightly inconveniencing the fish and sending them on their merry way. I usually don’t have a need to keep suckers and, even though many people find them to be a less than desirable species, I’m not into taking lives for the sake of it.

My dad and friends often accompany me on these adventures. Tonight, I was flying solo with the sweet sounds of America’s pastime singing through my headphones.

As predicted, there was no movement in the early going. Dip netting is best when it’s dark. This is for a couple reasons. First, the more visibility is available, the higher the chances are that the fish can see the net. Second, these spawning fish do most of their traveling in the rivers under the cover of night. This is a built-in defense mechanism that helps them avoid predators. These fish can be incredibly vulnerable during spawning periods when they are concentrated into narrow rivers and often easily seen in the shallows.

Just after sunset, I walked over to my rope and gave it a tug. I was greeted by the familiar splashing that comes from a trapped fish. It was, indeed, the first sucker of the night. I pulled it up to the guardrail, admired it and then slowly lowered it back to the water. It felt good to have the first one out of the way.

True darkness began the set-in. The songbirds entered their roosts and the steady stream of birds zipping in and out of the treetops that I enjoyed between innings of the game in the hour before had ceased. Headlights of passing cars occasionally lit the surroundings.

It wasn’t long before I had another fish in the net. As was the ritual, I brought it up to the railing. That’s when I remembered a recent conversation with my dad. He had reminded me that the neighbor across the street from him pickles suckers and was willing to make a batch for us. He needed a minimum of 22 fish to make it happen.

My dad and I had been out netting a few times in the days before with some success, but nothing steady. Knowing that the high volumes of fish we were after weren’t present, we released everything that wound up in our nets.

On this night, it occurred to me: if we are ever going to get our 22, we have to start somewhere.

Though I was without a cooler and, thereby, mostly unprepared to keep fish on this night, I escorted the fish to my truck and placed it in the bed. I decided I was going to start chipping away at our total. You have to start somewhere, right?

Well, that belief was quickly challenged. The next several pulls came up empty. This was the exact scenario I was dreading. Once you keep the first fish, you are committed to the cause. Was I really going to have to go home and clean a single fish?

Thankfully, I was able to find another fish after about 15 minutes, then another, then another. I was slowly dinking and dunking my way toward the desired total. Things were getting steadier, but the action was far from hot. When the variables of fish volume and activity properly intersect, it is nothing to get three or four fish in a pull. This early in the season, I was still dealing with singles.

Before long, I was in double-digits including my first double of the night. At this point, I was comfortable with my haul even as things began to quiet down again.

I chose to change things up. I pulled my net up to the road and scurried across to the other side of the bridge. I lowered my net into the deepest pocket of water I could find. A few minutes later, I had a pair of suckers in the net. I walked the duo to my truck bed. When I came back to my spot, I gave the rope a pull. There was another fish in there. I was back in business.

As I pulled up another sucker, I received a text message from my wife. She was done with her shift at the family restaurant and wanted to know if I was still out netting. Once she found out that I was, she decided to swing by for a few minutes.

The pace of fish coming over the rail slowed as we got up to speed on the nights we had. As she left, I told her I would likely be home shortly as it seemed that my luck was running dry. I had 15 fish in my truck.

Before departing, I decided to go back to the spot I started the night at on the other side of the road. And wouldn’t you know, there was a fish in the net on the very first pull.

It was at this juncture I knew I was going to see this thing through. I was going to stay until there were 22 fish in my truck, come hell or high water. I am very much a goals-driven person and I don’t like leaving work undone or coming up short.

I pulled a couple more fish from the original location but, after a string of empty pulls, I chose to move back to the second spot. The first pull yielded another double. I was just three fish away.

Just as before, I brought the fish to my truck and immediately gave the rope another pull upon returning. And again there was a fish in the net. Two to go, now.

A few minutes later, I caught another sucker. The excitement grew as I got closer to my goal. But my joy was dampened upon my latest trip to my vehicle. A quick count of the fish in the bed revealed that I had been operating with a faulty fish count. Somewhere along the line, I gave myself one more fish than I was actually in possession of.

So, with my total back to 20, I resumed my mission. Naturally, fish instantly became harder to come by. It was well after 10 p.m. and, nearly four hours in, I was still two fish short of a proper batch for pickling. More seasoned netters would have called it quits by now, given those numbers. But I refused to give up.

I bounced back to the other side of the road. A short while later, fish No. 21 came to the roadside. On the very next pull, I felt the weight I had slowly become accustomed to and a big smile came across my face. The last fish I needed was in my net. I had done it.

For whatever reason, I lowered the net back into the water to soak while I brought the final fish to the pile. When I came back, I gave the line one last pull. There was another large sucker in my net.

The part of my brain that is geared toward addiction told me to keep it. After all, 22 was simply the minimum required to get the job done. I could always add more.

“Maybe I should keep going,” I thought to myself.

But, after staring down the barrel of the prospect of cleaning 23 fish, I thought better of it and slowly lowered the fish back to the river, off to swim another day.

I sent my dad and wife a message before leaving the spot. I was headed home with a full batch of suckers. On my way to the gas station for a couple bags of ice, I reflected back happily on the fun night I enjoyed. It was full of success, fun, and relaxation. Even better, I accomplished a goal I had set for myself.

All because the cable didn’t work.

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 2: Spring Trout and Thoughts on Sight Fishing

It’s Episode 2 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast!

In this show, I discuss my experiences during my first season fishing the steelhead run in the Sheboygan and Pigeon Rivers. Then, I offer up some thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of sight fishing.

Listen here by using the player below or find the show wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a future episode.

A proper steelhead adventure

I have this working theory: if you have the chance to do something that you know you won’t be able to stop talking about afterward, you best do everything in your power to make it happen.

It was early winter when I found myself scrolling through Instagram. I stopped on a post that featured a beautiful array of large trout and salmon that caught my eye. While the gorgeous fish certainly gave reason for pause, it was the caption that really drew my attention.

“Book your 2021 trip now for a chance at a giant like these,” the text beneath the photos read.

After doing some digging, I discovered the guide responsible for the post was local. In fact, he lived in Sheboygan Falls, just as I do. His name was Bailey Adamavich and his outfit was called Crazy4Chrome Guide Service. I spent time scrolling through his Instagram feed as well as his website. By the time it was all said and done, I knew I had to book a trip.

I proclaimed to my wife that I really wanted to schedule an outing with this guide in hopes of pursuing trout in our local rivers. I was intrigued by the possibility of being able to have such a memorable experience so close to home.

That night, I sent Bailey a message on Instagram. I congratulated him on a stellar 2020 season and let him know that I planned to book a trip with him in the spring.

A few months later, as the days began to warm, I found myself with enough money saved up to make this dream adventure a reality. I gave Bailey a call and set something up. The agreed-upon date was a little more than two weeks away.

I couldn’t wait. I immediately requested my day off from work and I spent loads of time talking to my wife and family about the excitement surrounding the adventure that awaited.

However, as the day approached, the weather forecast took a sour turn. Rain followed by cold temperatures threatened our plans. After some discussion with Bailey, we decided to push out another week.

Finally, the day came — for real, this time.

I met Bailey at the end point of our float at 5:15 a.m., roughly an hour before legal fishing time. We shook hands and he explained the plan for the next hour as our headlights provided the only light that shined upon the paved backroad.

With waders on and all of our gear situated, we hopped in his vehicle and drove to a spot closer to the point in the river where his raft was tied up. After a brief, brisk walk, we arrived at the 13-foot gray raft, gently floating in the lazy current.

“What are we here for today?” Bailey asked as I climbed into the front of the vessel. “Do you just want to catch fish? Do you want to learn to read rivers? What are you hoping to get out of this?”

I told him I was after all of the above. Without a doubt, I wanted to land my first river steelhead. But I also wanted to learn as much as I could about the process.

We lifted anchor and began the float to our portage point.

Once there, we took care of getting our watercraft back into the river and we continued our journey to our first spot. We spent time talking about our fishing backgrounds and getting up to speed on the plan of attack for the day.

Daylight began to break, but there was still some time before we could begin fishing. We passed the minutes with more conversation as suckers began jumping all around us. It felt like there were hundreds of them. I probably asked a dozen questions, the subjects of which ranged from catch and release practices to basic steelhead biology. By the time we got to the bottom of everything, it was time to get after it.

It was a cold and clear morning, with temperatures hovering in the low 30s and a slight breeze that still held the taste of the dying winter.

We began by floating spawn sacks and a bead (meant to imitate a fish egg) underneath slip bobbers with several equally-spaced split shot sinkers helping to provide the proper presentation.

Ice buildup on the rod guides was our primary issue early on. The added resistance made accurate casting difficult. We overcame this by occasionally dunking the rod tip in the water or manually removing the ice ourselves. Eventually, we resorted to changing out rods every few casts. Bailey would get one rod back in working order while I continued to fish with another.

With no bites to speak of, we continued downriver to the next hole.

“It’ll get going once the sun starts hitting the water,” Bailey reassured me.

The next location was one of his favorite spots on the river. The presence of shore anglers had prevented him from being able to fish it up until our trip.

“We’re going to spend some good time here,” Bailey said. “I guarantee you there are a bunch of fish sitting in this hole.”

We continued to float spawn and beads, switching up colors every once in a while. He even had me try a spinner. Still, no luck.

“Just so you know, if the fishing sucks, we can call it an early day and push to another time,” said Bailey.

While I thought the offer was incredibly generous, it didn’t exactly spark confidence in what the next few hours held. I started getting the sense he was becoming nervous about the lack of action.

The sun rose higher and began to shine on the water. Its warmth was a welcomed addition to the cold morning. We spent about an hour at this particular hole, but were still in search of our first bite. Bailey said it was time to move on.

This next stretch of river was more on the shallow side. Bailey explained that the fish spawn on the gravel beds and then spend time hanging out in the slightly deeper pockets in the area.

We went back to the floating approach.

“See that “V” on your left? Float right through there until you hit the gravel bar,” he instructed from his seat in the back of the raft.

On the second float, my bobber disappeared under the water’s surface. I gave the line a good tug and was hooked up.

As I battled the fish, Bailey maneuvered the raft to a position that allowed for an easier exit. As the fish drew nearer, Bailey hopped into the river with the landing net. After some minor adjustments and a bit of coaching, our first fish was secured. It was a beautiful male with a pink hue that complemented its silver complexion. Though it was on the smaller side, I couldn’t have been happier. It was my first river steelhead.

I disembarked from the raft and met Bailey in the river for a couple quick pictures. He coached me through how to handle the fish properly: wet your hands, put one hand around the tail and tuck the other near its head, and gently lift the fish above the water line. We captured some photos on Bailey’s phone and sent the fish back on its way.

Frankly, I would have been satisfied with my investment even if we didn’t catch another fish. I accomplished what I came to do. In a matter of a couple hours, I gained some incredible insight into pursuing river trout and had managed to score my first steelhead on waters other than Lake Michigan.

After a handshake and a fist bump, it was time to climb back into the raft and try to find another hungry fish. It didn’t take long. In short order, we pulled two more fish out of the same pocket. Another male that was similar in stature to the first, followed by a much larger female. We were in a groove now, with a trio of steelhead to our credit in the last six casts.

Satisfied that we had located all of the active fish in this pocket, we moved slightly downriver to another similar setting. After a few casts, I had another fish on the line. This one was sizable, much closer to the type of trout I have encountered on the open waters of the big lake.

The fish surfaced, revealing its large tail. And, just like that, it was gone.

Since the fight was short, we decided to keep working our current pocket fairly confident that the lack of disturbance didn’t alert other fish to our presence.

A short while later, I had another fish on. This one made its way to the landing net. It was another solid female.

One more spot near a gravel flat yielded another small male. We went from no bites to five fish in, what seemed like, a few minutes.

A persistent downriver breeze forced us to move on. So we floated downriver to a deep hole near one of the downstream bends.

“We pulled a big fish out of here yesterday. We are going to put our time in,” Bailey said.

After roughly a dozen drifts, we decided to change bead colors. As it turned out, that was the ticket. Just as Bailey was about to tell me to pull up my line and start a fresh float, my bobber disappeared. It was probably 30 yards or more from the front of the raft.

I set the hook and felt the type of tension I had become familiar with. It quickly became apparent I was dealing with a strong specimen.

The fish and I went back and forth. For a while, I gained a bit of ground as I began to reel down on the fish. But most of my progress was quickly erased as my opponent went on a series of runs that made the drag sing. I was locked in, what turned out to be, the longest battle of the day.

After nearly 10 minutes, Bailey jumped out of the boat and moved downriver with the net. A short while later, he was making his way back to me with the fish in tow. It was the third female of the day. Though it wasn’t the largest, it was definitely the most energetic of the fish we encountered.

Even as our trip drew to a close, Bailey continued to coach me up on reading the river and the different types of habitat to look for. We also spoke about the handful of brown trout that remained in the river as well as the ins and outs of his king salmon trips in the fall.

I told him I would definitely be booking a trip with him this fall for a shot at my first brown trout in the river.

Before I knew it, I spotted my truck on the far shoreline. Our river adventure was over. But what a trip it was.

I am fortunate enough to have been on many guided hunting and fishing trips. When things are slow, the joke often is: “you should have been here yesterday.” It sometimes seems like I never get to have one of the days that the guide will brag about on Facebook or in their marketing materials afterward. But today, I felt like I was that guy.

We ended the day with six fish on, what we later estimated to be, 10-12 bites.

I still haven’t shut up about it.

Introducing the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast

I am extremely pleased to announce that the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors podcast is now available on most major podcast platforms.

After much deliberation and a lot of encouragement from some impactful people in my life, I have decided to take the plunge into the podcasting space.

The show will focus on providing perspective and advice on a host of outdoor topics including hunting, fishing, and birding. The format will include a mix of solo episodes as well as appearances from guests who are involved in the outdoors.

It is my hope that this podcast will be an extension of the community I am trying to create with this website. I encourage each and every one of you to submit questions or provide topics you would like to hear discussed on the show either via email or by reaching out on Facebook or Instagram.

Follow the links below to listen. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice so you can be sure you’ll never miss a new episode.

Thank you for your continued support of Nathan Woelfel Outdoors. This is an extremely exciting time, but we are just getting started.

The Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast is currently available on:

Anchor

Apple Podcasts

Breaker

Google Podcasts

Pocket Casts

Radio Public

Spotify

The only picture I got

For many people, spending time in the outdoors can be a way to unplug and get away from it all. I often fall into that camp. Fishing, hunting, and birding are all activities I use to relax and re-charge.

Though it pains me to admit it, sometimes I am not as disconnected from the outside world as I could be when I’m in nature.

The excuse I use for this is that I am a “sharer.” There is a special joy I get from sharing the unique experiences the outdoors provides with others. Since I am not always accompanied by friends or family when I’m out hunting, fishing, or birding, the photos and videos I am able to capture are my way of giving you a glimpse into my experiences.

When I catch a fish or see something special, it is my reflex to reach for my phone or camera. At this point, it’s a habit. But, as ingrained as that procedure is, sometimes I am so taken by what is in front of me that I completely forget to document it. That’s when I know a situation is truly unique.

Recently, I was on a late-morning fishing trip at a local river in pursuit of steelhead. I’ve never pursued spawning trout in the springtime, despite my easy access to several local Lake Michigan tributaries.

I had spent several hours working this particular area in the days prior, with no luck. In fact, it took me a few days to even find fish. Once I had located a few, none of them seemed particularly hungry.

But this didn’t deter me. There is something addicting about getting up close and personal with these beautiful, powerful fish. Armed with a good idea of where to locate a few of these chrome-plated specimens, I set out for another round during an early lunch break.

It didn’t take long to find signs of life, unlike the day prior when a friend and I spent over four hours in the river before seeing our first steelhead.

There was frequent cloud cover occasionally interrupted by intermittent bursts of sunshine. Temperatures were climbing toward 60 degrees, some of the warmer weather we had seen so far this year.

About five minutes in, I had found a couple trout cruising in and out of the deeper pools. I floated a spawn sack past them a couple times to no avail. I switched to a stick bait with the same result. After I decided I had been sufficiently patient, I decided to move up-river in the hope of finding some feeding fish.

I only had to venture about 100 yards before I saw a fish-shaped shadow suspended near the far bank facing into the current. It undoubtedly had intentions of continuing its spawning journey, but it seemed to be taking a well-earned break. This fish had already ventured several miles into the river, navigating its way through shallow water, blockages, and anglers.

After some brief contemplation, I decided to enter into the shallow river bed. I slowly edged toward the fish. The river was narrow here, less than 20 yards from shore-to-shore. I only made it about a quarter of the way across before I felt like I was pushing my luck. So I began casting.

My bait of choice was a pink spawn sack on a single hook. The lack of weight allowed the setup to float just under the water’s surface, right in the fish’s line of vision.

Initially, the fish wasn’t phased by the presence of a potential meal. It had other things on its mind.

Occasionally, the fish would gather its energy and make a charge into the small rapids ahead of it only to be turned away by the power of the water. Each time the fish dug in for another run, it’s silver hue flashed. As best I could tell, it looked to be a female packed full of eggs and determined to find a suitable spot to lay them.

Once I observed her behavior, I came up with a different plan. Rather than attempting to coerce a charging fish into eating, I would let her do her thing in peace. When she retreated back to the slack water, I would offer up the spawn once again, hoping she would eventually be ready for snack after exerting such considerable energy.

It was shortly after that when another shadow emerged from downriver. It was a second steelhead, about two feet in length, similar in stature to the fish I had been targeting.

Incredibly, the fish began working in tandem like a pair of race cars looking for a draft. One fish would take the lead and the other would follow, right on its tail, enjoying the short reprieve from the persistent current. These two wild creatures partnered with one goal in mind: continuing the bloodline for another generation, no matter the cost.

Even after joining forces, the fish weren’t making any headway.

Banking on the fact the fish were distracted by their mission, I inched closer to the pool they were using for recuperation. I was about 20 feet from them at this point.

I continued to wait for their seeming-inevitable retreats to the slack water. Then I would once again float the spawn in their direction. Still no luck.

Upon closer inspection, the second fish was a male. This fact was given away by the fully-formed kype on its lower jaw. He had spectacular colors. A deep, almost greenish gray on top with a brilliant pink stripe down the middle, a far cry from the metallic shades of silver these fish display when they are in the lake come summer.

A third, much smaller fish, joined the would-be parade, hanging back while the larger fish took the brunt of the current.

Still waiting for the right times, I continued pacing out my casts while attempting to balance the quantity of opportunities with quality of them.

At one juncture, the spawn sack gently floated right into the female’s nose. She wasn’t having it. The soft container of fish eggs bounced right off her sniffer and continued floating downstream. This was starting to look like a lost cause.

“Five more casts,” I told myself. Then it was time to move on.

On the third cast of that final set, the spawn sack was on course for a collision with the male. As it approached, he violently shook his head. There was instant tension on my line.

The fish quickly realized its predicament and made a run for it. The water exploded as the fish’s powerful tail breached the surface, the sound echoing off the surrounding trees.

He took a bit of drag as he headed downriver. I walked with him, as far as my calf-high boots would allow me.

Eventually, I brought him back to where the fight began. I slowly, yet firmly guided the fish toward the shallows. He was becoming beached. The problem was: my landing net was back on shore.

Though he was running out of water to work with, I was hesitant to approach the fish. I didn’t want to spook him into another run. But it was either that, or finding a way to back-pedal to shore so I could retrieve my net.

As it turns out, the fish made my choice for me. He was hit with a sudden burst of energy and darted for deeper water. He swiftly maneuvered himself around a nearby boulder. That’s when the snap rang out.

The resourceful fish did what it needed to do to earn his escape. He frayed the line around the rock and broke it clean off. He was now out of sight, as were the other fish who fled during the ruckus. My day was over.

My adrenaline pumping and I was disappointed. I headed back for the truck, tail between my legs.

It was not lost on me, however, that I was lucky enough to have an incredibly enjoyable experience. For nearly 20 minutes, I was in a crystal clear river, mere yards away from awe-inspiring fish. It was truly heart-pounding action.

In fact, a review of the heart-rate monitor on my Fitbit later revealed my heart-rate was in a “workout zone” for the duration of the encounter. I even burned some extra calories.

Heck, my heart rate is elevated as I write this.

As the “sharer” I am, my mind immediately went to work figuring out how I could find a way to include all of you in this excitement. It was then I realized, I hadn’t taken a single picture of my outing. Not one of the fish or the river. Nothing.

All I had was the blurry photo at the top of this story that my phone accidentally took when I was loading up my equipment.

And you know what? I am completely fine with that.

There is no substitute for being completely immersed in the experience.

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