People have asked, “What gave you the idea for the Trophy Anglers Guild.” I have to respond, each time, with the same story.
I am a die-hard fisherman. I fish in the rain. I fish in the snow. I fish tournaments in January and February where the temperatures rarely depart single digits. I have fished in 118 degree heat. I fish. I have spent countless hours on the water and, no doubt, a fortune on gear and tackle. The majority of my time is spent on the tailwaters of the Bull Shoals Dam in Arkansas; part of the White River chain of lakes. For 20+ years, I have chased a trophy rainbow trout. These fish are elusive and very difficult to come by. Although the state record rainbow trout is a little over 19lbs, that record was set almost 3 decades ago and doesn’t appear that it will be broken any time soon.
As of a few weeks ago, my largest rainbow was a meager 22″ long and right about 4lbs. Until that changed.
We had an uncharacteristically mild February weekend and a close friend and I decided to take advantage and spend a Saturday on the river and a Sunday in the Church of the Outdoors…on the river. The Saturday was much like many others I have had on the water, with fish after fish hooking up, all in the 12 – 17 inch range. A standard catch of 50 fish by noon, but no size to speak of. As we wrapped up lunch sitting on the edge of the boat at the bottom of a shoal, we decided to go down river, down another shoal and fish some deeper water that might result in a larger bite. The stretch of deep water has a nice shifting current and a mottled bottom of limestone, large rocks for cover, and river gravel. We made the first pass in the boat with great results for this 80 yard stretch of water, turning out a dozen fish of consistent 14″ size.
We decided to make a second pass and it was one of the top 4 decisions, though insignificant at the point of action, I have ever made. About 50 yards into the 80 yard stretch, my friend sets the hook on another nice rainbow. The deep water magnifies the flash of the chrome as the fish turns sideways for a rapid head-shake. “Nice one,” I say.
At that moment, I feel the slight variance in the fall of my self-tied 1/16 oz sculpin colored marabou jig transfer up the 2lb test line and down the length of 6 1/2 ft Temple Fork Outfitters Ultralight spinning rod. Instinctually, my wrist snaps upward, driving the hook into the top lip of what I figured to be another 14″ fish. Then lightening struck under water and it seemed as though the entire deep pool lit up. “BIG FISH!,” my friend yelled. Heart immediately racing as my mind went numb and the muscle memory took over…rod tip up, adjust drag, not too much tension you have 2lb line, check for snags in the river he might run for, patience, pace yourself, don’t get too excited, it’s finally happening, breathe, breathe, breathe…
The head-shakes are what I remember most. The feeling of how long it took for the body of the fish to roll from one extreme to the other…much different than the rapid back-and-forth of an average fish. The fish made a fantastic run up river as my friend gave chase with the trolling motor. And then, it was as if the fish knew it would be okay. The fish turned, slowly made its way toward the boat and rose to the surface. My friend, net in hand, was poised at the side of the boat. I gave warning that I was lifting the head up and turning the fish toward the net. He lowered the net, prepared to scoop, and darted the net into the water underneath the fish. As the net closed in around the fish, in a last act of defiance or to show me that he still could, the fish gave a small head twitch, snapping the two pound line as my friend lifted the fish into the boat.
A dream was realized. Both my friend and I let out whoops and “hollers” of joy and a frenzy of high-fives, brotherly hugs, and moments of awed silence ensued. The fish was placed in the live-well and we motored up river to the bottom of the shoal to park the boat and grab some pictures, measurements and release the fish to swim and fight another day.
27 inches and 8.5lbs later, the fish was gone and the experience was over. It was an experience I will never forget. And never want to.
When returning home, I had every intention of having a replica made to commemorate this long sought-after trophy. I called around, got quotes, talked to many people, but ended with the best quote being $500 for a mount. Now, my wife is a loving and reasonable woman…the most…but trying to convince her that I need to spend $500 on a fiberglass fish to hang on the wall that she doesn’t want to be there anyway, when we have three young daughters, a mortgage, car payments, insurance, etc was like trying to explain a $500,000 tax deduction for “client entertainment” to an IRS agent during an audit without receipts. So, my trophy mount was put on hold and I started to look for other ways to commemorate this catch of a lifetime. To my surprise, there weren’t any. There are some record organizations that recognize record catches but what about all those, who like me, have not broken a record but who have chased trophy size fish for years? It was, literally, at that second, that the idea for the Trophy Anglers Guild was seeded and hatched. That was the fish that started it all.