When the one that got away isn’t a fish

By Tim Mulherin

Sun contributor

Last fall, I was catching up with two former colleagues over beers and barbecued chicken wings at a restaurant in Indianapolis. Once the carnage of the wing feast had been cleared and as we awaited the check, one of them asked if I had the chance to go trout fishing on opening day last April in northern Michigan, a tradition of more than 30 years for me, my brother Chris, and some Michigander fishing friends. Always glad to be asked about my angling exploits, I said…

Absolutely! Well, the morning’s fishing was slow. Then we went to our can’t-miss spot on the river where we always manage to hook some decent trout. Ten minutes after arriving, I thought I had a snag on my ultra-light setup: micro spinning reel, five-foot rod, four-pound test. Then the “snag” moved—and man, that rod began to flex!

“Oh, boy, here we go,” one of my friends said jokingly—or so I thought—while elbowing the other.

Realizing this was no ordinary trout on the end of my line, I called out to my brother for “a little help!” He hustled over with his net. For the first time in my trout fishing experience, I said, “That net’s too small—use mine.” As I finally managed to finesse the combative German brown trout near the shore as it thrashed the surface, Chris reached for the taut line. My best friend, who was watching the action unfold across the stream, covered his eyes, peeking while laughing, waiting for the line to break and a fratricide to occur. “Just net it when I tell you,” I firmly instructed Chris.

As I recounted this high drama, I noticed my companions, who themselves don’t engage in this piscatorial pastime, weren’t quite as taken by the story as I was in telling it. One’s eyes had glazed over, her mouth agape—was she drooling?—and the other was toying with his credit card as if it were a fidget spinner. Undeterred, I pressed on.

About 2 o’clock we broke for lunch. As we munched on kielbasa and cheddar cheese sandwiches and sipped red eyes made with tomato juice and Coors Banquet Beer, courtesy of my always-buy-American buddy, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources pickup truck rolled up. Two friendly female conservation officers stepped out of the cab. Seeing us in waders, they asked how the fishing was going. I smiled and hauled my cooler from the back of Chris’ SUV. The younger officer politely asked if she could open it. “Be my guest!”

“Holy ****!” She exclaimed as she lifted the lunker brown, quickly apologizing for her understandable outburst. “No problem,” I responded. “You shoulda heard me when I landed it!”

My two friends were leaning out of their chairs, the check paid, antsy to go. So I halted my narrative, saying, “And everyone lived happily ever after,” humorously—and magnanimously—putting an end to their apparent suffering.

But guess what? They missed my story’s amazing conclusion! They didn’t get to hear that the conservation officers officially weighed both trout: The brown came in at 7.8 pounds, and the rainbow—caught a mere 10 minutes after the brown—at 4.5! And they told us how surprised they were that two trophy-sized trout had been taken in the same spot on that little ol’ river. “Unheard of,” one said of my once-in-a-lifetime angling bonanza.

Last week I went in for my biannual dental checkup. Once I settled into the dental chair, the hygienist, whom I’ve seen for years, kindly asked if I would be going trout fishing again this spring, an interest I apparently freely share. That jolted me away from my oncoming stupor, as I had been preparing myself to be helplessly bored for the next 45 minutes, held captive by her usual a-bit-too-personal update as she scaled, flossed, and polished my choppers.

“Oh, for sure. I’ll be out on opening day,” I answered enthusiastically. “Why, last year was a personal best for me. Caught the biggest brown trout in my life, and a really nice rainbow just minutes later….”

As I talked, she swiveled away from me in her chair and began examining my X-ray results, mumbling, “uh-huh” and “no kidding” while I carried on, her attention to my tale drifting away like a runaway balloon caught in an updraft. So I stopped and changed the subject, realizing that yet again, the beauty of my trout fishing adventure was lost on someone who just didn’t get it. What is it with these people?!

“So, how are things with you?” I asked, reciprocating—and totally regretting it. Know what I’m sayin’?