By Matthew R. Page
(Published February 1992, Utah Fishing & Outdoors)
For what seemed like the hundredth time in the last 20 minutes, the drag on Grandpa’s trolling reel was screaming as yards of hard—won line spun off the spool and returned to the depths of the lake. I looked at my cousin, Blake, and wondered what kind of fish would take line off a large trolling reel like that. We both came to the same conclusion: It was a big one.
There were five of us on the boat that day. All of us could trace what we knew about fishing to the man
straining to land the big fish. Dad and my Uncle Joe had learned the art of fishing from Grandpa, and the three of them had taught Blake and me how it was done. Now something special was happening there on the calm waters of Fish Lake, something we all wanted to see.
Grandpa hadn’t been fishing in years. Seven decades of life had put dents in the body, but Grandpa’s mind was still filled with visions of trout. We’d all thought Grandpa’s fishing days were finished when he’d had his hips replaced, but he surprised us all with his recovery and was once again engaged in one of the great thrills of his life.
The spool stopped spinning and Grandpa regained some of the line he’d lost. Beads of sweat stood out now," he mumbled. “Not goin' to do me a bit of good to start horsin’ him.”
The fish saw the boat and dove, heading for the deep water. But the fish was losing strength, and I sensed the battle was about over. I grabbed the net, mentally gauging the mouth of the net and the size of the fish. It would be a close fit. I could see the fish clearly now, and the size of it was thrilling, like news of a friend's engagement or winning of a close game. It looked like a mackinaw, fully two yards long.
Grandpa controlled the fish on three more runs, and when the fish came alongside the boat I knew I needed a bigger net. But Blake and I managed to grab the fish and lift it in the boat.
It was a huge fish. The tail had the deep fork of the mackinaw, and the spots on its side reminded me of the states on the wall map I had at home. The gill plates opened and closed as the fish struggled for oxygen.
Grandpa was looking at the fish. He noted the long scar running down the side of the trout, a relic from a long-ago accident of some kind. He looked at the huge tail, the mouth, and the dorsal fin that would’ve looked more appropriate on a shark. Uncle Joe looked at me.
“This is what we came for,” he said, nodding at Grandpa.
Grandpa spoke just seconds later, in a voice so soft I almost couldn’t hear it. “Put him back.” I looked at him in disbelief. “Put him back,” he said, a little louder.
We carried the fish to the swim platform on the back of the boat and gently lowered him into the water.
We moved him back and forth for several minutes, watching the great creature come back to life. Grandpa watched the fish with just the hint of a smile on his face. It seemed the fish was watching him, too, and it seemed the two old campaigners shared a thought, for grandpa's smile deepened for a moment. Then the big trout turned, flipped its tail, and disappeared into the deep, green water.