The One That Got Away: You Can’t Win ‘Em All

Sometimes the best stories anglers have to tell are those of the big ones that got away. And we seldom forget.

The Story

If you watch fishing shows on television, you know that even good anglers lose fish. Some of the best anglers in the World lose fish. If they didn’t, they’d probably give up fishing. After all, it’s the chase and the primal instinct of man vs. beast that drives most of us to want to keep fishing, even after punishing days on the water.

Friend and fellow Minnesota guide Jason Freed of Leisure Outdoor Adventures always talks about a fish he lost while scouting a new area on the massive body of water known as Leech Lake. He was ice fishing for perch, and a few were iced, but overall the day was pretty slow. Then he set the hook on what felt like a rock. After a lengthy battle, he looked down the hole and saw the largest walleye he’s ever seen swimming below.

Like most people would, he became overly excited and began to play the fish a little more gingerly. After the fish took a couple of runs, he knew that his gear couldn’t hold up much longer. The fish presented an opportunity to be grabbed, and Jason reach his arm down into the hole and the fish came unhooked. No line breaks, no knot failure, just a good old-fashioned hook coming lose. He watch the fish swim away in the clear water, utterly heartbroken.

Jason never did think that spot was good for perch, and quickly wrote it off. He did however mark it on his GPS with one simple word, “SUMO”. Jason visits the spot each year, at least once, hoping for a similar story with a different ending.

The Lesson

There are several things that play into the demise of what would’ve been the largest walleye of Jason’s life.

First of all, the one thing we can’t control… excitement. While I’d like to tell you to stay calm, it’s inevitable that you’re going to get excited when you hook a big fish. Excitement causes us to do things differently, and can often be our biggest mistake.

Next is size. As walleyes and many other species of fish age, their mouths become thicker and the tissue in their mouths becomes much harder. There’s a reason why there are so many stories floating around about giant fish being lost. Not only do they fight harder, but they are harder to hook as well.

The final lesson is this. Sometimes we’re meant to lose big fish. Every time Jason tells the story of that fish (and trust me, he tells it often) I can see the fire in his eyes. It’s like he wants to get back to that very spot at that very moment to try to redeem himself. He even stated, “When I’m on a tough bite, or I’m losing hope, that fish keeps me going. That fish is why I wake up in the morning and hit the water.”

Regardless of where you’re fishing, how good your odds are, and how good your equipment is, it still comes down to man vs. fish. Someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose. Just remember, losing from time-to-time isn’t always a bad thing…

This is just one example of a heartbreaker. And the ways to avoid a sob story like the one outlined above are just the tip of the iceberg. Over the last 6 months I’ve compiled a large list of funny stories, truly heartbreaking stories, and complex situations where fish were lost due to various reasons. Be sure to stop back and read more examples and learn from other anglers’ mistakes.


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