I was fishing near my house the other day for smallmouth in the Shavers Fork. I was just killing time really, trying to get motivated to mow the grass and letting the dogs play in the water. It was the middle of the day and there was barely enough water to cover the rocks, but still enough in the deeper pockets to hold fish.
I was picking up some small bass here and there on a curly tail jig that usually does well this time of year. I was casting to rocks in the deeper riffles when all of a sudden a nice fish came out of nowhere and slammed the small jig. I could tell it was about 17 inches, but it did not fight like a bass. Then it went airborne and I could see the bright red strip of a rainbow trout glimmering in the sun. I was completely surprised, not because it was a trout but because it was a trout caught in the middle of August in warm water in the middle of the day. That's not to mention I have not caught a trout on this section of river for probably two months.
I wrote it off as a fluke until I caught another, and then another. I was bewildered. I fish this stretch of water all the time and haven't caught a trout since June. I figured the water just got too warm for the trout and they went in search of a cooler place in creek inlets or springs. This got me thinking of some of the other pleasant and sometimes unpleasant moments I've had fishing over the years.
The most common surprise that I encounter is the size of fish in smaller streams and ponds. I have been amazed at times by the size of some trout I have caught or witnessed caught in some very small native streams. I remember catching a nice 16-inch rainbow in a tiny native stream that was so small you could jump across it in most spots and the hole this fish was in was just a deep little pocket tucked into the bank under a root ball. A perfect holding spot for a large fish, but I had never even caught a native more than 10 inches in this stream much less any other species of trout whatsoever.
Another time when I was fishing with the son of a good friend around Labor Day a few years back we spotted a huge brown trout in a small stream. There was very little water in the creek and the back of this fish was out of the water as he fed at the head of a small pool with his nose right in the spillover from the riffles above. My young friend made a great cast and this fish turned and engulfed his spinner, it tuned out to be a 22-1/2-inch 4-pound brown trout. Not bad for another native stream.
Sometimes it is the species of fish that can be a surprise. A couple years ago, I was steelhead fishing in Michigan one spring when we had a pleasant surprise. We were fishing the Muskegon River in March and the water was running very high from runoff from a recent snowstorm. We were having trouble getting the anchor to hold let alone getting our baits deep enough for the steelhead holding on the bottom of the deeper runs.
We were having a tough time hooking up with the steelhead when we noticed some nice fish cruising around in a large eddy. We were able to anchor the boat in the eddy and fish the seam created between the eddy and the main flow of the river. We hooked and lost a few nice steelhead when we just started catching walleyes, not just one or two but on almost every cast. The were big, too. I think we boated four or five that were more than 25 inches and numerous smaller ones.
Another time when I was a kid, I was fishing for small sunfish to use as bait for bass and muskies later that day on the Tygart in Elkins. I was using an ultra light rod and reel with a small spinner catching 4 to 6-inch bluegill when a big muskie shot out of the depths, grabbed my spinner, and took off for the far bank. He did not break the 4-pound test or bite through the line with those formidable teeth, but he did burn up the drag on that poor little reel. Not all surprises are pleasant and this I found quite ironic as well. I can never get a muskie to hit while actually fishing for them, but give me a tiny spinner and ultra light gear and there you go.
I know of several people, including myself, who have caught snapping turtles fishing with cut bait for catfish. A couple times I have inadvertently caught water snakes on minnows while trout fishing. Neither one is that enjoyable, trust me.
However one of the most pleasant and then unpleasant surprises happened the first time I went fly fishing for tarpon in the Florida Keys. I was with a guide and he said it was still a bit early in the season for the big tarpon (more than 100 pounds), but there were plenty of 50 to 80-pound fish around. He assured me the 10-weight rod I had would be sufficient to land these fish.
We were fishing under Seven-Mile Bridge casting to feeding tarpon as they rolled on schools of bait when I hooked into a huge fish. At first the guide thought it was a big grouper since it went straight down and stayed there for a couple minutes. I pulled hard to get his head up. Then a big tarpon exploded on the surface jumping high into the air shaking his body which made a rattling sound the guide said was his scales (very cool).
The guide winced at the size of the fish and said the thing was better than 130 pounds and we may have a tough time with a 10-weight fly rod. As it turned out, he was right. I battled that fish for about an hour and had him close to the boat three times, but could not hold him with the rod. He would make another run peeling off line taking me deep into my backing. That is when the guide saw a fin - a shark fin and it was a big one.
By this time, we were in the channel and a huge hammerhead shark was alerted by all the commotion. This is when the unpleasantness happened. The line went slack and we could see the big tarpon struggling on the surface, minus his tail. We motored over in time to see the hammerhead coming back to finish what he started and it was amazing watching this huge shark devour this 6-foot fish. But hey that's nature, much to my disappointment.
These are just a few of the moments that stand out as surprising me. Good or bad, it is experiences like these that make fishing exciting, at least for me. If you think fishing is boring, go fishing with me sometime because I guarantee if you have had some of the experiences I have had on the water you may count your blessings that you make it out alive. I know I have, several times, but that's another story.