Peninsula Fly Fishers

Great Memories of the Ones That Get Away
by Tom Kilfoil

When getting ready for a fly fishing trip, a lot of time is spent at the tying bench creating flies that you hope will land the big one. During this time of preparation it is easy to get excited with the anticipation of fighting with some big fish. Over the many years that I�ve been a member of the Peninsula Fly Fishers I have been lucky to land many big fish from nice trout on lakes and rivers to big silvery tarpon on saltwater. But some of the best and most lasting memories of fishing trips are of the �Ones that got away.�

The excitement of fishing is not always in the catching. Many times it�s in the battle and experiences you have before that big one gets away. On our club trip in October, 2001 to the Las Arenas area near La Paz I had a few good memories just like this. Sure, I caught a lot of fish during the trip, with a few pictures to prove it, but the most exciting memories came from four different experiences of fish that got away or didn�t even set up on my fly or popper.

I was fishing the week with my long time fishing partner, David Harris. We have been doing a bit more saltwater fishing this past year, so we were used to the drill. We had our equipment all ready. Rods, reels, leaders and flies were set up for just about any size fish. During the first day we were all trying to catch a big dorado, the same fish they call the Mahi Mahi in Hawaii. It is a great fighter and will take a fly readily. We were looking for some rafting flotsam on the surface which gives bait fish a place to hide beneath. Dorado know this and can often be found around these areas chasing bait. We were casting near a trail of this type of material when I got a great hook-up. I quickly cleared my line from the deck and got the fish onto the reel. This is one of the cardinal rules when fly fishing for any big fish.

A lot of accidents, �the ones that get away�, happen right after a big strike in trying to clear your line. Loops that form knots in the line, tangles of line on gear in the boat, or any number of things that can go wrong before clearing the line onto the reel in order to fight the fish. In this case, that all went perfectly for me. The dorado was hooked well and was really taking line out fast. I�ve fought a lot of dorado and could tell from the way he was fighting that it was a good fish. Suddenly it turned to the right, jumped out of the water broadside to the boat, letting us see that it was a big trophy fish. Once he hit the water again he broke off my fly from the 20 lb. tippet. All I could do was sit down, reel back in my line and think about that fish. It was one of the biggest dorado I have ever hooked. When I daydream now about the trip, I can see that fish again and again in my mind�s eye jumping out of the water.

The second experience occurred one morning when we decided to fish around the boats that get together to fish for the big tuna. Once some are found, the various guides throw some bait fish into the area. This causes the tuna and bait-stealers to come to the surface and gives us a good chance to cast a fly to big fish. After each of us had landed some bonito up to 3 pounds, I hooked a very nice tuna. He was �off to the races� for a short time then went down to get deep. Once you hook one of these big tuna you are in for a battle. You have to do a lot of rod pumping to gain line on these fish. About the time you get it close to the boat, off it goes again. Finally after ten tough minutes I got the fish directly under the boat and was gradually gaining line when all of a sudden the fish must have seen the bottom of the boat and went nuts. I could feel it twisting and turning every which way to get loose. All of a sudden, there was a big jolt to my line, then nothing was there. I reeled up my line to find that the tuna had twisted my stainless steel hook in two different directions and had gotten away. Now when I look at that twisted fly it brings back memories of how strong those fish are and how that big tuna got away.

My third experience came early one morning while we were on our way to look for some more big dorado. David and I were sitting in the boat holding on to our hats as the guide roared across the water to get to a fishing area. He suddenly moves the boat to the left and quickly slows down. Just ahead of us is a sailfish resting on the surface with it�s sail in the air. I grab my 12 weight fly rod that I have set up with a large popper. While keeping my eye on the fish and stripping out line, David moves to the back of the boat to give me room to cast. Chances of hooking that sail in this situation are slim, but worth a try. I get one of my casts out close enough to cause the popping action of the popper to get his attention. He starts to take an interest in the popper with a move toward it. Right about that time another boat that had seen us stop suddenly, pulls up on the opposite side of the fish. The other guide throws a big scoop of bait near the fish and the bait fisherman in the boat casts his line with a big sardine right near the sailfish. The sail smacks at it then dives after the bait and is hooked by the other fisherman. My chance to catch a sailfish on a popper had come to a quick halt, but it was worth it just to get that fish to turn on my popper. Seeing such a big fish on the surface so close to the boat leaves me with a fond memory.

The fourth experience occurred on the last day of fishing in the afternoon just before we had to quit to go back to the lodge. We had been fishing close to shore in an area with some big rooster fish. David had been catching a lot of roosters the day before on a long white fly that looked like some of the baitfish. He bought this fly, probably from the Caddis Fly Shop in Belmont, with a trace of red near the head with a slightly dark overbody. I had tied up a couple the night before. I had just hooked a nice rooster fish that jumped out of the water seven times while I was fighting it. Our guide said he had never seen a rooster fish jump so much. After a good fight, I landed that fish and decided to get a picture of it.

In lifting up the fish for the picture, I got some of its body slime on my fishing gloves. After the picture and release of the fish, I leaned over the edge and tried to rinse my gloves off in the water. I was trying to get the slime off them, when the guide hollered, �Big rooster! Big rooster!� We both looked to see where it was. It was right in my casting area, so I immediately grabbed my rod and stripped out line to make a cast in front of the fish. He didn�t hesitate a second before he was onto my fly. I hit his strike with a good set and we were ready to do battle. We could tell it was a big fish by the size of its many fins sticking out of the water as it slashed back and forth trying to get away. Our guide thought it was about 30 lbs. or more. I knew I was up against a nice fish. He made four very long runs away from the boat. Each time I worked him back, till finally I got him under the boat. We were fishing in 10 to 12 feet of water. As I tried to raise the fish with the rod, my drag slipped so I reached to tighten it a bit. As I had my right hand at the drag setting, my only hold of the rod was at the fighting handle with my left hand in a glove that still had fish slime on it.

About that time the fish decided to make his final big run. It was with such force that it caused my rod to point straight to the water and be pulled out of my left hand overboard. Yes, I said �Overboard�. I had heard of this happening to other people from time to time, but never to me. What a shock. As we looked over the side we could see my rod and reel being dragged away from the boat. I grabbed the extra fly rod and reeled the popper to the rod tip to act as a small gaff. I leaned over the side and tried to hook my rod or line with it. The guide started the boat and followed the rod and line. Thank goodness the running line was a bright chartreuse green colored 25 lb. Amnesia line so we could see it. It was connected to a short lead core shooting head. The boat was guided over the rod. The guide cried out for the �gaff� rod which I handed to him. He was able to hook the line and get it up to the boat. I grabbed it and wrapped the line four times around my left hand just so the fish could not get to my rod and reel anymore. I gave the other end of the line to David and asked him to see if he could pull my rod and reel back into the boat. About that time the fish decided he wanted to take off but I wouldn�t let him get any more line. David got my rod and reel back into the boat and handed it to me. I reeled the line back hoping that the fish was still on the line but I wasn�t that lucky. The fish had broken off the shooting head at the connection to the running line. As I sat down to consider my good fortune in getting my rod and reel back, a value between $800 and $1000, I told David: �That�s enough for me! What a way to end a fishing trip. I�ll always remember that one!!!�

So fellow club members, sign up for these special trips or for any of our fishouts. It might be your chance for memories of �the one that got away.�

Tight Lines,
Tom Kilfoil

Peninsula Fly Fishers 1976-2022
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