The One That Didn’t Get Away

I like to think of myself as an outdoors person.

After all, I get out into the wilderness often. I love hiking, have done a fair share of geocaching, and don’t let a little thing like seventeen hours of nonstop rain ruin a camping trip. I have a backpack stocked with survival and first aid kits, fancy Leatherman tools, and pepper spray for any errant creature hell bent on devouring me. Bears, coyotes, and rabid chipmunks, you have been warned! I’d like to think that, should any mishap befall me, I’d have the strength and wits to live off the land for a few days, at least. I could probably start a fire, find magnetic north, and avoid any poisonous mushrooms until help arrived.

Then again, you should see me drop to the ground and curl up into the fetal position, whining and crying like a baby whenever I stub my toe on the coffee table.  (In my defense: that hurts like a mofo, man).

So, when we found ourselves with an unexpected kid-free weekend and Tara suggested a trip into the mountains to pick huckleberries, I was down for that. “We can even do some fishing at Thomas Lake!” I suggested, an idea she found appealing.

Salmon on their way to die.

Saturday morning, we loaded up the car and headed east, stopping by Bonneville Dam on the way to check out the poor, delusional salmon that were swimming upstream in order to die. I doubt they realize this on the way. Otherwise, would they really go to all the trouble of swimming against the current and traversing obstacles like giant concrete dams with turbulent spillways and scary whirring turbines that block the river? I mean sure, there’s a nice little payoff when they reach their destination, but then that’s it. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. Fish are not the brightest of creatures.*

*And yet they have continually outwitted me. More on this later.

After our dam detour (in which we had a dam good time without paying a dam cent) (“dam it,” you’re probably thinking, enough with the dam jokes already!) we migrated upstream ourselves, passing through Stevenson and Carson and Panther Creek before reaching our destination, the lovely and remote Indian Heaven Wilderness.  Once there, we spent a couple of hours picking huckleberries, filling our bags full of the luscious, sweet fruit. Huckleberries are like tiny blueberries, only a lot more flavorful. They make excellent jam, syrup, muffins, etc. We had a perfect day for doing this: sunshine, a few feathery clouds drifting across the sky, and a gentle breeze that carried upon it the faintest trace of autumn.

Huckleberries are like tiny blueberries, only better!

After we’d gathered our share of berries, we ate a picnic lunch before grabbing our fishing poles and trekking .7 miles to Thomas Lake. The setting was beautiful, the water pristine. We baited our hooks, cast our lines, and then waited for a nibble.

At that point Tara asked, “Are there even fish in this lake?”

“Of course there are!” I responded enthusiastically, although – truth be told – the thought had never crossed my mind that there might not be fish in the lake. I mean, it was a lake. There had to be fish in there. All large bodies of water in wilderness areas contain fish. Right?

As I stated previously, fish have this annoying habit of outsmarting me. When I was younger, I did quite a bit of fishing, and I used to haul them in on a regular basis. However, the last time I had ever actually caught one – sort of the whole point – was some thirty years ago. Granted, I didn’t do a lot of fishing once I got married and had kids, save for one year (1999) in which I decided it would be fun to take up the sport again. After all, Y2K was looming on the horizon, and I figured this would be my last hurrah before anarchy erupted and civilization crumbled.  I bought a rod and reel and a tackle box, paid for an annual license, and eagerly ventured out several times, only to be repeatedly stymied. I never had so much as a nibble on my line, and suffice it to say when 2000 rolled around and the earth hadn’t stopped spinning on its axis, I decided not to renew my license.

That had been my last fishing experience, until Tara moved up here. She’s even more of an outdoorsy person than I am and loves fishing, so I was eager to give it another go. We went a couple of times, but even though our destinations were new, the end result was still depressingly familiar.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Even in a lake stocked with what appeared to be approximately three million brown and rainbow trout.

So after Tara called my bluff, I was a little on edge. I thought I had read online that some people sometime had caught some fish in Thomas Lake. But maybe I was mistaken. I got excited when I heard a splash in the water, only to see it was a duck. I perked up again when I heard another splash, only to discover this was caused by a man on the opposite shore who had decided to go for a dip. Nothing wrong with that, it was a pleasantly warm afternoon. Only he was completely naked.

What the eff?

“Hey, did you happen to remember the binoculars?” Tara asked. OK, not really, but she did appear to have a sudden interest in the wildlife across the lake.

I was about to toss out some crack (pun intended) about his pasty white ass, when suddenly my bobber disappeared. It popped up to the surface, only to submerge again, and start moving in the opposite direction of the current.

My mind could not grasp what was occurring. I actually thought the thing was defective, and was about to rail against the “cheap, defective bobber” when Tara called out, “Yank it!” Fortunately she was talking to me and referring to my fishing pole, so I did as I was told and began reeling in my line. To my complete and utter surprise, when I pulled it from the water I found a rainbow trout dangling from the end. Granted, it wasn’t the biggest fish in the world. It might have measured a whopping nine inches and probably weighed all of eight ounces. That didn’t stop me from screaming declaring, “I caught a fish!!!” Next came the requisite gleeful pose for a picture to serve as everlasting proof of my fishing studliness, followed by the inevitable crash to reality as the comments rolled in on the accompanying Facebook post (sarcastic things like “Mark caught bait!” and “You should have it mounted!”). Ha-ha, people. Let me relish my victory for a little while, okay?

After all the hoopla, I asked Tara what our next step was.

“We throw him back,” she said.

Hmm. Rather anticlimactic, if you ask me. I wanted to fillet him but I suppose, seeing as how he was barely big enough for a sushi roll, the humane thing to do was to toss him back in so that he would live to see another day. I feel like I came, I saw, and I conquered, anyway. And now I know I can catch fish. It won’t take another impending doomsday scenario like Y2K to convince me to gather my gear and head out to a remote lake again for another chance at hauling in the big one.

Although if those Mayan prophets turn out right, this could end up being the very last fish I ever catch.

He may be tiny, but he’s mine…all mine!!

12 thoughts on “The One That Didn’t Get Away

  1. That’s a nice trout, Mark. Glad you guys had a great time at Thomas Lake. By the way, the skinny dippers usually hang out at the little lake just south of Thomas. More secluded. Maybe Mr Pasty didn’t read the memo. Now about this: “I’d like to think that, should any mishap befall me, I’d have the strength and wits to live off the land for a few days, at least.” Two words: Siouxon Creek. You know of what I speak. 🙂


  2. “To my complete and utter surprise, when I pulled it from the water I found a rainbow trout dangling from the end. Granted, it wasn’t the biggest fish in the world. It might have measured a whopping nine inches and probably weighed all of eight ounces. That didn’t stop me from screaming declaring, “I caught a fish!!!”

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay! Woot! Woot! Woot!

    Congratulations, Mark! Small or big, I think it’s awesome that you caught one!

    You came, you saw, and you conquered! That’s all that matters.

    Great photo!


  3. Mark. I gotta tell you something. I really love this post!! Whenever you write of the dialog you and Tara have, well…it’s like I’m right there. Cracks me up!!

    Congrats on catching a fish! I loved fishing with my Dad and will always remember with the fondest of memories how he reacted when he would get a nibble and then reel in a big fish. Warms my heart to think about it!

    Salmon die after spawning? I never knew. Stupid fish!


  4. I haven’t fished in years (since I lived in the bush of NW Ontario). Hubby’s cousin came for a visit & we decided to go fishing. Unfortunately, where we went fishing the only fish was jack fish. I got a nibble on my line & was pulling him in slowly & carefully, almost had him to the shore, when he used his powerful teeth to cut the line & swim away! So I didn’t get to take a picture with my catch (sob). But he would have been a big one!


    1. Tara was fishing after I caught mine, and she hooked one. Halfway to shore, it escaped – hook and all. Too bad; I’m sure it was bigger than mine if it was able to pull the hook off and swim away!


  5. I’m still chuckling over the “yank it” comment. You always make me laugh, babe!

    I had so much fun that day. We’ll definitely have to try and squeeze in a couple more fishing excursions before it gets too cold. 🙂


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