by Jack Naves
Five o’clock Saturday morning in the hills of Amador County, I was zigzagging through windy roads in the dark. The “Historic Main St. Jackson” sign offered a point of light to contrast the dark twisted highways in between. I was about halfway to the lake, on a mission for a lunker kokanee salmon.
With rumors of monster kokanee swirling, I had scrambled to schedule a trip to New Melones Reservoir on August 24. I even packed my SLR camera just in case I actually got one.
The morning started out slow, with a few fish showing up here and there. Rj Sanchez and his uncle Danny joined me in my boat. As we trolled across a shaded underwater point, the depth slowly started to drop. 40…45…50 feet deep. I was trying to lower my downrigger weight along the bottom to match the depth.
60…65 feet deep. I saw a small group of fish on the sonar unit hugging the bottom. As I cranked forward on the clutch of my Cannon downrigger, wire played off the spool. THUD. I felt the weight contact bottom and I locked it into place. I paused with tension – knowing that my lure was fluttering through a school of fish at that very moment.
Not more than five seconds later, the rod tip violently surged. “Here we go,” I muttered, as I grabbed the rod and reeled into the fish. After a few cranks, I noticed that I was reeling against the drag. I stopped reeling and held the rod out to the side. PUMP-PUMP-PUMP…I couldn’t gain any ground…PUMP-PUMP-PUMP…but I knew it was a fish. I recovered some line, but the fish suddenly ripped off 20 feet of line in the span of a few seconds.
“I wonder if it’s a bass?” I inquired, but in the back of my mind, I was thinking that bass don’t pump or head shake like this. After several minutes, the fish was near the surface and Rj grabbed the net. Just as the fish was about to come into view, it ripped off another 30 feet of line.
We crossed out of the shadows into the sunlight. “I at least want to see it…” I thought to myself. I was thinking that if it was a bass, no big deal if I lose it.
“It’s a kokanee!” Rj relayed, as the fish came into view. As it turned to one side, Rj scooped it into the net like a pro.
The beast looked like something out of science fiction, with twisted hooked jaws similar to one of those cartoon buzzards. The fish tapped out at 19.25 inches long and 2.47 pounds on the scale. It was the biggest kokanee I had ever caught, or seen for that matter.
The drive home was easy, with sunlit mining towns and golden hills offering picturesque views. I couldn’t help but wonder: if there’s a 19 incher out there, there has to be a 20 incher? Right?