By Stacy Barawed
I try to text or have quick chats with my boat captains prior to fishing with them, and I can honestly say that this was the first time a guide had warned me about the possibility of being mauled to death prior to getting on the water.
The plan was for Captain Chris Ditter of HeadRush Sportfishing to pull up to my motel at 4:30am so I could follow him to the boat launch for my first Mackinaw trout adventure. I was given two instructions: be ready to get a workout from reeling in some fish, and be cautious about bears coming to my car. Needless to say, I sprinted from my room to my Jeep in record time that morning.
By 4:45am I was on the dock on Lake Tahoe, unscathed. We boarded the boat in pitch darkness and headed to our first spot. Although this is Chris’s first season guiding on Lake Tahoe, he knew exactly where to find the schools. Only one other boat was on the water, and nowhere close to us…perfect!
“I hope you’re ready for a good workout!” Chris smirked. I started to understand why as I watched him attach our lines to downriggers with 10- and 12-pound sinkers. Our spoons would remain between 4 and 10 feet from the bottom of the lake. his would be my first time using medium to medium heavy rods for trout fishing, a far cry from the light tackle I used in March for rainbow trout.
Once our lines were down, I couldn’t help but notice the readings on the reels’ line counters. 200…300…400 feet of line went out and I realized this was going to be a completely different experience than I was used to.
We began trolling at a crawl and kept our eyes peeled for subtle ticks at the tips of the rods. Within minutes I had my initial bite, and the first thing I had to learn was how to free the line from the downrigger clip.
“Reel in the slack, grab the rod with both hands, then pull back firmly…do that a couple of times,” Captain Chris explained. “It might take a couple of tries to get that part down, and that’s okay.”
“Then, start reeling and make sure you keep that bend in your rod.”
I was able to free my line on the first try, and I thought it’d be smooth sailing until my fish was landed.
Boy, was I wrong!
I fish the San Francisco Bay on occasion, so I’m familiar with the struggle of pulling fish up from 100 feet or so. But today, the fish were significantly deeper; and the amount of line was exponentially more than anything I’d had to reel in before. I glanced at the line counter and nearly 500 feet of line was out. This was going to be a marathon.
I started reeling as fast as I could, assuming I’d be able to maintain that stamina until the fish surfaced. With 375 feet of line remaining, I realized I’d made a terrible error as I felt both biceps burning. I was losing steam and had to slow my pace or risk losing this fish.
With 200 feet of line left, I was maintaining a steady pace. Captain Chris advised that the trout would be visible within 40 feet, so I was in the home stretch!
And then the worst happened. With 100 feet to go, the fish shook my hook, my line was weightless, and I exhaled in both exhaustion and disappointment.
I looked over at Captain Chris. “I still love this!” I laughed.
My second hookup was a bit easier because I paced myself from the start. However, heartbreak ensued yet again when this particular fish shook the hook at 80 feet.
“Maybe third time’s a charm?” I asked. If I was lucky enough to get another opportunity, I wasn’t going to lose that fish. I shook out my arms and awaited the next tick of the rod.
My third chance came, and since this fish felt somewhat larger than the previous two, the stakes were high! Prime time for Mackinaw fishing in the area typically ends around 9:00, and since it was close to 7:00 already, time was of the essence.
I looked down at the line counter…675 feet. “This is going to be fun!” I told Chris.
I started reeling slowly, but steadily. Every now and then, I’d take a couple steps back to rest my arm for a split second while maintaining the bend in the rod. 400…300…200. I started getting very excited because I could tell this was a quality fish! With 100 feet of line left, I told the captain to get ready.
And like that, my beautiful trout surfaced at 40 feet, just like Chris said it would. But then, chaos ensued.
Somehow, the line snapped!
Luckily, the fish stayed afloat, bloated from being pulled up from the depths. Chris ran to the front of the boat to turn it around so we could scoop it up before the seagulls got to it.
We did get to it before the birds did, and it was a lovely, slimy 5-pounder. By no means was it the biggest fish I’d ever caught, but it was definitely one that I had worked the most for.
Although my final bite that would have given me my limit shook the hook at 60 feet, I could hardly be disappointed with landing (rescuing?) a 5-pounder against the backdrop of beautiful Lake Tahoe. When all was said and done, I headed home with a bag of gorgeous, pink filets and a pair of burning biceps. I’ll absolutely be back on the water with Captain Chris for salmon season later this year!
Watch the video on my YouTube channel, Stacy Goes Outside.