We asked Idaho Statesman readers to provide their best fish stories — the crazy but true stories that provide campfire tales for years. And they delivered. Here are some of their stories:
THE DEERFISH (WITH PHOTO)
We were fishing at (CJ Strike Reservoir) and we hear this weird scream. We look up on the bank only to see this fawn running and screaming for his life as he’s being chased by a hungry coyote.
My buddies John and RJ and myself look at each other and ask what can we do. I broke out the .22 I keep on board and took a couple shots to scare off the coyote. The coyote runs off, the deer keeps going away and we go back to fishing.
About a half-hour later, we see the deer swimming way off the bank, exhausted and struggling to stay afloat after trying to get away. We start the boat and go over to the deer. It doesn’t try to swim away from us and let’s me grab him. I pull him on the boat with no problem and tell RJ to drive. The second the boat moves, he panics and nearly pushes me off the boat. I held him down and we gave him a 3/4-mile ride and delivered him back to the bank away from the coyote, hoping he could reunite with family.
Craziest catch I’ve had in hundreds of trips.
BEGINNER’S LUCK? (WITH PHOTO)
I’ll admit, I am a novice fly-fisherwoman. I’m the one who still needs help tying a fly on my line and spends most of my time untangling line because my casts aren’t always perfect. So when my husband John asked me to go fly-fishing for steelhead with him last April, I laughed. Never in a million years did I think I was actually going to catch a steelhead.
We drove to the South Fork of the Clearwater River and stopped at a location where John had caught fish before, as it was a great location for me to cast and there were no other people fishing there. After a coaching session and detangling my line quite a few times, John decided to walk upriver and check another spot, leaving me to practice my casting and hoping for the best.
I casted and casted and casted. John was nowhere to be seen at this point, but I wasn’t worried, there was no way I was going to catch a fish. But then it happened, I felt the tug on my line and the rod tip went crazy. I set the hook and started stripping the line, while at the same time yelling at the top of my lungs for John. The battle was on and I knew if I lost this fish, no one would ever believe that I caught one. I couldn’t see John and he wasn’t coming. I must have looked ridiculous to the people driving by on the highway behind me because I was struggling with this fish and yelling for my husband.
He was fishing upriver and kept hearing noises that he thought were coming from a cow elk in the trees. Eventually, he walked down river to check on me, and there I was fighting the fish. It felt like forever from the time I hooked it until he finally came over to help me net the steelhead.
What a rush! If I would have lost the fish, no one would have believed that I had hooked one, and if John was standing next to me when I caught it, people would have believed he helped me catch it.
Check out the picture — there is proof that I did it all on my own.
A few years back, my son-in-law Josh and I were fly fishing Little Camas out of our pontoon boats. The weather was strange, with storm clouds to the east, but at a far distance, and even a few dust devils, far to the north. Even though there was a breeze, the clouds never moved.
As we were getting ready to head to shore, I put my fly rod in the holder to start oaring in. I started to hear a buzzing noise and thought maybe I had sprung a leak in the left pontoon. I picked up my rod and the buzzing went away. Back into the rod holder it goes, and the buzzing noise starts again. About that time, the wind picks up and within a few seconds, there are 1- to 2-foot whitecaps, with rain and thunder.
When we finally made it to shore, Josh grabs his rod and gets an electrical shock. I grab mine, and it’s like holding onto an electric fence. It’s then that I realize the buzzing sound I was hearing was the rod loading up with electricity. When I took it out of the holder the first time, I had a hold of the cork, but grabbing a hold of the graphite was a whole different story.
I don’t know how close we were to a lightning strike, but we definitely got spooked. After that day, anytime we are fishing with any sort of storm clouds around, I always grab the graphite part of the rod to check.
It was early afternoon on a beautiful spring day at Duck Valley Reservoir when we started trolling out of my 10-foot-long rubber Zodiac-style raft. I had attached my electric trolling motor to the raft so we could troll slowly with our fly rods dragging our wet flies several feet below the surface 20 or so yards behind the raft. The area of the lake shore we were trolling by was near our camp and we noticed a few other fly fishermen had parked nearby and left their large black Lab “Ruby” on shore by their truck.
Apparently, Ruby thought it was a good idea to jump in and swim directly toward us, possibly with the intention of joining her owners fishing several hundred yards on the other side of us. The black lab was a strong swimmer and was coming rapidly right at us. Not sure what we should do, we sped up and tried to get out of the area, hoping the dog would either swim back to shore or that her float-tubing owners would come get her.
Before we knew it, the dog swam between the raft and our fishing lines. Being diehard dog lovers, the last thing we wanted to do was hook man’s best friend. We cut the power to the trolling motor, but Ruby swam right into my buddy’s line and was hooked by a Black Wooly bugger fly. We thought about cutting the line, but were afraid the line might tangle up on the swimming dog’s legs.
We decided to coax the dog back to shore and keep enough slack in the fly line so she would not feel a tug or pain. It worked, she followed our encouraging voices and swam to shore alongside the raft. Once we made it back to shore, it was apparent by her wagging tail that she had no idea she had a large hook in her coat. While I patted her and checked her name tag, my buddy removed the large fly from Ruby’s thick coat with some pliers without her appearing to even notice.
My buddy won our bet of who would catch the biggest fish this trip, though there was considerable discussion regarding whether “Black Lab” should really qualify for our two-man, big-fish contest.
THIEF IS RIGHT
It was early April and a light rain/snow mix was coming down when we arrived at Horsethief Reservoir. We decided to fish from one of the docks so we could get away from the weeds and get to some deeper water a little farther away from shore.
It was mid-afternoon, and we were using the basic worm and marshmallow combo I had learned the first few days upon moving to Idaho 15 years earlier.
I casted my line 20 yards off the dock and it was not long before I caught a nice brown trout. Dan caught the next fish a few minutes later, a beautiful 14-inch rainbow. The weather was cold, but the fishing was getting hot.
We missed a few bites, but it was not long before we each had several nice 12-16-inch rainbow trout on our stringer. We had the nylon stringer cord tied to the dock, so the fish could stay fresh in the lake, but safely secured to the dock, or so we thought …
Fishing turned from hot to cold and we definitely noticed “the bite” was off. After 15-20 minutes with no action, we really got a chance to appreciate our beautiful surroundings.
Much to my surprise, as I glanced down at the lake, less than 5 yards in front of us was a cute but large river otter with a rainbow trout in his mouth. Dan and I looked at each other and mouthed the word “cool.” I hadn’t seen many otters in Idaho, so it was fun to see.
Several minutes later, we saw the otter again and with another fish. This otter was really good at catching fish. As the otter swam in front of us a third time, I exclaimed to Dan, “That brown trout the otter has looks just like the fish I caught.”… Wait a minute … What the … That’s our fish! The otter had been robbing our stringer and grabbing all our fish. We went over to the stringer and sure enough, only one fish remained.
I was on a fishing trip in Canada at Klotz Lake fish camp with my brother and his buddies. They made this trip every year and I was lucky to make the trip. There were three of us in a boat fishing at the outlet of the lake. I caught a nice walleye and put it on the stringer. The guy in the center seat where the stringer was tied off noticed it was being jerked around. He looked over the side and saw that a pike had the walleye in its mouth. He called to my brother to get the net. He took the net, got behind the pike and scooped it up. The pike went on the stringer with the walleye.
QUITE A CATCH
Several years ago with my youngest daughter, we were bottom-fishing off the Oregon coast. We were fishing with lightweight spinning tackle, while looking for lingcod and rockfish.
While fishing, her rod and reel went overboard, pulled right out of her hands by a fish (so she said) into the ocean. That day, the weather was rough, a lot of the other passengers were in the cabin due to motion sickness. The captain asked me to switch to heavier tackle in hopes of catching some fish for the passengers who paid to fish but were too “under the weather” to participate.
Several fish later, I got a bite on my line that was right next to where my daughter’s pole was “pulled” into the ocean. I proceeded to reel it in, and noticed I had snagged another fishing line. I grabbed the line off of my hook and as I was pulling it up into the boat, I realized it was my daughter’s pole. The one that had been “pulled” out of her hands earlier that day.
We netted the pole and my daughter started to reel in the line, to see what was left of the line and tackle. Lo and behold, there was a lingcod and a rockfish on the line. She immediately screamed, “I told you a fish pulled it out of my hands, Dad!”
So we lost a pole, caught the pole, and the fish were both keepers to top it off.
Richard K. McFarland
In May 1968, a friend and I backcountry skied into a mountain lake to spend a few days skiing and hiking the surrounding mountain peaks. Thinking there might be some cracks in the ice or open water around boulders and the outlet, I took along some fishing gear. Not much, just some line, hooks and worms from the garden.
Sure enough there were some places I could put a line in. We caught and kept a few 8-to-10-inch brookies to supplement our meals of freeze-dried food. One day I checked the lines at the upper end of the lake and one line was broken. I didn’t think much of it. I skied more than a half-mile across the lake to check a line at the outlet. To my amazement, not only was there a fish on the hook, but also the line that had broken off was wrapped around the fish and it also had a fish on it.
That fish swam more than half a mile and wrapped the line around the other fish.
Carl D. Ruhkala
I was 11 years old and heading to Grandma’s ranch with my brothers for our summer visit. The ranch had everything a kid could want, but it had something very special for me. That was Maacama Creek, running down the center of the ranch with its tree-lined banks providing enough cooling shade to support a small population of rainbow trout. And I, being the fisherman in the family, was going to get them.
Grandma let me go early that morning before the day warmed up. I was sitting on the stream bank with my trusty spinning reel when I noticed a hole through the tree roots. Peering down I could see several trout sitting there protected by the undercut bank. I slowly lowered my spinner down through the small hole and kind of jerked it up and down when suddenly an 8-inch trout took the lure and darted back under cover of the bank.
We were in a fight, the line sliding back and forth through the roots. I thought, ‘How will I get him out?’ Suddenly, the line went tight. He had wrapped my line around the roots. I pulled tighter and tighter until my line broke. I only had one more spinner, so I tied it on and not wanting to lose it started casting into the deeper water in the center of the stream but without any luck.
Eventually my brothers came down to the creek with Grandma’s wagon. They were ready to ride the hills. Riding the wagon was a lot of fun and the fishing was a little slow, so for some reason, I cast my line into the deep hole once more and let the spinner sink to the bottom. I laid my pole down and it was off to the the hills with my brothers and Grandma’s red wagon.
After many runs down the hillsides, it was time to head back to the house for lunch. I stopped to get my pole and I noticed the tip was twitching. I grabbed the pole and reeled in an 8-inch trout. To my amazement, it was the trout from under the bank that had gotten loose from the roots and with my spinner and broken line still streaming from its mouth managed to become entangled with my line as it laid on the bottom of the creek.
Some fish are both capable and sometimes motivated to kill us. Of course, sharks instantly come to mind, along with stingrays and lion fish, and maybe a few others. But it was a toothless, old carp that almost killed me when I was 10 years old.
My dad had taken me to a local pond where I rigged up my trusty cane pole with that old braided line that was strong enough to tie down a monster truck, a hook with half a nightcrawler, a split shot and a bobber.
Before long, the bobber twitched and slowly started moving toward the middle of the pond. I pulled back mightily on the 12-foot pole, expecting to jerk a small catfish or perch out. Instead, the pole stopped dead, bent over like half a hula hoop. The fish charged away, and the pole broke in the middle.
I jumped into the water and grabbed the broken front half of the pole. I didn’t have much pole left at this point, so I did something really stupid. I grabbed the line. The fish was so heavy and strong that the line started cutting into my hands. I was about to have both hands amputated by a carp.
Let go? Are you crazy? We’re talking a huge, ginormous, reputation-making fish here. No way I’m gonna let go. So I started following the fish into the pond. Before I knew it, I was in the water over my head, and I really didn’t like the taste of the muddy water.
Next thing I know, my dad was pulling me to the bank. Now we almost had him out. He was the biggest carp in the whole world. And the luckiest. The hook pulled out just as we were about to land him. Of course, he got away. The ginormous ones always do. It took 15 stitches to fix my hands, and I puked muddy water for a week.
MORE THAN ONE WAY
Two years ago, my wife and son took an ice fishing trip to one of our favorite southern Idaho reservoirs. It had been cold enough that there was about 6 inches of clear, black ice, but there hadn’t been any snow yet, so you could see through the ice. We use a pretty simple setup consisting of a 1x2-inch stick about 15 inches long placed across the top of the 8-inch diameter hole in the ice, with a baited jig dangling near the bottom of the lake. A bobber on the line is placed on top of the stick, and when the bobber is pulled off you know a fish is biting.
We usually fish the maximum-allowable 15 holes for the three of us, and whenever a bobber goes off, whoever’s closest (or whoever wins the race across the ice to the hole) ends up trying to catch the fish. Ordinarily with snow on the ice, there’s no problem with the stick staying in place across the hole when a fish bites, but on this day with slippery clear ice, we experienced our first problem with this method.
My son and I saw a bobber get pulled off one of the sticks, and we raced toward the hole. But before we reached the hole, the fish managed to pull the whole outfit down through the hole. If there’d been snow on the ice, that would have probably been the end of the story, but with the clear ice, we watched as the stick was being pulled along just under the ice. At first, we were hoping the fish would get tangled up in one of the other lines dangling through one of our other 14 holes, and maybe we’d be able to retrieve the fish that way.
But as luck would have it, within a minute or two, the fish pulled the stick within a foot or so of one of the holes. I seized the opportunity and plunged my hand through that hole and reached back up under the ice to grab the stick, and bingo, I was able to retrieve the ice fishing rig along with a nice fat rainbow trout.
His nickname was Blackie. He moved to Ketchikan, Alaska, in the spring of 1940. This is where he met Victoria Kathleen (my mom) and they married in October of that year. WWII came and he joined the Coast Guard and they stationed him in Juneau. After the war he became a fish seiner in Southeast Alaska. He also was a mink trapper and a logger. Back in those days, they had fish traps that were owned by the fish canneries and they put the traps right outside the mouths of rivers and streams. Some of the traps had watchmen, and the fishermen would cover the front of their boats with black tarps and sneak up to the watchmen’s sheds and hammer the doors shut and then brail the fish out of the nets and sell the fish back to the canneries.
Now my dad said he was not one of those, but we heard different. When Bob Kinerk wrote the play, “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter,” he was thinking of three people. I know of two. Robert Peele (Gumboots) and Rolland Lindsey (Blackie). This play was a must-see with the tourist boats and I talked my mom into seeing it and she got a kick out of it. My dad, he refused to go. For three summers I worked on my dad’s 43-foot troller, the WindnTide, when I was in junior high.
I remember my first summer. We would get up in the morning and troll all day long. One day sticks out big time. I was in the cabin getting lunch ready when I hear my dad scream, “Get the gun!” Now I was halfway through the summer so I had learned what that meant. This time his voice was a few octaves higher and more urgent. So I ran to the bathroom and grabbed the .22 pistol and a full clip. I ran to the stern (back of the boat) and gave them to him. He then yelled to get the spare clip. Never before had he asked me to bring him the spare. So it was back to the bathroom double-speed and back to my dad with the spare clip.
Whatever was in the water had to be really, really big — not just 200 or 300 pounds, but 400 or more pounds of fish. Now when a fish (mainly those fish over 100 pounds) is caught, the fishermen get a gun and shoot it until it is dead. To bring that big of a fish onboard while it is alive is risking the lives of anyone on board and the boat itself.
For my dad to want both clips scared the heck out of me. He was leaning over the starboard stern side with his gaff hook by his side and emptying the gun into the water. Then he grabbed the second clip and emptied that one as well. I finally had the nerve to lean over the side of the boat to try to see what the heck he had on the line. I sure was not prepared for what I saw. I saw the biggest halibut I had ever seen in my life. The word massive does not even come close to describing this monster that my dad had on the line.
Back then we were getting $2 a pound for halibut — and according to my dad, it was just over 500 pounds. So it was $1,000-plus on the end of that line. Back in the mid-1960s that was a lot of money. After dad emptied both clips, and he was sure the fish was dead, he asked my brother and I to get the special-made line/rope for large fish ready because as soon as he put the gaff hook into the gills, he was going to put that hook through the gills and we would drag it onboard.
Everything was OK up until that point. As soon as my dad reached over to grab that monster with the gaff hook, the fish’s mouth opened and the hook fell out. Dad almost jumped overboard trying to get that fish. I remember watching it float to the bottom. Needless to say, we learned a few new swear words that day. My dad could make the air turn blue around him when he felt the need.
That was one big fish that got away.
NEVER TOO SICK
My fishing adventures are typically on rivers in Idaho with a fly pole. However, on a family vacation on the Oregon Coast, I signed up for a deep-sea fishing trip with my dad and brothers. I had no previous experience on the open ocean and was not inclined to motion ailments but took precautions by applying a “patch” behind my ear the night before our departure.
The next morning, we had breakfast near the marina where the Siggi-G, our charter boat, was moored. After a generous serving of sausage gravy over biscuits and strong black coffee, we boarded the boat. We were joined by a dozen other fishermen, including Blake, a tourist from Utah, whose wife convinced him on the spot to join the cruise.
Soon after weaving through breaking waves while crossing the notorious mouth of Tillamook Bay, we entered open water with choppy 4- to 6-foot seas. Neither Blake nor my sausage gravy were feeling comfortable. Blake, due to his unplanned participation, had not been prepared for the potential of being seasick and immediately curled up in the fetal position in the galley. I was the only other passenger feeling the effects of the open ocean but was able to manage my discomfort. Then the Seggi-G stopped and fishing lines were lowered to a submerged reef below. The pitch and roll of the ocean pushed me over the edge and my undigested breakfast was unleashed upon the Pacific Ocean.
As I was moving to join Blake in the galley, the passengers began bringing up fish. The catch included bright orange and black rockfish, lingcod and various other strange-looking sea creatures (most were larger than even the biggest Idaho trout). The desire to catch fish was counterbalanced by my nausea and, between heaving fits over the side of the boat, I soon caught my limit.
A couple hours later we were back on shore. As the captain, deckhand and I watched Blake’s wife carefully load him into the back seat of the family car, the captain said to me, “I’ve never seen anyone so ill on my boat as you and still able to stand up and cast a line.” I told him: “It’s simple. I never get sick of fishing!” My family then carefully loaded me in the back of our car.
NOT DOG FOOD
One day my wife and I were eating lunch and enjoying our view of the Boise River. We watched as an osprey dove into the river and captured a large rainbow trout. The bird turned between the trees and veered toward our backyard as it struggled to gain altitude. Our chocolate Lab, Porsche, saw the osprey and ran toward the oncoming bird, barking. The osprey decided the fish was not as valuable as its own life and released the fish, which landed in the rocks of our back yard. The fish was just under 15 inches and a keeper.
COME BACK HERE
I grew up in Minnesota where there are lots of northern pike. Once, while fishing with a bobber and worm, I hooked a sunfish. While I was reeling it in, a northern pike struck the sunfish, knocked it off the hook, and hooked itself. I played the pike for a couple moments until it broke my line. I reeled in, tied on a spinner, caught the pike in a cast or two, and got the first hook back.
Once I was ice fishing at Wildhorse Reservoir in northern Nevada. The perch fishing was good, and with one strike I couldn’t get to the hole before the fish pulled my little wooden jig pole down the hole. About 20 minutes later, I caught a perch and found there was a second line in its mouth. I pulled on the line and moments later had my jig pole back.
I still have and use that jig pole today.
It was a nice spring day a couple years ago when we decided to head up to Arrowrock and fish for trout around the North Fork portion. Unfortunately, we didn’t have many hits in the early morning and then when the sun started blazing we thought it might be a short day. Then it happened, we found a honey hole and started catching nice rainbows one after another, two poles getting bent at a time. After an hour we were quickly approaching our limit at that pace and started discerning keepers vs. whoppers — it got crazy! The only problem was the live well wasn’t working so well and we had fish starting to perish. My partner had the idea for me to start cleaning the fish and throwing them on ice.
It wasn’t a bad idea, but I didn’t want to stop fishing to clean fish, especially since we were really killing it. But he was right, if we didn’t start getting these fish on ice it would be a travesty. So I quickly put my rod down after the next catch and pulled out my trusty blade and grabbed one of the belly up rainbows in the well and quickly gutted the fish. All of a sudden, while I was dropping the fully gutted fish into the ice chest, it started flipping and flopping in my hands, so much so it jumped out of my hands and swam away. I couldn’t believe my eyes — it swam away with no guts!
Of course, my old friend called me a rookie and every other word that shouldn’t be repeated. He yelled, ‘Give me a fish, butterfingers, and watch how to clean a fish.’ Sure enough the same thing happened to him. We watched stupefied as the second fish with absolutely no guts swam deep in the water. It appeared to look back mocking us. We both said in unison, “Maybe we should wait until we get back to the dock.”
LOOK MA, I’M IN THE NEWSPAPER
I was born and raised in Las Vegas. Me and a couple of my high school buddies were playing hooky one day from school to do some fishing and jump/dive off cliffs into the water at Lake Mead (back when they existed).
We didn’t catch anything all day, except some real bad sunburns and later, toward the end of the day, a dead body! Yes, a stiff corpse, a male that looked like he was in his 30s or 40s, reminded me of the movie, “Stand by Me,” except this body was on the end of our fishing line instead of in the brush.
One of my lifeguard buddies jumped in the water since he thought for a second that the person might be still alive, but noooo, not that day. After covering the body, our next step was to go to the nearest marina to call the park ranger to report what we found. The rangers identified the body, as we were advised the man had been reported missing a day prior.
We ended up in trouble by our parents for ditching school that day, in thanks to the local paper printing our names in the local section. Doh! True story, I still have the article.