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The one that didn't get away

Johnny Wilson • May 17, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Honey-dos are an essential part of life at home these days as we try to dodge this worldwide “beast.” But all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy, so one fella decided to go fishing.

Fishing is always a good idea, regardless of results.

No viruses allowed!

It was a rainy last day of March, a 45-degree afternoon. Perfect.

Heading up near Damascus, the man figured he’d venture off to Alvarado, where a number of sporty species live in the great South Fork of the Holston River, just before it merges with the Middle Fork to form the headwaters of South Holston Lake. But at the last instant, for some reason, he chose to keep riding Route 58, toward the trout capital of Southwest Virginia.

Maybe he could sneak up on one or two of those speckled fish, he figured.

Stopping some four miles upstream from Alvarado and three miles shy of Damascus, he eased into the South Fork at first sight. The river, beautiful as ever, was quite full and strong — actually a bit too deep and swift to safely wade.

After making about 10 casts with his trusty Rapala lure, the man realized there was just too much water and current to get it as deep as he wanted. He’d have to try somewhere else.

He found a wooded path and walked upriver a few hundred yards, to hearty waters that are the result of Beaverdam and Laurel creeks having merged back in Damascus. This stream is smaller than the South Fork and less powerful, but still 25 yards wide and not wadable at this time due to all the spring rains of 2020. Barely fishable considering all the undergrowth on the banks, it was difficult to find a spot from which to cast without getting in the trees.

He ended up in the trees a few times anyway. In fact, he was feeling quite inadequate as a fisherman — not so unusual — when he caught a little 9-inch brownie to provide a bit of hope.

And then, a real fish story was born.

On the next cast, something busted that black and silver minnow imitation as he cranked, and his line quickly tightened. Suddenly, Big Daddy rolled to the top of the water.

The next five minutes were like a YouTube video. He wishes someone could’ve taped it, as he stumbled around on the shore, trying hard as he could not to lose this catch of a lifetime.

With that lunker some 40 or 45 feet downstream, the fisherman had to work the big Brown back against the current, on 6-pound test line with his 5 1/2-foot, light-action rod. And there was a giant, half-submerged rock off to the side and a downed tree limb in the water. Surely that wise, old fish would head for one of those safe havens and cut or tangle the angler’s line.

Generally speaking, fish such as this usually win these wars. More than once a 4-pound river smallmouth has snapped the fisherman’s line, and this specimen was clearly bigger. Fortunately, the artificial meal had six hooks, so spitting the bit was of less concern.

Ol’ Brown never did any tail-walking — too big to clear the water — but he soon rolled up one more time to give the fisherman another glimpse. By now the old man had gotten nervous.

But with those wrinkles and white hair comes some wisdom, and a few broken lines from the past quickly registered with the fishermen after Big Daddy twice zinged that drag the first moment of the fight. Thankfully, the angler thought to flip the switch on his open-faced reel, letting him crank either way and allow the fish to take line any time he surged. And that was important, because soon thereafter there was indeed one more sudden and strong run.

With a glare on the water and just those two peeks, the fisherman still didn’t know exactly what he had. He just knew it was a major trout. And such a brute seemingly always finds something extra once the shoreline is within its view, a fact hardly lost on the angler.

Not this time, however.

As the fisherman expected that last-gasp charge, a suddenly docile Brown had nothing left to give. He was spent. At the end, the trophy fish eased into the old man’s weathered net.

Game. Set. Match. This time, the fisherman won.

The tale of the tape would later reveal what the angler already knew — this was his biggest catch ever. The measurement stretched to 25 inches, and the scale at the local Food City settled right at 6 pounds, a fraction over, actually.

And so it was, the day a fella skipped out on his honey-do list to add a $400 wall-hanger to his man cave. A costly venture for sure, but certainly a moment he’ll never forget.

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