I’ve related this fish story many times since that fateful day in 2012. It’s a great story about a great fish, and about time I wrote it down.
The Lake Monster: The Story of my Trophy Brown Trout
Causey reservoir is a small dam located in Northern Utah. I fished there since I was a kid. Ice fishing seems to be the most productive method, and my family has been quite successful over the years. The ice generally freezes around mid-December and remains fishable through March.
The best thing about Causey is the variety of fish you can catch. I’ve caught kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, tiger trout, splake trout, cutthroat trout and even a sculpin, which is a small bottom-dwelling fish that looks like a cross between a frog and a turd. The 15 – 19 inch Kokanee are by far the most delicious and alluring fish, and on December 16, 2012, that’s what I was hoping to catch.
As my teenage son Jacob and I were loading the car with ice fishing gear, I asked my wife Esther, once more, if she’d like to join us. It was a cold and snowy day, so she declined and wished us luck instead.
When we arrived at the lake, I was dismayed to find it wasn’t quite frozen yet. There should have been safe ice on the inlet arms, but it was a late winter and the ice was thin and slushy. It looked like we’d be shore fishing the open water after all.
Snow was coming down pretty hard as we trudged through more than a foot of powder along the shoreline towards the open water. I setup our poles with a couple bobbers and bait and casted out. The wind was picking up and blew our bobbers into the edge of the ice.
For the next hour, snowfall increased and the wind blew harder. To keep our spirits up, Jake and I foraged continually on crackers and snacks while staring listlessly at our bobbers bouncing in the waves. Occasionally I’d check our baits and recast. Nearly two hours passed without a single bite as our hopes dwindled.
But I’m a stubborn fisherman. I don’t pack my car, drive to nowhere, and sit in the worst weather for nothing! At that point, all I really wanted was a single, dumb little trout for dinner. As is often the case, my mind gradually drifted to thoughts of Zen.
Zen is something that’s been on my mind in recent years. It came about after several miraculous successes in fishing and hunting amidst the worst odds. My theory was that if a person focused hard enough on nature, perhaps he could somehow sway the odds in his favor. Certainly, it couldn’t hurt! But in this case, no matter how much I concentrated on my line, and no matter how much I wished for fish, nothing happened.
I couldn’t take it any longer; it was time to make something happen.
Breaking a long and cold silence, I turned to Jake and said, “Do you think a person can materialize a fish?” He looked at me with half-inquisitive expression. Detecting that I might be speaking both rhetorically and irrationally, he just shrugged and mumbled, “I dunno.”
With that, I stood up and reeled my line in. It was time for a more active approach. I proceeded to cut off the bait and bobber and tie on a small, silver Mepps #0 spinner. Surely this shiny, little inch-and-a-half piece of fluttering metal would coerce some little rainbow trout into biting.
I walked 50 feet down the snowy shoreline and casted out to sea. The light lure on my 6-pound line fell pathetically short of its mark. I bounced and reeled it in with little interest from both the fish and myself. I repeated the process, this time swinging the pole hard like a baseball bat.
The lure was ten feet from the shoreline when my line suddenly jerked and hung up. Instinctively I jerked back to set the hook. A snag? I thought. Nope, it started bobbing left and right. Wow, a fish! About the same second I realized I’d hooked a fish, my reel began screaming. The fish took off with no intention of putting up a fight. I tightened the drag and cranked the pole back hard, the pole tip bent 90-degrees straight out to sea.
As the line continued to fly off the reel, it occurred to me that I’d hooked into a whopper of a fish and had absolutely no control over it. It felt like I had tied my line to a pickup truck and sent it down the road. My heart rate jumped straight up.
As the fish ran, I would occasionally feel a weird bump and pause in the line. The fish was apparently hitting the lake bottom, trying to knock the lure from its lip. This was new to me; smart fish! When this failed, he took off down reservoir towards where Jake was sitting. Desperate to keep line on my reel, I followed the fish, running down the shoreline through the deep snow
Anticipating a detrimental tangle with Jake’s bobber, I yelled ahead, “REEL IN! REEL IN! I have a monster on! Get your line in!” This woke Jake up and he did what I asked, then moved out of the way to watch the spectacle unfold.
I was still losing line, but less now. The fish, realizing that a hard left turn wasn’t going to free him, suddenly veered right and began dragging me back up the shoreline towards deeper water. After another desperate jog, the fish once again headed straight out to sea. Every minute or so I would tighten down my drag one more click. Surely I was reaching the breaking point of my 6-pound test line.
Ten minutes into the fight and having gained not one inch, I knew–absolutely knew–two things: First, I would never see the humongous fish I hooked. And second, I would do everything in my power, dedicate every ounce of my fishing experience, to fighting this fish to the end.
My arm was burning and going numb; my heart raced faster. The last few loops of line were slowly becoming visible on my reel. I winced, knowing that in a few seconds my line would snap free from my reel
Then something amazing happened.
About 150-yards out in the middle of the lake the fish broke the surface with an audible slosh, then waves; WAVES not ripples! There was a sudden pause in my line, then slack! The fish had finally reached its threshold of strength and turned its head my way. Instinctively I reeled to keep the line tight.
Then the tug-a-war began. I would crank a few loops back on my reel, the fish would pull more off, and I’d crank ‘em back again. This seemed to go on forever. But there was a twinge of hope. Maybe I would catch a glimpse of my foe after all!
Jake stood by my side, cheering me on without a peep, as you might expect from a teenager.
Nearly twenty minutes into the fight, and with almost a full reel of line, reality hit me. The shoreline was very steep, the fish had to be well over ten pounds, and my line was only rated for six pounds. If and when I got him to shore, there was no physical way to drag him out of the water without breaking my line. I would have to go in after him.
Wide-eyed and trembling like an idiot, I turned to Jake and barked these orders: “When the fish gets close to where I can see it, I’m going to hand you the pole and jump in. Keep the line tight!”
A minute later, in the dark water, a huge, shadowy form came cruising down the shoreline. It was exactly what I expected: A lake monster!
As it drew closer I loosened my drag and shoved my pole into Jake’s hand. Without a second thought I jumped out over the water, twisting my body mid-air and splashing down just behind the fish. Crotch-deep in the icy murk, I shoved my arms underneath the fish and I hefted it out of the water as it swung side-to-side trying to escape my grasp.
The fish plopped into the deep snow near Jake’s feet and we just stood there stunned. “Holy COW!” Jake exclaimed. After much excitement and jumping around, I realized that I was soaked from the waist down and standing in a snow bank in a blizzard. The trip was certainly over at that point.
Jake snapped a couple photos of me and the fish, and then I tossed the lunker trout in the back of my truck and raced for home. I called ahead and told Esther to start searching for a fish taxidermist in the area.
An hour later I arrived home, still shaking and unable to calm down. I taped the fish out at 33-inches and a whopping 21 pounds. After more than three decades of fishing, I’d never seen a brown trout remotely close to that size.
Although the Utah fish and game department doesn’t keep individual lake records, the agents I talked to said it was by far the biggest fish they’d ever heard of coming out of Causey Reservoir, and that a brown trout that big had to be over 20 years old.
A year later the Lake Monster was hung proudly above my television. During commercials I would sit and admire the fish, and still do. But the thing that sticks with me most from that adventure is the question I asked my son right before I caught it:
“Do you think a person can materialize a fish?”
The answer is a resounding MAYBE! Just beware the fish for which you wish.