The Big One

The author poses with the 31-inch native rainbow trout he caught and released this spring. The catch of a lifetime remains the best part of his year.

From now until March or April, fishing opportunities are greatly diminished. Seasons close, waters freeze and weather complicates the few remaining choices. As an angler, it’s easy to become frustrated, dejected and focus on what you no longer have. The sunshine and warmth is replaced with clouds and cold, but don’t focus on that. Instead, let me encourage you to focus on what you had while it lasted while focusing on what you still have left.

Yes, a column on gratitude is a few weeks early in the American tradition, but you don’t need a plateful of turkey and simple carbs to look around and appreciate.

I’m preaching to myself here as much as you. This year, 2019, was absolutely incredible for me as an angler. Though I spent far less days fishing during the school year than normal, I made up for it by taking a 47-day, cross-country road trip on which I fished 45 of those days.

It spanned 18 states, and I was able to land thousands of fish representing hundreds of species.

Almost immediately after returning home, I spent a week in the Carolinas for a part-work, part-pleasure trip in which I did a lot more fishing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime summer, but since returning home, my fishing opportunities have been few and far between.

The finality of the season ending this week brought me down, and as someone who already struggles with depression, I began to feel especially lost, set adrift from something that had centered me for so long and was cut loose or at least carried further away than I was used to.

I wrap up so much of my identity in fishing that when my relationship with it changed suddenly, I was left reeling but without a rod in my hand.

Here I’d just experienced something incredible, something I’d never before experienced in my life, and I was feeling despondent and sad because it was over — at least for now. Why? While that’s not an unreasonable response, this week, I’ve really tried to focus on the bright side, to look at the life-altering experiences I had and remember them fondly. So here goes. Imagine it’s one of those near-the-end-of-the-series episodes that recaps the highlights of your favorite TV show.


Without a doubt, the highlight of my fishing here in the Pacific Northwest came this May while trout fishing my home lake. After 29 years of chasing “the one,” I finally found my catch of a lifetime. I caught my first wild, native redband trout over 30 inches. It actually measured 31 inches and as a post-spawn male, didn’t quite break 10 pounds but certainly would’ve topped 12 the rest of the year. I got my 30 before 30, and I still struggle to believe it sometimes.

World record

While that massive trout was my fish of a lifetime, I also helped guide my friend, Steve Wozniak, to his 200th world record. The only downside? His record broke the record I had previously held on the fish. But hey, giving up my third record for him to get No. 200 is pretty cool.


You know what else is pretty cool? Catching sharks from the beach while barefoot and shirtless.

I spent several days doing that this summer in Alabama and Florida, and the blacktip, bonnethead, lemon and nurse sharks were the most high-octane fishing experiences I’ve had to date. There’s just something about facing off with fish that can kill you.


My own personal Shark Week overlapped with a stretch of 14 days during which I caught 1,183 fish — for an average of 84.5 fish per day — and enjoyed my best catch rate ever. It wasn’t just the same fish, either. These 1,183 fish represented more than 50 species. It was legit.


After returning from my cross-country trip, the week I spent in North and South Carolina was equally incredible. From the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Asheville to Charlotte, I caught a wide array of beautiful fish.


It’s easy for us as anglers to live in the past, to celebrate what we had and compare our todays to our yesterdays and long for these we used to have. But as anglers and as human beings, we should instead focus on our tomorrow. Love the past, appreciate it for all it was, but don’t let it distract you from looking to the future while making the most of today.

What that means for me is trying to catch the 187 fish I need by Dec. 31 to have my first 3,000-fish year. It’s gonna be tough now that the weather has turned and so many fishing opportunities are lost, but there’s still hope, and I’m going to live every day to the fullest.

To use a quote that has lost a lot of the power it once held in a post-Pinterest, post-Instagram world, “Each day is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”


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