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Jaws: a bout with Hannibal the Cannibal

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Fly fishing is mostly a quiet and contemplative sport, but sometimes an event occurs that far exceeds a normal day of casting flies to rising trout. This is a story about one of those events: an event so far outside the typical fly fishing routine that it had to be told. It happened to a friend of mine, Dave, on what he called a miserable rainy day at the end of July. This is what he told me, edited with his permission:

“I went to one of my favorite pools, arriving right around 3:30 p.m. There was a hatch of small mayflies on the water, so I tied a number 18 parachute imitation and began fishing. There were small trout rising, but I knew from prior trips to this pool that much larger trout prowled its depths. I fished for about half an hour before a fine 17-inch brown took my fly and was landed. I released that trout, dressed my fly and resumed casting. Almost immediately the fly was taken by another trout. That fish ran straight toward the opposite bank, trying to reach a mat of river born debris. The fish splashed on the surface as it got close to the debris, so I increased pressure, hoping to keep it from tangling. Then it stopped! Oh no, I said to myself, it’s snagged. Suddenly, what I thought was a snag, began to move toward me. Whatever it was, was much heavier than the trout I hooked a few minutes ago. As the fish got closer, it appeared at the surface, where I saw its huge head and a small tail protruding from a very big mouth. This fish was trying to eat the trout that I hooked just minutes before!

“As the behemoth swam closer, I saw its massive size, realizing it was the biggest trout I ever had on the end of my line in all of my years of fly fishing. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could net both of these guys, drag them to the bank and take a picture? Instead I immediately became dejected, realizing it was unlikely that I would net this huge trout before it let go of the smaller fish. It was not hooked, just hanging on. But the big trout did not let go, probably because it did not want to give up a meal. Instead, it made run after run, which I was able to stop, despite my light tippet.

“After about 20 minutes I had the trout close, on its side, between myself and the bank. The fish appeared exhausted, so I glided its head into my small catch-and-release net. The frame of that net measures 22 inches; the big trout was much larger. The top of its head looked to be the width of the back of my hand. So when I tried to lift the net, the big trout, let go of the smaller trout, slipped out of the net, swam around me and out of sight into the depths. The smaller fish, which turned out to be a 10-inch brook trout, was somehow still alive. I held it in my net until it revived, then let it go, apparently unharmed; for now.”

When he finished his story, Dave asked what I thought about his bizarre episode. “Based on what you said, I think the big trout was in the 30-inch range, probably a reservoir fish that somehow found its way into your pool.”

“How about we call that fish Hannibal the Cannibal?” He asked.

“Sounds right to me. Just make sure you get a bigger net!”

fly fishing, trout

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