The new rod jinx, or How to Lose a Splake
May 6, 2011
Wayne Bennett, owner of Bennett’s Bait N’ Tackle, set me up with the rod himself. He said the choice between a short trolling rod and a long one was a matter of convenience in the boat rather than flex. He sold me a sturdy, short rod designed for lead-core line and my awkward Daiwa line-counter reel.
My success at downrigging for splake had diminished to nothing over the last few years, but my pal Tony has done well on Indian Lake with the much quieter lead-core line. The new rod was an attempt to improve my deep-water success with a fresh try at this old technique.
It was blowing pretty hard Friday evening, but I bashed through the chop across Newboro and Clear Lakes, coasted through the Isthmus and found the relative calm of the south shore of Indian, near Chaffey’s Locks. At first I dragged the lure around behind the Merc 35, running into the breeze to keep the speed down. Nothing. Approaching the spot where I had caught a splake the weekend before, I decided to use the electric motor again. Quiet and slow was worth a try.
One afternoon a few years ago I happened upon a tight school of 12” splake, most likely just dumped in from a hatchery. It was great fun catching and releasing the naïve fish, but they were much harder to hook than you might think. The trouble was they kept ripping my little tube jigs apart without getting hooked. After a while I realized that on a typical strike, a splake swims up quickly from behind, then with the tip of its mouth it grabs the trailing “fin” of the lure and tries to tear it off. An instant of hesitation with a slack line greatly increased my hook-set efficiency.
On a whim I added a stinger hook with a small tube jig to the treble on the silver spoon.
The line was no sooner down to 75 feet than I felt an unmistakable strike, and this time the fish had hung on to one or the other of the hooks. This was a strong fish. With 200 feet of lead-core line out behind the stiff, awkward rod, sensations were pretty vague. Truth be known I spent most of the time on that first retrieve trying to find a way to hold the rod. The butt was too long. It didn’t fit anywhere. Eventually I straddled the thing and cranked.
The fish came clanking in. I don’t quite know how the fish created that rattling sensation. It must have something to do with the metal line. Or maybe it was my heart racing.
Now I have landed a lot of fish in the last fifty years, so I’m fairly confident about bringing one up to the boat. Normally. This time I wasn’t. Trouble was I had a heavy splake on a very stiff, short rod. Normally I keep the rod tip up and rely on its spring to absorb the shock when the fish sees the boat and decides to leave.
My best bass rod is so good at this that I can just hang on and let the rod wear the fish out. But it cost three hundred dollars. The one Wayne had just sold me ran twenty-eight. I couldn’t count on this stick to play my fish for me, so I loosened the reel’s drag to compensate.
The 16 pound monofilament leader was about twelve feet long. This caused part of the problem because every time the end of the leader would come out of the water, I kept disengaging the reel, allowing it to free-spool against my thumb. I worried that the fish would run, overpower the drag, and break off.
I did get a couple of good looks at the splake, a very large, slow-moving specimen as it crossed under the boat. On one pass it also provided an excellent view of its lunch, scattered through the clear water.
Brought up from 75 feet, a lake trout would be pretty well finished from the pressure change, but not a splake. This fish was just starting to realize that it was in a serious fight, and somehow I kept hoping to ambush it with my little bass net. It was way too big for that net, but I clutched it anyway. In retrospect I guess I wasn’t thinking all that clearly. With two hands on the rod I might not have failed to prevent the stiff lead line from a backlash the next time the fish bolted. As soon as the lead-core kinked, the leader snapped and I numbly reeled in my empty line. That’s how fish get to be big.
I’ve got to get a bigger net. I need to learn to trust the drag on that damned reel and not release the clutch — under any conditions — while playing a fish. A big splake isn’t going to let me tow it up to the boat like a bass. I’ll have to tire it out first.
That splake was big. Two days later when I whined to Opinicon guide Lennie Pyne about the lost fish, he smiled and told me that the largest splake caught last year out of Indian Lake weighed over 16 pounds.