We met at the ramp. As the Ankona slid off the trailer, we watched headlights in the distance slowly crawling their way to the unmaintained refuge ramp. We joked about the electric start and how maybe we’re actually moving up in the world. The motor proceeded to die once Jeff threw it in gear. This is our usual luck. We never move up.

Running through the dark in silence we crossed the lagoon to the east wall. We talked about 10,000 hours. We talked about what that meant. Jeff is 10,000 hours; he’s a master. No one poles the lagoon more than him, and no one is as diligent in hunting these resident fish. He shops for bird flies at Hobby Lobby, works till midnight every night, and gave up everything to live closer to the ramp. 

He’s one of those guys you meet and say, “wow you really live it.” I love fishing, but when I listen to his stories I have to accept – I just like it. He’s a different breed and with that one of the few that can put you on lifetime fish in a fishery that some would say has collapsed. He’s willing to do more, fish more, sacrifice more, and put in the time commitment needed for mastery. If you don’t believe in the 10,000-hour rule, book a day with him. 

No plan survives first contact with the enemy. But that day, it did – a miracle. We were looking for that fish, the one that’s lived in this lagoon for over 40 years. The one that didn’t exist. As the sun rose, we watched a fish wave. It was as though his tail was too big to raise entirely. A giant fan, calling us in.

We positioned the boat and set up for our first shot of the day. As the fly landed we both knew. No instruction came from the man on the platform, and the fly never reached the bottom. My first strip would end up being the set, and for the next 20 minutes, we would make only noises, no words. 

As the fish came closer I imagined the heartbreak that would likely ensue. He would pull the hook, he would break the line, and I would have a story to tell and nothing to show. This is the way it usually goes. 

As we tried to land it, the fish made a last-second dive, wrapping itself around the trim tabs, effectively stopping my heart. Two headshakes later I couldn’t stand to watch. I fish for fun, and moments like this make that hard.

Tail Grab. He was ours.

We got the giant to hand and instantly joined him in the water. Too big to lift, and too incredible to comprehend. This fish had seen it all, every fly, every bait, every storm, and the glory days of the lagoon dating back to when Flip and Chico would poll her grassy flats. If only this fish could talk. 

We grabbed a few pics and watched her kick away.

I went out the following morning. My truck died at the ramp, my 25 blew up on the water. It was one of those days. I had outlasted my luck and it was time to pay the piper. I’ve learned to appreciate days like this. Strike out enough times and maybe just once you’ll feed the fish of a lifetime.

Put in the hours, suffer on the water, and every so often you can hold that fish that keeps you coming back. #lagoonigans

Angler story written by Declan Rogers, find him out on the water chasing big fish with Jeffery Mulder. 

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