What is a “Trophy”?

I wasn’t always crazy about fishing. In fact, there was a time when most people wouldn’t consider me a fisherman. Most people learn to fish from their dad or someone in the family who takes them out on holidays or maybe a weekend to catch some fish. My father doesn’t like fishing. So we didn’t fish. We did other father/son things such as camping and playing catch, we just didn’t fish. When I was 12, my family went camping in the mountains in Utah, and people were fishing in a nearby river. My uncle Ed was a fly fisherman and I spent a whole afternoon watching him cast along eddies and over rocks. At the time I didn’t know why he tried to land the fly near an eddy, shoot, I didn’t even know what an eddy was. But I was mesmerized by the smoothness of his actions and thrilled every time he set the hook. All afternoon I pestered him with questions about fishing and he patiently answered my questions. I didn’t know it at the time, but the hook had been set. 

The next summer when I went off to Boy Scout camp I begged my mom to buy me a fishing pole so I could fish in the lake by the camp. She relented and we got me a pole and a youth license. I called my uncle Ed and he suggested I start with some salmon eggs on a snelled hook with a float. I showed up to camp with my pole, the bait and expectations of catching hundreds of fish. Camp was awesome. We did merit badges, swam, sang songs by campfires, paddled canoes around the lake and did other things boy scouts do. During free time I would go down to the lake to fish. Mind you, this was fishing boy scout style. What that means is you cast your line, put your rod down and try to skip rocks while somewhat keeping an eye on your bobber. It was fun. Fishing wasn’t fantastic for some reason… but we had a good time. When I got home my mom asked me how the fishing was. I told her the truth, I had actually managed to catch two fish! She pointed out that the license was about 8 dollars and the rod/reel combo cost around $20. Total spent per fish was almost $15. She asked me if I thought it was a good value. I told her I loved every minute of it. A few years later I realized that if she knew I let the two I caught go she’d have thought I missed the whole point of fishing. 

I saw my Uncle Ed at a family gathering a couple months later, and could barely contain my excitement to tell him about the two fish I caught. He listened to every detail of my fishing story, laughed and told me “it sounds like you might turn into a fisherman”. What praise. My mom might not understand fishing, but Uncle Ed sure did. I was so proud. 

Between growing up on a farm, going to school and playing sports, I didn’t have much time to go fishing. Nor were there many lakes or rivers in rural Utah for me to fish. But once a summer I would go camping with my local scout troop. A basic fishing pole, a small thing of salmon eggs, snelled hooks and a couple floaters were always packed when I went camping. As I got older I slowly got better at fishing. By the time I was 15 I had figured out that I caught more fish if I didn’t throw rocks in the water while fishing. That week of camping each summer was the best. When I was 16 we started using horses to take us further into the Uintah mountains. I dreamed of high alpine lakes with fish that had never seen a hook before. Most of the lakes we hiked to were stocked lakes and a good sized rainbow trout was 11-14 inches long. Sure enough, the further we went in, the better the fishing was. Favorites included Farm Creek or Shadow Lake where rainbow trout swam in the cold waters. 


When I was 18 I decided to take a job as a dock boy on Crane Lake in Minnesota. Of course I brought along my favorite fishing pole. When I arrived my boss, Jeff, asked if I liked to fish. I assured him I loved to fish. He asked what kind of fishing I liked to do and I told him about fishing for trout in Utah. He nodded and informed me that the lake I lived/worked on had no trout. But there were walleye, smallmouth bass, bluegills, northern pike and more. I was very excited to catch these new fish. Jeff offered to look at my tackle box to suggest some lures or tactics. When he saw I only had snelled hooks, bobbers and some salmon eggs he chuckled and suggested I first try to use some leeches. 


My first time on the lake fishing I was joined by another of the dock staff, Matt, and we headed over to the Vermillion Gorge area where we had heard from some of the guests that fishing was good. Since this is where the Vermillion river emptied into Crane Lake there was just enough current to drift along. On our second pass my rod suddenly bent over. Fish On!!! I was so excited. I had never had my rod bend that much before. My drag was zipping and my line was cutting through the water. Something big was on my hook. Matt kept asking me what I had on there and I kept saying “I don’t know, but it is huge!”. After a few minutes we saw the first flash of color. A brown football shaped fish had seen the boat and took one more dive, a valiant attempt to rid itself of my hook. 


I looked at Matt and his eyes were as wide as mine. “What was that?” I asked. He told me he thinks it was a smallmouth bass. “Wow. those things are huge. Much bigger than the rainbow trout I was used to catching. How big do they get?” He didn’t know. But we both were in agreement that my fish was huge. Bigger than anything I’d caught and he said it was bigger than anything he’d caught. When I played the fish back to the boat Matt was ready with a net. We had the fish in the net on the first scoop. I held up my fish. Again-Wow! Matt suggested we take the fish back to the resort to get an official weight. I was in full agreement. So we dumped out our lunch from our playmate cooler, filled the same cooler back up with water, wedged the bass in diagonally and headed back to the resort. As we were getting the fish situated in the cooler we kept asking each other “how big do you think it is?” After a much discussion one of us asked if this might be a record breaking fish. “Can you imagine if we caught a state record fish? We’d be in the papers and probably end up in the fishing hall of fame!” Our excitement was barely contained as we sped back to the lodge in our little 14 foot boat with a 15 horsepower outboard. 


We must’ve been a little too excited because we came in kinda hot and bumped the dock upon entry. Jeff was in the boat house and heard us bump. “Coming in a little hot? Slow down so you don’t damage the dock or the boat” he told us. We were too excited to listen to boating advice. “Jeff, come, quick. We have a huge smallmouth that we need to get weighed. It might be a record breaking fish. You gotta come see this thing.” 


Jeff stopped whatever it was he was doing and quickly came out to the boat. Our excitement must’ve been palpable, Jeff reached the boat before we were even tied off. “Where is the fish?” I told him we had it in the the lunch cooler. Looking back now, I should have noticed Jeff’s demeanor changed at this point. “You fit a record breaking smallmouth bass in that little lunch cooler?” he asked. “Yup, you gotta see how big this thing is.” I don’t know if I was just naive about fishing, too excited or just not old enough to pick up the change in Jeff’s tone. Jeff nodded, and said he’d get the scale ready. I couldn’t believe it. Such control. He turned and slowly went up the dock to the scale without even looking in the cooler! What a man. He was in full control of his emotions. 


Jeff yelled back that he had zeroed out the scale and we could bring the fish over. I picked up the bass by the lip and sauntered on up the dock. I made sure to hold the fish out so in case anyone at the resort might look over they could see my big trophy. When I got to the scale Jeff had an odd smirk on his face. Jeff quickly weighed the fish, took a length and girth measurement for me and then encouraged me to put it back in the water. I asked if we should first check the record books to make sure in case someone needed to verify the size. Jeff, with a straight face told me, “I think you are a little shy of the record books, lets just get that fish back in the water”. He took a polaroid picture of me with the fish and I released my trophy bass.

After I got the fish back in the water, Jeff showed me the polaroid. Wow. What a fish. I was so stoked. I had never thought of taking a picture of one of my trout. Now, not only had a caught a nice fish, but I even had a picture of the moment. What luck! 


“You know Adam, up in the lodge, in the tackle shop, we have a brag board. Everyone who catches a trophy fish gets their picture on that board. You should take this one up there and post it with the other trophies from the summer.” I thought Jeff was smiling because the fish was so big. I nodded, took the photo from him and proudly walked up to the lodge. I found the brag board and looked at the other trophies. 44 inch/22 pound Northern Pike. 53 inch Muskie. 29 inch/9.5 pound Walleye. 20.5 inch/5 pound 7 oz largemouth bass. The board was loaded with huge fish. I looked down at my picture. Jeff had written the dimensions on the bottom. 15.5 inches, 2 pounds 9 ounces. I grabbed an open thumbtack and posted my picture right in the middle of the board. It was official, I was on the board.

Over the years I’ve adjusted my ideas on what a trophy bass is. But that doesn’t diminish the thrill I had with that first fish. 

Over the years I’ve slightly adjusted my ideas on what a trophy bass is. But that doesn’t diminish the thrill of that first “trophy” fish. I love when someone tells me they just had a personal best. And yes, I’ve also since managed to catch rainbow trout in Utah that are bigger than 12 inches. The rainbow trout in the picture came in right at 19 inches and was caught in a stream in southern Utah. I think my Uncle Ed would’ve been proud!

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