16lb Class

It was just after midday on beautiful sunny day in Venice, LA. The temperature was perfect and there was a slight SE breeze blowing over the Louisiana marsh. It had been a good morning having landed a few reds in the mid 20’s and a nice 27.9 pounder; one that was just not quite big enough to top Dotty Ballantyne’s 28lb pending record.  So back to the drawing board we went.  It had been a series of close calls over the past 5 weeks of record hunting in Venice, LA and Eastern Biloxi Marsh.  Several “would have been” and “could have been” world records only to be lost at the boat or by other mishaps.  I was not ready to give up on the record dream, but that very day I also had the reality check of a 7:45pm flight back to Houston.

So there we were, sun high, as my guide, Capt. Christian Yergens spotted way out an army of massive reds marching down the alley in our direction trying to cross from one sandy bottomed pool to the next.  As the group neared us, Christian tensed up straining towards the fish and there, 20 feet in front of the charge, in a class all on her own, was a beautiful glowing monster of a red leading the troops right towards our bow.  As she came gliding and glistening, high and happy, Christian straightens up calling out “get ready, 2 o’clock 40 feet!! This one could do it!!”  So with my heart pounding in anticipation, I casted out my chartreuse Captain Yergens Shaker Special (I call rattles, shakers) that he had tied up that every morning.  With one false cast of my Rio line, the fly landed just past her nose and a foot out.  One strip to get the slack out was all it took and her big white gorgeous mouth opened and sucked it in as on instinct.  Slurp, bite, tight and we were off to the races.  Unlike so many lazy catches before, this behemoth knew instantly that she WAS hooked and was MAD, really MAD.  Off she sped at mach speed.  I knew right away, this one was different!  She was big!!   Years of practice, training and learned mistakes, guided my hands and rod. Everything playing out exactly as it does in the movies giving me a great sense of FALSE confidence in myself.  Pridefully, I fed my line out like I have done so many times before when I realize I had a problem, a BIG problem.  My line on the deck was in a thick knotted mess.  With the jumbled mass of line quickly approaching the guides of my Hardy 10wt rod, I desperately began shake my feeding hand, praying it would just fall out and resolve itself.  All I could think is, “why had I not checked my line before making my cast?? Rookie mistake.  I am such a Rookie!!! Will I ever learn?”  Mad at myself and mad at my situation, I frantically started yelling, “I have a knot!! I have a complete mess!  What do I do???”   As it raced towards the first guide, Christian hollered rapidly back it me, “Point you rod, just point your rod at the fish, and pray it goes through”.   As my “mistake” neared my hand the tension on the line cause it to tightened into a solitary loop knot.  Not a bad one, but definitely bad enough to pop my delicate 16lb IGFA Orvis tippet if any sharp jolt or snag were to occur.   So with our stomachs and my line in knots, we watched as it cleared one, then the next, then the next all the way to final test, the tiny of tiniest of guides, the 11th!  As it ripped towards it, we just held our breaths.  Just when we thought we were finished, the fish slowed, it hung on the guide for just a second, then luck prevailed and the knot slipped peacefully through.  Phew!

It was if the fish knew she had been set free and the line begin to scream off my Hardy Fortuna creating the sound that so many fisherman like myself love to dream about.  On and out the fish continued to run over the beautiful shallow sandy pool taking nearly 80 feet of backing out into the water with no obstacles in sight.   It was the perfect venue for a perfect world record catch.  I began to try and regain my composure for what I knew would only be a brief respite before the knot would have to be contended with again.  Just as my heart was settling back to a much normal rhythm of someone NOT running a marathon, she turned and with renewed energy began to race, like the MIG fighter jets of Top Gun, directly back towards our Maverick.  Desperately I reeled as fast as I could go trying to keep the tension on, the loop knot charged closer and closer to me, looking bigger than ever.  Then flaunting itself right in front of my rod tip for a brief millisecond, we again held our breaths as we watched the knot with tiny little hiccups make its way down the rod through each precarious guide.  God was good and it cleared and coming to rest right in front of my spool.  It was as though the fish could hear my heart desires and performed perfectly.  She finally settled down, content and happy with her distance from us.  So with reel and butt under arm, I went to work on freeing my line.  In under 30 seconds, the knot released and we were in back in the game.  Woo hoo!

Only then, did either of us really believe my world record could finally become a reality.  In and out she went from the skiff, I maneuvering my rod slowly to the right, then the left, back and forth in an attempt to wear her out.  After about 20 minutes she finally gave us our first up close and personal profile shot.  A beaut!!  I sharply drew in my breath and waited for my captain to say the three words I had for so long wanted to hear: “SHE IS IT!!”  Next thing I know, Christian is ripping off his long pants.  Donning only his boxer shorts, he lowered his Yamaha into the sand, anchoring us in about 8″ of water and he steps into the brisk winter Louisiana water. During the next few minutes, which seemed like a lifetime, we discuss in rapid fire how to “properly” bring her in.  Finally in consensus, he says “Ok, try and bring her in.  I think she’s ready”.   I slowly, carefully drag her towards his feet, on point for another potential last minute charge.   But she was done and laying on her side, tail ready for the grabbing, Christian clamped down with baseball-like vice grip barely able to get his fingers around.  This time more softly, a heart full of emotion and relief he says, “She is it…She’s the one.”  It is only then that I realize I am not breathing and I start to shake.  My mind spinning: “I’ve done it, I’ve done it!  WE’VE done it, WE’VE done it.” And with one Herculean move, Christian hefts my beautiful Red Fish onto the deck.  “Yep, that’s her, that’s her”, he says winded.  The rest was a bit of a blur as we raced about grabbing scales, application, measuring tapes, phone, cameras, etc.  Our the tape measure comes: point x to x(nose to fork): 42.5″, then xx to xx (nose to tip of tail): 43.5″ and her waist?  A nice 25.25″.  Then the true test, the one that would say it all: Her Weight.

Christian, standing on the soft cold winter sand, hefts her up arms straining with 30lb Boga Grip which immediately bottoms out and calls out, “Grab your electric scales, she’s bigger than 30!”  After zeroing out the Rapala scales holding the Boga, we put her back on.  And there is the gorgeous afternoon sunlight, we watch the screen blinks numbers up and up until it finally came to rest at a whopping 32.58lbs.  Yes!  It was done, mission accomplished!  Between snapping pictures and weighing our trophy, we continuously revived her, making sure she was never in harms way.  Finally after our last “self-timer” portrait of me, elated and grinning ear to ear, a pantless guide and a world record breaking fish, the experience of a life time came to a close.  Christian held her for a moment allowing her to regain her bearings and balance as we said our goodbyes.  With a massive swoosh of her tail, my first IGFA world record fish, disappeared back into the cool winter waters of Venice, LA.  Let the games begin and records continue!! Dotty, Jodi, Christine, Diana…make room for me; this rookie is ready to play.

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