Trophy Splake Chasing

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22 March 2016

The rise of the sun peaked over a snowy mountain silhouette. The cold hue of blue was replaced by warm yellows as every minute gave way to daybreak.

The air was brisk but suggestive of a beautiful late winter day. Hopping out of my SUV, I felt the urgency to rush. The drive had taken longer than anticipated due to a snowstorm, and the rising sun signaled that I was late.

We had three days at this lake, and to most, I had plenty of time, but I was not looking for just a fish. I was after a monster.

Before wetting a line, I augured near two dozen holes. It was time to hole hop and find a pattern. Hands nearly frozen, I clicked open the bail to my reel and watched it drop. The most crystal clear water allowed for sight fishing, but only to a certain point. Depth soon took over and layers of clear water turn into an abyss.

A tube jig was naturally my first choice, followed by a large ice fly, and ending with a spoon.

Thud!

“I’m on!

Reeling up on a ferocious baby splake I laughed, “How in the world did you eat that.” The splake could not have been more than 10 inches, but was every bit as hungry as I hoped the big girls would be.

Unfortunately the rest of the day yielded the same result, even after continuing to hole hop, and up-sizing our lures. As the sun kissed the other horizon, I realized just how far I walked, and instantly regretted doing so.

Huffing and puffing, we got back to my SUV and laid out the sleeping pads and sleeping bags in my backseat. Hopes were still high though as I knew, no matter what, we caught fish and had fun. That, at the end of the day, is always the most important thing.

Much the same was the story for day two, but I had built some clues together now. For day three– it was go time. Something about the last day of a trip always produced.

Well before dawn, my alarm went off. No matter how many times I sleep in my car, I always awake slightly confused until the adrenaline, and the thrill of the chase set in. A new day, a new fish to catch.

Crunching powdery snow under our boots, we felt the sting of the wind rip through as we trudged back over the most productive spot from the previous day. This time we set up the Flip-Over Ice Shelter as the wind has always been my weakness.

Having caught my fill of smaller fish, my medium ice rod was replaced now with a heavy one, sporting a full-sized spinning reel. Jigging a large spoon in the abyss, a feeling washed over me, that every angler feels.

Something has to happen.

I felt a slight bump. Then rod tip pointed to the waters below, I set the hook knowing something big had my line.

Immediately I assumed, I had a laker. While excited, I knew that my heart was somewhere else. A monster splake was my mark as they had captured my heart the previous fall when I had my first taste of their beauty, and ferocity.

Rod arched down the ice hole to save my line from fraying, drag screamed with each run and head shake.

When she was finally at the hole my heart dropped to my stomach as I realized, she wasn’t coming up head first– so tail it was! Then, disaster. All the way out of the hole and onto the ice; she was safe. Suddenly, with one swift flick she somehow found a way to squeeze back down.

Frantically feeding line to let her run, I accepted that was probably the only time I was going to see her. Luckily, she gave me a second shot and top-side she came.

She is my new personal best splake at a smidge under 29.5 inches and an absolute tank at that. 

 

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While I am beginning to question beginner’s luck, I also equally feel that I  have learned more than I ever could have imagined in the past four months since moving away from Nebraska.

There has been an equal amount of trial and error for each fish, but the patterns I see forming now I can only hope produce many more in the future.

 

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She is my new personal best splake at a smidge under 29.5 inches and an absolute tank at that.

She was released successfully for another day. For those of you who know this lake, I ask but one thing, if you catch her, release her.

We have such an amazing fishery here in Utah, and trust me when I say– all replicas look better than skin mounts. If you enjoy eating splake, I can only ask that you keep the small ones (under 20″) and let the big girls go.

Tightlines everyone!

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Erin Howard