Hooked in the tail or just a big fish tale?
The fishing gods were good to Jim Stoesser in the month of April.
But perseverance may have played a bigger role.
Stoesser remembers local fishing guide Keith Kerrigan telling him that Donner Lake anglers must spend 1,000 hours trolling per fish. (That is, larger than average fish, known as Mackinaw).
“Keith was wrong on that one,” Stoesser said.
After trolling Donner Lake for six months, an average of seven hours a day, seven days a week, Stoesser estimates that he has spent 1,200 hours trolling, with little success.
“Ninety-eight percent of the time I get skunked on Macks,” Stoesser said.
But in the wee hours of April 27, before the sun made its appearance, the luck of the 47-year-old Donner Lake resident changed by way of a 30-pound Mackinaw ” dragged up to his 14-foot Whaler-designed boat by its tail.
Here’s the tale:
After sending a hand-made, 12-inch lure painted like a rainbow trout out about 200 feet, Stoesser placed his rod in a holder and turned just in time to catch his dog, Hans, preparing to “do his business” in the front of the boat. Too late to stop Hans, a slightly irked Stoesser finished cleaning up after his dog, then turned back to check on his rod.
“It was completely bent straight. It looked like I had snagged a buoy,” he said.
Afraid of losing the brand new three-piece lure he labored to create the night before, and thinking he had snagged a buoy, possibly a log, Stoesser slammed the boat in reverse and began reeling in the slack.
“All of the sudden I felt two little pumps on the rod,” Stoesser said. “So I stuck it in neutral and kept reeling. I didn’t feel any more pumps. It didn’t feel like a fish to me, and I was kind of confused. I was definitely hooked on something and I was reeling the boat backwards, toward whatever I was hooked on.
“As I was reeling, I realized the line was going deeper. I kept reeling, and pretty soon had suspicions that it might be a fish.”
With about 150 feet of line still out, the hefty and mysterious object went down deeper, until Stoesser’s line was straight down and his rod bent in a U shape. After 20 minutes of holding it there, as tightly as possible without fear of breaking the line, Stoesser grew impatient. So he began muscling the line up a few feet, then reeling in the slack. Stoesser continued the arduous process for about 20 minutes.
“At that point I could see it in the water about two feet from the surface,” he said. “I could see I had it hooked about two inches from the tail, right in the meaty part. It was kind of rolling back and forth. I grabbed my net, dipped it in the water, and it just rolled into my net.”
When it comes to this fish tale, Stoesser’s word must do, as there is no evidence of the monstrous fish.
“My choices were to kill the thing for proof of catching it, since I didn’t have a camera, or let it go so that it can grow to be the lake or state record,” Stoesser said.
The lake record is 34 pounds, set five years ago; the state record is 37 pounds, set in Lake Tahoe 31 years ago. Stoesser’s Mackinaw would not have lived to see another day had it exceeded either of those numbers.
Although not a record-breaker, it was Stoesser’s largest Mack caught in 1,200 hours of trolling ” with the next largest weighing 9 pounds.
“I could put all the Macks I caught in six months in to a basket and they wouldn’t weigh as much as this one,” Stoesser said. “Maybe after a couple more times with Sierra Anglers (Kerrigan’s guide business), I’ll learn to catch the fish by the mouth.”
Oh, and there’s another tale ” this one about a brown trout.
Some may recall a story in the Sierra Sun on March 11 that told of an 11-pound, 2-ounce brown that Stoesser caught near the boat ramp. About three weeks ago he did it again, only this one was bigger.
Trolling with another lure he crafted by hand, Stoesser caught an 18-pound brown near the inlet of Summit Creek. He said it was apparent that the fish had recently laid eggs ” because of its flabby stomach ” and it did not give much of a fight. After taking measurements and a picture, with his son Joe’s cell phone, he released the 35-inch fish.
It’s safe say that Stoesser’s winter-long perseverance paid off.
“Hopefully another angler won’t have to spend six months fishing to catch a big boy like that,” Stoesser said.