The Big Fish Hunt – My Worst Big Fish Losses
In part one of his latest article, specimen ace, James Champkin talks about the pain of losing a dream fish as he recalls some of his angling adventures…
The pursuit of specimen fish does not come without its pain. The massive highs of finally landing your dream fish and holding it aloft for the camera, often following months or even years of dedication, are occasionally interspersed with truly agonizing moments when a personal best is hooked but doesn’t quite make it to the landing net.
Whether it’s triggered by a simple hook pull, a big fish burying itself into thick week, or a previously reliable part of your terminal set-up letting you down for some unexplained reason, the escape of a very big fish can leave an angler with trembling hands and an enduring feeling of sickness deep within the pit of their stomach.
This is a feeling that I have grown very accustomed to. Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to land some exceptional specimens of a variety of species, but they have not come easy or without a level of anguish.
These captures have been interjected by brief periods when everything went wrong, and I found myself near tears as a certain PB disappeared back into the depths. Over the next two installments of this series, I tell the stories of the very worst of those!
A big lady in a fast flow
Two winters ago towards the end of the season, I had discovered a stretch of hallowed chalk stream in Yorkshire that was producing some very large grayling – holy-grail fish weighing over 3lbs. I contacted the fishery manager and managed to secure two exclusive weekend bookings for myself and one friend to target these magnificent fish.
That first weekend was challenging but excellent, and on the first day I landed a superb deep-bodied fish of 2lb 13oz, with my fishing partner and good friend Adam getting in on the action with a new personal best of 2lb 12oz on the second day. Trotted maggots were the successful approach, and it was an incredibly enjoyable way to be catching such special fish.
Couldn’t wait to get back
After such a great couple of days in fantastic surroundings I couldn’t wait to return, and my next trip coincided with the final weekend of the traditional season. This time I was fishing with another close friend, Dan Woolcott, who was yet to catch a grayling of any size during his angling career.
I elected to kick off proceedings by fishing a pacey glide immediately downstream of a dilapidated wooden footbridge, which had produced Adam’s big fish several weeks previously. After progressively working my way through the abundant stock of trout, I finally landed a grayling of around 1lb 8oz, followed quickly by another of just over 2lbs.
Things were developing nicely, but the swim then dried up. I kept feeding and re-positioned myself a few yards further down the glide, allowing me to trot close beside an overhanging bush on the near bank.
Something big surfaces
A few trots later, the float buried just beyond the trailing branches and I hooked into a very heavy fish. It was holding its own in the flow as massive grayling often do, occasionally charging downstream and taking line from the clutch. I was really struggling to draw it towards me, and all I could think about was my size 18 hook delicately gripping the fishes’ bony mouth.
I slowly managed to coax what was obviously a big fish upstream until it was directly in front of my position. At this point, I glanced over my left shoulder to see Dan crouched down behind me watching the spectacle unfold. He had remained absolutely silent until that point to avoid distracting me.
With Dan as my witness, the huge grayling then surfaced and wallowed, giving us both view of a deep gunmetal flank. It then charged back downstream and suddenly the pressure relented as everything fell slack – the tiny hook had pulled. I turned round to Dan, shaking like a leaf and seeking some consolation for what had just happened. “I’m saying nothing”, he quipped, and slowly walked away. Devastating.
The Prince of the River shows its raw power
At the end of last winter we were enjoying some unseasonably mild weather for the time of year. I had originally planned to target chub during this period, but the weather conditions dictated a change of mindset and I decided to try instead for a personal best barbel over the final couple of weeks of the season.
I had already landed a new PB from the Hampshire Avon a few months previously, but I couldn’t help but think the timing was perfect for something even larger. The River Lea would be my target venue.
At the beginning of a short evening session on a challenging stretch, I trickled a few broken Source boilies and small Source pellets into a normally reliable swim, with a view to returning later in darkness.
I then fished elsewhere for a while with only the occasional rattle on the rod tip to show, so at 8:30pm I dropped into my prebaited swim. By now, the barbel had been given several hours to feed uninterrupted and I hoped that a result might come quickly – but my confidence wasn’t particularly high.
All hell broke loose
The minutes ticked by. 9pm passed, then 9:15; I had to leave the stretch by 10pm. It was 9:25pm – I was sitting a couple of feet behind my rod butt and was just replying to a message on my phone when I caught sight of the rod tip wrenching round out of the corner of my eye. I threw my phone on the chair and lurched forwards, but in that split-second the unseen monster had already ripped both bank sticks out of the ground and was rapidly taking my gear into the river!
I had to slide forwards on my stomach and just managed to grab the butt of the rod before it disappeared entirely, and suddenly found myself locked into battle with a fish of immense power. Somehow – with a miracle – I managed to turn the beast from the treacherous snags situated immediately below me, and soon it was chugging past my position heading upstream. Then, just as I thought I might be winning the battle, the pressure gave and everything fell slack – the hook had pulled and the fish was gone. It was so dramatic, and I was left a quivering mess – what on earth had I just lost?
Make sure to check out the next installment next month, in which I run through even more painful angling moments!