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The fish of a lifetime
Just a week ago my good friend Jens caught what can rightfully be called the fish of a lifetime. Here's the story - and the fly that did it.
I do of course hope that Jens will catch a bigger and more beautiful fish in his life, but I don't think I will disappoint him if I say that it's not very likely to happen.
The fish that Jens caught just the other day is probably a Danish record and one of those fish that you dream of, rarely (if ever) see others catch and definitely never catch yourself.
The thing is that Jens actually did.
Now I wasn't there, but my very good friend Henning was, and Jens is also a very reliable person, so along with lots of photo documentation and the statements from these two credible gentlemen, I see no reason to doubt their story.
It was one of these days in February where you probably dream more of a trip in April or May than going to the Danish coast right now and there. The weather wasn't extremely cold, but it wasn't warm either. This time of year the sun has a hard time finding its way through the clouds, and no matter what corner the wind comes from it's not really welcome.
Jens and Henning had been circling around a bit in the northern part of our island, Sjaelland, near the mouth of the big fjord system that cuts into the island. This is usually a good place to look for fish in the winter and early spring, where the fish are leaving the fjord to enter the ocean after having spent the cold period in the less salty water in the fjord – maybe spawning in one of the many small streams in the system.
The take, the fight
After having seen or felt nothing, they decided to try a spot we actually rarely fish. A good choice it would show.
Jens laid out his fly three times before it stuck in something.
The famous snag that suddenly starts moving.
The fight was surprisingly undramatic and in spite of Jens fishing with a 6 weight rod, the fish was in the shallow water within minutes. Jens did appreciate the fight butt on the rod, which he by the way had bought just the day before, so the rod was certainly broken in in a proper manner!
The fish, the release
Henning got behind the fish, and even though they both realized that this was a big fish. the measure tape did reveal a surprising number: 98 centimeters or 38.5 inches.
The fish was bright and silvery, a female, not fat, but certainly in excellent condition. People who know about such things judge it to be a wild fish based on the fact that all fins were full and undamaged. A majority of the stocked fish have damaged breast fins, a telltale sign of being born and bred in a tank and then released by one of the local clubs that have worked hard to get the number of fish to where it is.
A fish like that weighs an estimated 9.5 kilos or just shy of 21 lbs.
We don't know if Jens' fish weighed that, because the fish wasn't weighed, but released after a short photo session. Telling from the timestamps on the photos it's evident that the landing, photography and release all took place within a couple of minutes. the fish swam vigorously on after having been set down in the shallow water.
Of course they were both thrilled, and I was sitting at home having coffee with another fishing friend, fly tyer Niels Have, when Henning called minutes after, asking:
- How much does a 98 centimeter fish weigh?
My reply was prompt
- You are kidding me!
But of course I knew where this was heading.
- Nope! Jens just caught the largest sea trout I have ever seen.
I got a few details, congratulated, and promised to check up on it and return.
The Fulton formula
Now, it's possible to estimate the weight of a trout based on what's known as the K-factor or the condition – you could call it the BMI or health index of the fish. The factor is calculated using the Fulton formula. Fulton suggested this in the early 1900's:
K = 100 × weight/length^3
Weight is in grams and length is in centimeters.
So the weight of the fish divided by the length cubed will give you a number. Fulton multiplied the number with 100 to get it close to 1, and it so fits that the number 1 indicates a “normal” fish in OK condition. A really fat fish will be higher, like 1.2 or even 1.5 for a cannon ball, while a skinny fish will be below 1, like 0.8 or less for a post spawning kelt or a really skinny winter fish.
You can utilize this to estimate the weight of a fish based on its length and condition. So that's what I did, and based on the facts that I had, I calculated the fish to weigh 9-9.5 kilos, setting the number a little low, mainly because I thought the fish was a spawner and that these are always a little skinny.
As you can see from the pictures, that was not the case. Actually the fish looked well above average in condition, so we're probably closer to 10 kilos or a whopping 22 lbs!
I have made small tool for you to do similar calculations. Fill in two numbers, and the math gives you the missing one.
What can we learn?
I talked to Henning after this extraordinary catch, and it confirmed some of the conclusions that we have drawn a few times before with regards to large sea trout on the Danish coast:
They are few and far between. We have a log of all fish caught by a dozen or so of anglers over a period of more than 10 years. It has very few Danish sea trout over 5 kilos or 10 lbs. on record – like 4 including Jens' fish out of about 1,400 bright sea trout and about 3,300 fish altogether. Coastal sea trout of this caliber are usually about 75 centimeters (29.5”) or more, so you can see that Jens' dream fish measuring 98 is in its own league.
They are caught on small flies. Most flies are not the herring size streamer with a hefty hook and lots of volume, but more like a size 8, 6, 4 shrimp or scud style fly. Sure, these big fish might eat big quarries, but they obviously also eat small stuff. And imitations of small stuff is much easier to cast.
We have no problems with these fish on light gear. The rods that landed these pretty massive fish are 5 or 6 weights and not the heavy duty gear that you sometimes see recommended. 8 or even 9 and 10 weight rods seem crazy overkill considering how rare it is to get a fish this size and how little problems they actually pose on the light gear.
They are surprisingly easy to land. OK, a record of maybe a dozen fish over 4-4.5 kilos or 8-9 lbs. isn't a statistical material with the most significance, but if we use that as a base anyway, we haven't seen any really harrowing or nerve wrecking fights with these big fish. Usually they are landed in a matter of a few minutes, just brought into the shallows and landed by hand. Henning and I both remembered more fish in the 1.5-2 kilo class (~4 lbs.) that had given a way harder fight and taken more runs with multiple jumps. The big guys seem more timid.
You don't have to fish rough conditions to get them. Again we will have to excuse the meager statistical foundation, and it may be that we could have had more of these big fish on record if we fished more often in the largest waves on the roughest of coasts, but the fact is that these fish have all taken in calm and clear water.
We never regretted releasing a big fish, but we have certainly regretted killing a few! Coming home with a nice female fish and seeing the roe, a generation of new fish wasted, or realizing that that large fish in the freezer has been there for too long. The occasion to eat it just never came, and the fish has gone rank and inedible. Such a waste. We do take fish for the pot, mind you, but we take the smaller ones and eat them right away, and let the large fish go, carrying on the strong genes and the potential to spawn many times.
As you might guess, arming yourself with a 5-weight, a small fly and going fishing on a nice day will not bring you a 20 lbs. sea trout. Fish this size are very hard to target, although there are people who say they know how to do it. We bump into these fish now and then and just enjoy the moments when it happens.
Jens caught his fish on a small pink fly. A size 6 in this case.
The original fly was called Orange Rædsel in Danish, which translates to something like Orange Fright, Orange Terror or Orange Anguish. I like the sound of the latter, so the pink version has been dubbed the Pink Anguish in English. The original pattern can be found as the brown Twinkle Nymph it Thomas Vinge's excellent books about Danish sea trout flies, and was first tied by Niels Jørgen Plougmann, who also made orange and pink variations and named the orange one the Orange Terror.
The name is suitable, because with all due respect to the originator and Jens' impeccable tying skills, it's not a beautiful fly. It's pretty simple and reminds me of some of the first flies I tied when I started. Chenille, tinsel and hackle was about what I could muster in my skinny collection of materials back then. It's an easy tie and even a durable fly. It uses very easily available materials, and just four of them not including the hook and the tying thread.
This is a really easy fly to tie, and the only tricky part can be the sequence of the back and tail. You can essentially tie in two manners: from the front or from the back.
I prefer from the front where the flash is tied in long, pointing forward in the front of the hook and bent backwards before you rib. The tail is then held in place by a couple of turns of ribbing and trimmed when the fly is finished.
Alternatively you can tie in the tail with the long end of the flash pointing forwards, then bend it back out of the way, and finally bending it back over the body and tying it down after the hackle has been wrapped but before the fly is ribbed, which is the final step in both cases.
The fly can of course be tied in any color you want, or even in combos of flash, chenille and hackle color. The original was a brown fly in more natural colors. For the winter sea trout, there's probably little that beats pink.