Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The perfect catch... that got away

First-time fisherman casts out on Red River

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Oliver Sachgau's first fishing trip starts out cold and wet on the rainy Red River near Selkirk.

You've heard about the one that got away?

After losing a trophy-sized fish on my first-ever fishing trip Tuesday, I now fall squarely into the category of fishermen with a story of "It was this big, I swear!"

The outing was part of a media event by Travel Manitoba to encourage people to travel more in the province.

It comes after the annual BMO Summer Travel Outlook report showed 53 per cent of Prairie residents (the report doesn't differentiate between Manitoba and Saskatchewan) intend to travel within their home province this summer.

Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba, said the results are good news for him.

"We've got a lot of province that is fascinating. If you want to go out and explore, there's festivals and events in virtually every nook and cranny in the province," he said.

To promote one of those activities -- fishing -- Travel Manitoba invited members of the media to go out with a guide on the Red River in Selkirk.

My guide, Dan Goulet, happily told me I was his first student. As someone who had never fished before, I warned him I would not be an easy one to teach.

We rode out for about five minutes to where catfish were supposed to be hiding in shallow waters. By that point, it had started raining, so the whole ride felt like a roller-coaster in winter, which is to say, bumpy and cold. Riding with us was Mike Morgado, Goulet's cousin.

Goulet gave me my rod and even cast it out for me. He said if a fish bit, it would first feel like a couple of taps as the fish tested the food, and then the hard pull would come as it bit down. Within 10 seconds of my line hitting the water, I could feel something tugging. My first catch! I pulled hard and tried to reel in what I hoped was a sizable catfish.

Turns out I got the line stuck on a floating log.

For the next two hours, I sat, line in hand, waiting for taps and pulls. In that time, Morgado caught two bass, both of which were ceremoniously kissed, then tossed overboard to continue their life in the river.

Then, a third line we had clamped in the steering wheel started tugging. This was a big fish. Goulet told me to reel him in. I grabbed the rod, and almost fell off the boat from the sheer force of the pull. I pulled as hard as I could just to keep the rod above water. Goulet told me to pull the rod up, then reel the line in on the way down without giving the fish any slack. It took at least 10 minutes but, bit by bit, I pulled the fish closer as it tried escaping under the boat, to the side and any other direction it could.

Then it broke the surface of the water, and I came face to face with probably the biggest fish I've seen outside of an aquarium. It's head was the size of mine, and we both probably shared the same panicked expression. Goulet grabbed the net to swoop the fish in, but it broke free and escaped. In the fight of man versus nature, nature had won.

Goulet told me by the looks of it the fish would have been 36 inches, easily in the Master Angler class of its kind.

And as we drove back from fishing, I was left with nothing but what most people would think as a fish tale. But my thoughts stayed, with the fish and I knew one of us had got away from the fishing hook that day, but the other had got hooked on fishing.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2014 B4

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