It's not the size of the salmon in the fight ...

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009

Size is a relative thing when it comes to fish. My eye sockets still haven't recovered from the first time I saw a powerful early run Kenai king last spring, a sight that redefined the term "big fish" for me.

Now after spending a year in the north, I can't help but chuckle a little when my father, still back east, e-mails a picture of his latest catch, often landlocked Atlantic salmon.

The squirrelly little stocked fish, dumped into Lake Champlain, my home waters, were the first salmonids I learned to love.

Late each fall the "bigger" fish would congregate in the surface waters near the mouths of rivers, perhaps contemplating making a run, or just following massive schools of baitfish.

In tow as well was a small but hardy fleet of anglers, that braved the onset of New England winter for the chance to hook into one of the old fish on some lightweight tackle.

This past fall was the first time I was not among them.

While I longed to relive a little of the past, and certainly missed the tradition of spending time in the boat with my dad, I couldn't justify the pricey plane ticket.

At the same time, my summer had certainly seen no shortage of fish, let alone wild, sea-run salmon.

On Lake Champlain, a nice Atlantic starts at around three pounds, and one that tops four is something to talk about. The state record is 12 pounds, 10 ounces, but I imagine one has a better chance of winning the lottery than catching a fish that size in their entire life.

Even a grotesque humpbacked pink could outweigh your typical Champlain salmon, but on my recent trip back east, I was reminded why it's not the size that counts, but the heart.

I realized this as a chrome bright Atlantic was dancing over top the lines off the back of my dad's little boat one morning, putting on an aerial show that even a sex-crazed silver would struggle to rival.

As the fish shot toward the boat, gleaming under the cool waters, I unthinkingly said, "Ah, it's just a little guy."

My dad, struggling to keep the mono line away from the abrasive downrigger cables, stopped and looked at me with a look of both confusion and disgust to say, "Sure maybe where you're from."

I'd accidentally stepped on the entire region's toes in calling this fish small.

I believe I offended the fish as well, for it continued to fight, and take line for another five minutes while narrowly missing every obstacle we'd left in the water for it.

When the salmon finally flopped out of the net and onto the deck of the boat, I'd felt as though I'd just wrestled in a respectable king.

At four pounds, three ounces and just a hair over 22 inches though, this was no such thing.

But laying there, pumping its gills in exhaustion, I regretted my calling it little.

While the size of a fish might be physically measured with a scale and tape measure, its true size can only be measured by the way it fights on the end of your line.

When he's not busy with all things fishing, Dante Petri is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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